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Native ponies should be sure-footed, but the River Lawn ring at Hickstead’s Derby meeting was a squelch too far. The going was so bad that some competitors withdrew from the native British Show Pony Society Heritage supreme classes; even after a six-hour drive I contemplated leaving my pony on the horsebox and saving him for another day.

Fortunately, Fell ponies have a naturally round way of going, making it easier for them to cope with such conditions. Townend Schubert (Bert) can be a real wimp, but he moves like a wheel and his action allowed him to go through the ground more easily than ponies with a lower, ground-covering action. For some, it was a tendon injury waiting to happen.

Organisers should have moved the classes into a more suitable ring, as they did later on in the day. On approaching an official about the going, I was told to be thankful that our classes were going ahead — a disappointing attitude.

Most M&M competitors took the heavy going into account and planned shorter warm-ups to conserve their ponies’ energy, but it was difficult to do even that as the designated working-in areas were mainly restricted to showjumping competitors. We were asked several times to leave, as we were spooking the jumping horses, but surely if they hold showing classes alongside the showjumping, we should have equal standing.

Hickstead wasn’t all bad, though. For me, the highlight was the fabulous opportunity to ride in the international arena (which was poles apart from the River Lawn) in an exceptional championship.

From Hickstead I travelled to the Royal Highland, one of my favourite shows in the calendar. The atmosphere is fabulous, the main ring is fantastic, and riders and officials alike seem to embrace the atmosphere and enjoy themselves.

Speedy assessments

As I own just one pony, most of my time at shows is spent on other people’s. I sometimes sit on a pony for the first time just before a class, although I tend to ride only for people I can trust to have their ponies well prepared for the ring.

When getting to know a new ride I start off quietly and two or three minutes into a go-round, you can gauge whether a pony’s been schooled to take more leg, a very light or more definite contact and so on. Then you can ask for more if needed.

I have a lot for which to thank the late Bob Templeton. Bob produced my first pony and I used to spend days at his yard, riding lots of ponies, which has proved to be invaluable over the years. He would watch and only step in if he needed to, which helped me learn to assess different animals for myself.

I’ve always remembered that. If I ever put another rider on mine I always start by saying: “Go and have a play, then come back in 10 minutes and tell me what you think.”

Ref: Horse & Hound; 30 June 2016