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Last week, I made a flying visit to the Royal International (RIHS) where once again the mountain and moorland (M&M) riders drew the short straw, just as we did at the Derby meeting. While hunter and cob exhibitors had superb going, we had to make do with the poor relation of the River Lawn ring, complete with potholes.

Some competitors were so worried about the risk to their ponies that they filled in some of the holes the night before their class — a bit like treading in the divots on a polo ground, but more extreme. Even then, a lead-rein jockey took a tumble after her pony lost its footing. Fortunately, she was unhurt.

It’s disheartening to have to be so negative, but surely all riders, whether in the River Lawn or the main ring, should be given the same standard of ground to avoid disappointment and the risk of injury. I’m sure I’m not on my own in hoping that Hickstead will do something about this before next season, or schedule classes in a ring which lives up to the rest of this great show.

Several exhibitors have told me that if they qualify next year, they won’t go unless this issue is addressed. It’s a privilege to qualify, but when you spend a lot of time, effort and money getting there — as many do — you need a ring fit for purpose.

Performance over type

I was interested to read Julie Templeton’s comments on the use of the marking system in last week’s issue. I’ve been thinking about this, too, but from a slightly different angle.

On talking to several competitors this year, the general consensus is that they can come away bewildered after looking at a mark sheet. On most occasions you have two judges, one judging the performance aspect and the other assessing conformation. In some cases, a judge assessing the ride feels justified in lowering the mark awarded if they don’t feel the pony is “their type”.

However, it would be encouraging to see more judges treating the show and freedom of action section of the overall marks as just that: a mark which reflects purely the pony’s performance on the day. I believe that a judge’s personal preference on any exhibit should not be reflected in this mark.

From a rider’s point of view, it’s always helpful to have clear and precise instructions of what that judge would like or expect to see. It’s encouraging when animals are rewarded for a good performance on the day, whether riders have been asked for a set show or a freestyle performance.

When judging native ponies in particular we must not forget that it is essential for animals to perform in line with breed standards. The freedom of action aspect is essential to type, and riders should consider this and concentrate on showing that their ponies can move forward in a natural way.

Ref Horse & Hound; 11 August 2016