Heading to Horse of the Year Show (HOYS)? Good luck — but remember that to some degree, you can make your own luck.
We all need good fortune, whether we’re old hands or new to the game, but there’s still time to boost your chances. Last week, I ran some pre-HOYS clinics, which showed that the mistakes we see every year at Birmingham can be ironed out before riders get there.
First, make sure you’re not in the naughty corner. The rings are tight, so you have to ride your corners correctly to make maximum use of available space. Overtaking should, ideally, be avoided. If you cut corners, you’ll overlap another competitor and when you pull in, you’ll steal space from a correctly positioned rider and leave them with nowhere to go.
Sometimes, you can hear another rider coming up to overtake you. More often, you can’t, and unfortunately, we don’t have wing mirrors. Every rider should be able to make the most of that short window down the long side, in front of the judge, without being cut up. I’m sure no one does it deliberately, but it’s bad manners; also, if you don’t ride corners correctly, you can’t balance your horse as easily.
The conformation section is often underestimated or not fully understood by riders. A judge has to decide quickly, and if you don’t stand up or run up your horse correctly, you’ll throw away marks.
Of course, judges may have seen horses throughout the season and there will be ones that always catch their eye. But the atmosphere and acoustics at HOYS make it unique, and if a bookies’ favourite doesn’t perform equally well in both sections, judges may have to rewrite the form guides.
You have to be able to look at your horse with a critical eye to make the best impression. If you find that difficult, ask a professional producer for help. It isn’t that professionals don’t care about their and their clients’ horses, just that we’ve learnt the hard way how to make the most of horses’ good points.
For example, the way you stand up and trot up a horse can make a real difference. That’s why top in-hand producers spend so much time practising . Follow their example so your horse learns his “pose” and you don’t have to keep shifting him around. This will become ingrained, so when the atmosphere is electric, he’ll at least remember enough to make your job easier.
Don’t drag him out of line, walk him out so he’s on the bridle, moving from behind and looking alert. Some horses need to be imperceptibly half-halted before you move from walk to trot, then kept at a measured pace. Others move better if you allow more freedom from the first trot step.
We all know that on the day, there can only be one winner. The thing about HOYS is that you’re already a winner, just by getting there. Anything else is a bonus, so wherever you end up in the line, enjoy it.
Ref Horse & Hound; 6 October 2016