What a wild start we’ve had to the season. Some people defied the wind and rain, but I decided that you could take determination too far.

On the second day of the Ponies UK Winter Classic show, we arrived with eight horses, put two in the ring, then called it a day because of high winds. This was partly because I was worried about conditions on the roads driving home, but mainly because horses were just not enjoying it.

Some might disagree, but I believe that a bad experience at the start of the season — or at the start of a horse’s career — leaves a legacy. If horses enjoy their job, they carry on “looking through the bridle” as the Irish put it. If they don’t, they back off and lose their sparkle, which is the last thing you want in a show horse.

As an employer, I also have to think about my staff. It’s no fun working in such conditions and I want them to carry on looking through their bridles, too!

Feeling the effects

More seriously, I appreciate that show organisers want to give competitors every chance, but there are times when safety must come first. Recently, I was watching a working hunter class where fences were blown down as riders cantered towards them. Personally, I’d have called it a day and retired my horse rather than risk knocking his confidence.

I wonder how many children on the pony circuit have enjoyed their early shows?

There are some who are so keen, they’ll go through hell and high water, let alone high winds, to get in the ring. There are also some who obviously don’t enjoy getting wet and cold.

We shouldn’t mollycoddle them, but nor should we risk them getting so fed up that they don’t want to go to shows any more. Some of our younger riders are so enthusiastic that they put the adults to shame, but we need to encourage those who are either starting out or who are feeling the lure of other activities to want to stay with us.

Horses let you know if they are feeling the effects of the weather, by looking miserable in the line-up or misbehaving. Why have I seen so many cold horses in line-ups or in collecting rings? Please, put a rug over their backs when they’re standing to keep their muscles warm.

Duty of care

As for those who need to stand in the naughty corner: I had two at a recent show who were rather too bright. I prefer to take a misbehaving horse out of the ring and it annoys me when I hear competitors say that a judge who opts not to ride a spooky or badly behaved horse is “windy”. Judges have to be sensible; riders should remember that they are there to assess horses, not school them.

That said, I sympathised with a complaint about a ride judge allegedly taking the kick-yank approach with a horse not going as well as it should. That’s how judges end up on the floor and how horses end up with undeserved bad reputations. If you’re a ride judge and a horse misbehaves, take it back to the line.

I’ve had a great response to my early showing clinics and I’ve had riders who have brought their horses to stay for a couple of days. You can achieve a lot in two days working on a one-to-one basis.

One rider who made huge progress told me she’d decided that rather than risk her and her horse being miserable in foul weather, she’d decided to spend her money on lessons rather than entries.

I know riders want to get cracking after the winter, I know shows need the entries and I know the showing calendar is crowded later in the year — but is this something to think about? Unless shows can hold all classes indoors and have adequate warm-up facilities, are we starting the season too early? Let me know what you think.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 16 April 2015