In my last column, I pleaded for more novice worker classes. It struck a chord, as many riders have told me they feel the same.

The answer could be for Sport Horse Breeding (GB) to insist that shows who apply for Royal International (RIHS) working hunter qualifiers can only hold them if they also put on a
class for novice workers.

This would ensure early season opportunities and would help safeguard open classes by giving young horses a good grounding.

Invaluable show time

You can practise until the cows come home, but you can’t replicate show atmosphere. Once we had plenty of classes for four-year-old hunters, but now they are few and far between.

Is it because competitors don’t appreciate their value, or because they worry that their horses aren’t ready? I entered a four-year-old class recently and found myself giving a solo performance.

The judge did a great job, but the classes that are available need our support. It’s the “use it or lose it” scenario, as shows will only be encouraged to hold them if the existing ones attract sufficient entries.

Some riders worry that their animals aren’t ready, but you need to get ring experience into young horses without over-showing them. Four or five shows a year will make a huge difference to a four-year-old’s confidence and allow you to move forward in his career.

If I’m not sure whether a four-year-old will cope, I’ll take him, ride him around the showground and make a judgement call. If you don’t do that, you could find yourself months later still trying to make up your mind as to whether he’s ready.

Male judges in particular are coping with the annual early season jacket challenge, where horses are sometimes startled by the back of a rider’s jacket flipping up and down. Most of us spend the winter riding in jackets which don’t have rear vents, so it’s easy to forget — even if you’re a professional who should know better — that we need to acclimatise young horses and remind some older ones.

Winter weight issues

Judges are also commenting that more animals than usual, particularly natives, have wintered a little too well. In other words, they’re too fat.

A wet winter forced some owners to keep ponies in more than usual. If exercise is restricted and feed is increased, there’s only one outcome.

The answer is to cut hard feed and do some serious fittening work. The keynote is long, slow distance work: lots of walking and, if you can, trotting steadily up hills.

Finally, it’s great to see quality entrants in early SEIB Search for a Star classes. Sadly, some competitors aren’t studying the rules properly and arrive to find that they’re ineligible. For instance, any horse produced in a professional showing yard can’t compete, although it may have been purchased from a professional before January 2016 and riders can have lessons with professionals. Reading rule books isn’t fun, but it’s better than being disappointed.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 21 April 2016