It is funny how many people assume that, after Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), showing people settle in for a winter of holidays and no horses. If I had a fiver for every time someone said, “I expect all your horses are roughed off now,” I’d be very happy.

A holiday would be welcome, but we’re still busy. Like many yards, we don’t come to a halt after HOYS; we change gear.  The established horses go on a “ticking over” regime, hacking out and having fun, and the youngsters come in for backing or schooling. Those who made their debut this season are also fun to work with, as we look at improving their education and performance.

One of my team said recently what a lovely time of year this is. She’s right: it’s great to see horses’ potential as they learn to jump and are perhaps introduced to a side saddle. I’m hoping I’ll even have time for some days’ hunting — yes, we do hunt some of the show horses, especially the workers, when the going is good enough.

As any rider knows, you’re only as good as your team, whether that’s in a professional set-up or as an amateur relying on friends and family. I’m so proud that my head girl, Jo Jack, was voted professional groom of the year at the Showing Council and Showing World awards this month. Jo’s been with me for 10 years and is part of the family as well as being someone I can trust and rely on.

Moving on

In some ways, I’m glad this season is over. It’s been a difficult one, marred by the controversy over whether riders in hunter classes should have to wear hats with three-point harnesses.

Sport Horse Breeding of Great Britain (SHB (GB)) made safety hats compulsory, but HOYS wanted competitors to have freedom of choice and  moved its hunter qualifiers and final under the British Show Horse Association’s (BSHA) umbrella. Inevitably, SHB(GB) lost members who had joined purely to show, which affected its revenue.

We have no choice but to move on, but I hope those who think of SHB(GB) only as a showing society will remember that it is much more. For the future of the sport horse and the show hunter, please support it.

In all fairness, the BSHA made a good job of the hunter classes at HOYS. The society goes into 2015 with a new sponsor for the ladies’ show horse championship at its national championships show.

Thanks to Total Impact Equestrian for taking that on — and, of course, thank you to iPura for sponsoring it for its first two years. There is a £200 first prize for the eventual champion, but that will be the icing on the cake rather than the main attraction.

Protect ladies’ hunters

Interest in side saddle riding is growing — if the number of requests I get for lessons is anything to go by. But while I’m pleased to see so much interest and to see ladies riding and competing side saddle on so many types of horses and ponies, including cobs and mountain and moorlands, we must protect our ladies’ hunters as a specific category.

I’ve heard a few predictions that eventually ladies’ hunters will be just part of the broader picture of “ladies’” horses rather than remaining as a valuable section within hunter classes. I really hope they’re wrong.

At the same time, I’ve always wanted HOYS to add a class for hacks and riding horses ridden side saddle: these types have a head start in elegance. I’m sure qualifying classes would attract plenty of entries and would also be a crowd-pleaser.

There is an intriguing class in store for next year’s National Pony Society (NPS) summer championships. Held on hack, cob and hunter day, the free-to-enter class is for those of 50 years and over who have not ridden in the ring for the past 10 years, though ride judges are obviously not eligible.

It’s a fun initiative designed to encourage adults who — to quote the NPS — “are really good at telling young riders how to do it from the ringside” to take part in a class. Parents need to get in training now!
Seriously, it can only be a good thing. It’s easy to stand on the outside and criticise judges/riders/horses, and some people forget — or maybe don’t appreciate — that it’s very different when you’re in the ring.

The old proverb says that before you criticise a man, you should walk a mile in his shoes, so maybe it’s fair to say that before you criticise a rider, you should ride a class in his or her boots.

I hope H&H readers have a great winter. It won’t be long until the  2015 season, so start planning now.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (20 November 2014)

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