As the show season kicks off, we must be positive about the future of our sport and the riders coming through. So I’ll wish everyone good luck — and address the most difficult issue first.
Much has been said and written about the hats debacle that resulted in Sport Horse Breeding of Great Britain [SHB(GB)] losing Horse of the Year Show [HOYS] hunter classes.
As rider representative on the SHB(GB) council, I’ve made my views clear and support the new rule. But I want to ask everyone involved in showing to remember what the society is, what it’s done for British breeding and what it will do as long as you support it.
Without this society, there wouldn’t be any hunter classes, because there wouldn’t be horses of sufficient calibre. Nor would our event riders have access to horses the rest of the world envies. The British-bred sport horse is the best in the world because we know what performance demands.
SHB(GB) is a showing society, but it’s much more. By helping breeders, grading stallions and upholding the ideal of what a sport horse should be, we are supporting the whole British horse industry. The council members’ wide-ranging experience says it all.
It includes, to name but two, Jennie Loriston-Clarke, whose knowledge and experience of breeding and experience in the dressage world is second to none, and Vin Jones, who knows more about breeding event horses than most people have forgotten.
This society is the bedrock of the British performance horseworld. Showing, as a shop window to publicise their stock and a wonderful starting ground for horses to move on into other careers, is at its heart. SHB(GB) looks after you, so don’t take it for granted and don’t risk losing its values just through vanity.
In 5 years’ time, the younger competitors coming through our sport will be asking why on earth riders put so much at risk for the sake of so little. It’s the enthusiasm from younger riders and from so many amateurs who are determined to raise their standards that gives me faith.
I’ve just returned from teaching in South Africa, where clinic organisers had pupils lined up for me from 7am to 5pm. Memo to self: next time, insist on a day off in the middle of it!
Ages ranged from 14 upwards and next time, younger riders will be included. Their thirst for knowledge and determination to improve was awe-inspiring, even if there were some pale faces when I insisted on chopping inches off their horses’ tails.
They look to the UK as the centre of showing and it was lovely to see them progress. It was the third time I’d been able to help some participants and they had obviously been working hard. Getting home to Facebook messages from riders who had gone from clinic to competition, won classes and even stood champion made it worth all the hard work.
There is the same enthusiasm here, too. I’m sure I’m not alone in having to tell applicants to some of my recent clinics that all places were filled and that they’d have to choose other dates.
Amateur riders are no longer content to be also-rans: they want to be at the top of the lines, including those where they are competing against the pros. And why not?
Social media has its uses as well as a dark side. Another benefit of Facebook — where at least people can’t hide behind anonymity, as they can on forums — is that showing enthusiasts are posting how excited they are to be going to the first shows of the season. The enthusiasm affects us all and I’m sure that’s why we seem to get out and about earlier every year.
Despite the factions and warring within the horseworld, there are times when we come together.
So many of us were hoping for a happy ending to the story of Tic Toc, the little grey pony who disappeared from his field in Cambridgeshire. Sadly, it wasn’t to be and he was found dead.
I and I’m sure everyone who reads this column feels for his owners. He was a child’s first pony and, apparently, a wonderful one. You never forget your first pony and I hope that, one day, his young rider will be able to look back and remember not only how sad it was to lose Tic Toc, but how grateful he is that the pony started off his riding career.
Katie’s column was first published in Horse & Hound (6 March, 2014)