Opinion

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Winter championships and early qualifiers mean we’re seeing many novice animals make their show ring debuts. While it is exciting to see new faces — and I love nothing more than seeing an exciting prospect develop over the season — I think it’s vital that we as exhibitors remember that four-year-olds need time and patience.

One of my pet hates is seeing a young horse or pony being carted from one end of the country to another, chasing qualifiers long before they are ready.

My motto is: “All in good time.” I like to give mine a light novice season for educational purposes, before going on to contest qualifiers.

This is because I want them to have long careers and enjoy their work, and because I want to protect their joints and limbs. This applies especially to the larger native breeds, as they take much longer to develop in general.

I don’t wish to sound hypocritical, because I’ve ridden four-year-olds in qualifying classes and at the finals. There are exceptions, because all animals are individuals.

Occasionally, you get a four-year-old who is physically and mentally mature enough to cope with the pressure and excel in its early years. I’ve witnessed first-hand a four-year-old pony give a flawless performance to lift an Olympia title — but I’ve also seen four-year-olds who are so blown away by it that they always remember, and never settle on return visits.

Extra considerations

It isn’t just the atmosphere of these big shows, particularly Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) and Olympia, that you have to think about. It’s the work and pressure that some people put into getting there, and if you’re travelling all over the country, that inevitably adds extra stress.

Over-schooling a four-year-old, or piling on weight to try and bulk out a gangly frame, or both, will take a toll on a pony’s joints. Give him time now, and he’ll repay you in the long run.

Any pony good enough to qualify for Royal International, HOYS or Olympia as a four-year-old should do it again and, hopefully, you’ll go there with a better chance of success.

Historically, four-year-olds weren’t allowed to contest the mountain and moorland (M&M) final at Olympia, but that changed when the British Show Pony Society took over these classes from the National Pony Society. I think that, overall, that change was a mistake.

I might get shot down for saying this, but in many respects, I think all three major finals should be restricted to animals which are five years old and over. This would remove any temptation to rush a baby and would be in every animal’s best interests.

At the end of last season, I wrote about how many of us hoped that HOYS would introduce a large breeds section to its junior ridden M&M championships. The organisers obviously agreed, and it was encouraging to see the first qualifier so well supported at NCPA Derbyshire.

Here’s hoping that the remaining qualifiers are all as popular.

Ref Horse & Hound; 13 April 2017