The season has started with a familiar debate resurfacing. Are some mountain and moorland (M&M) riders too heavy for their ponies?
Discussion centres on classes for Welsh sections A and B, which are obviously not bred or built to carry as much weight as, say, Highlands. However, there is another side to this question, which is often overlooked.
Riders who may not be too heavy for their ponies but are taller than ideal often pull up their stirrups to try and make themselves look shorter in the leg, thus presenting what they feel is a more balanced picture. Doing this does nothing for your riding or your pony.
Instead, it teaches you to ride behind the movement, with a fixed hand, rather than riding from your legs, seat and core muscles. By riding from your seat, I mean using your weight as a directional aid, not driving your weight into the saddle.
Before anyone points out that jockeys ride with even shorter stirrups, race riding is a unique discipline. Jockeys keep their weight out of the saddle; whereas we show riders need to use our weight to help our horses and ponies without hindering them.
Let’s encourage novices
A new season underlines the importance of novice classes and why we need more opportunities for novice workers. We all have our favourite shows for bringing out horses in flat classes, but workers lose out.
Open classes, with courses of eight to 12 fences at a maximum height of 1.14m (3ft 9in), are a huge challenge for less experienced horses, even if they are bold and naturally talented. No matter how much work you put in at home, nothing is a substitute for the real thing, but shows offering proper rustic courses designed to encourage novice horses, and venues offering them for hire, are as rare as hens’ teeth.
Like most riders, I take horses showjumping through the winter to build all-round experience. But while you still need to jump in a rhythm, showjumping courses aren’t built to encourage the same flowing strides judges want to see from a working hunter. Arena eventing is another option, but again, it’s a different challenge.
A new series?
British Show Pony Society (BSPS) members have a winter circuit and can find ideal opportunities for novice working hunter ponies. It’s sometimes possible to compete novice horses at BSPS shows hors concours, but although this presents you with a well-designed rustic course, it will be built on shorter distances.
So come on, show organisers: you’re missing a trick and losing out on entry fees. If you hold a working show horse class, run novice working hunter entries afterwards. Ditto local working hunter classes, as at South Suffolk Show — rebrand it as a novice worker class, with special prizes for the highest-placed local entries.
Open working hunter classes aren’t starter material. I’d love to see a novice worker series over 1m (3ft 3in) courses with a final at a prestigious show, ideally the Royal International Horse Show.
I would put my money on it attracting sponsors, competitors and spectators — what do you think?
Ref: Horse & Hound; 24 March 2016