Opinion

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This year, Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) organisers brought out a new rule on tack. It’s vague, illogical, and needs rethinking.

The rule states that competitors “must only use tack or spurs permissible in the ring while on the showground and mounted”. However, there are good reasons why you might want to use different tack.

Rules apply to qualifiers as well as to HOYS itself and as showgrounds and collecting rings can be busy and buzzy, riders need to be safe and horses confident.

When I am at home I school in snaffles, often using a Market Harborough or running martingale. I find the Market Harborough, which is a cross between an auxiliary rein and a martingale, has the subtler action.

I prefer to use the same tack and a similar routine when warming up, so the
horse gets stability and confidence. I may also use a general purpose saddle — which allows me to adapt my position more easily — for warming up, and change to a straighter-cut showing saddle when a horse is relaxed and ready for the ring.

If I’m competing a working hunter in a HOYS qualifier, I can use just about any type of bit, noseband and martingale. I can also use protective front boots in the collecting ring and the class.

The latest rule book specifies that whips are not considered
to be tack, so I can still carry a schooling whip while warming up any horse.

However, as it doesn’t specify that exercise boots are not classed as tack, it appears I can’t protect a horse’s legs while I’m preparing him for a class unless he is a working hunter.

Where’s the logic if I can’t, for example, use protective boots on a hack or riding horse and remove them before going in the ring? If they are permitted outside the class, this should be stated, because of the specific reference to whips.

Many riders use exercise bandages when they start riding in order to support their horses’ joints; boots protect, but vets say that only correct applied bandages can give support. Bandages are now specifically prohibited, which some might feel is a welfare issue.

Policing problems

It is only worth having rules if you have the stewards to implement them. At many shows, stewards are much-appreciated volunteers who do not necessarily have specialist knowledge of societies’ rule books or tack. Will HOYS ensure that there are stipendiary stewards at all shows with qualifiers?

Does it mean we’re going to get unpleasant situations where onlookers photograph “offenders” and report them to organising bodies? That has happened in similar scenarios, and it’s not nice.

I inadvertently broke the rule recently because I went by the relevant society’s rule book rather than HOYS rules. Another competitor kindly pointed it out to me, but since then I have heard of several similar instances.

I hope HOYS will have a rethink for next season. In the meantime, I hope anyone who notices an infringement points it out to that rider, in a nice way — and that it’s taken in the same spirit.