Opinion

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Should more dressage people be showing their native ponies, and should more showing people be competing their natives in dressage? After seeing ponies at the National Pony Society Spring Festival at Vale View Equestrian Centre, Leics, and the society’s dressage final at Addington, I think several partnerships could double up and excel.

Vale View was a super new venue for the Spring Festival. It had a lot to offer; the only drawback was that some rings were slightly tight, although this was partially due to recent bad weather scuppering plans to use the grass areas.

As riders, we should be able to adapt to any ring layout and ride it accordingly. Correct preparation at home will ensure you get the best performance in any given situation. Knowing where to push the “big trot” button and where to tone it down is key. A lot of people think that the faster they trot, the better it will look. It doesn’t.

The set show in the Horse of the Year Show classes was a great test of this. There was nothing you wouldn’t want to see from a native pony, but it required precision and highlighted which ponies were in tune with their riders as opposed to just anticipating the usual movements.

The dressage finals are a great platform to showcase the versatility of our native breeds and are growing in popularity. Perhaps reverting to the two events sharing the same venue would encourage more riders to have a go at something new.

Renoir’s moment

It was fabulous to see a perfect example of a combination on course to excel in both spheres. Megan Austin, just 13 years old, took the overall title with excellent scores on Jo Filmer’s charming home-bred five-year-old section B stallion, Longhalves Renoir. The judge was Jennie Loriston-Clarke and it must have been a thrill to compete, let alone win, under her expert eye.

Some think that dressage and showing don’t mix, but I’ve found that help from good dressage people pays dividends. Dressage experts like ponies to work longer and lower at home, to help them become more supple and work correctly from behind, and they often come up with different ways of getting around problems.

While many show ponies are worked correctly, there are some who are set up in front and can flick their feet, but don’t use their back end and hindlegs properly. Whatever discipline you follow, a pony’s engine must still be in the back end.

Reflecting on bits

I’ve followed discussions on bitting in these pages with interest. I agree with fellow columnist Julie Templeton about correct riding and schooling being paramount. Any bit, including a Wilkie, is only as harsh as the hands on the reins.

A pony’s performance will inevitably reflect whether it is happy and comfortable or not.

If it is unhappy in its mouth, it will give signs, such as fussing with the bit. I believe performance marks should represent a pony’s way of going, not reflect a judge’s particular bit preference.

Ref Horse & Hound; 19 April 2018