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It’s a great pleasure to be asked to ride judge but it comes with a lot of responsibility.

When I ride judge, I just keep it simple. I’m not in there to try and catch a horse out, and I try and give each horse the same. When I judge hunters or cobs in particular, I’m looking for the horse to have an engine, to be light, cover the ground and carry me. I’m looking mainly for the “feel” a horse gives me and I’m not so concerned about a slight spook or a wrong leg.

I remember David Tatlow saying “a show horse should be like a kettle, bubbling but not boiling over”. In a big ring, they should travel and have that edge. It’s tough to get the balance right for a judge, to set a horse up with the right amount of sparkle. I think some competitors lose the whole point of showing and they lose the showmanship. It’s not a style and obedience class; I want to look at a horse and it be exciting to watch.

Having said that, every horse is different and it’s about knowing them. Compare a show horse to how you like your steak, do you like them rare, medium or do they have to be well done? It’s the rider’s responsibility to make sure that their horse is well prepared for a ride judge.

I’ve said before, we are not crash-test dummies. No horse that is dangerous should be put forward. However, a green, naive horse, although it may not go foot-perfectly, needs to go out and learn its job.

In horse classes, whether it is a novice class or an open, the format is the same. People need to be braver and get these horses out — they aren’t going to learn any more in the arena at home.

A simple test

Some people are criticial of young ridden horses at shows, yet yearlings are allowed to compete in the Cuddy at Horse of The Year Show (HOYS). Surely the critics could deem this as overfacing a youngster at such an atmospheric show?

If you go back through the years, showing used to be one of the first disciplines a young horse did. After all, they are only expected to walk, trot, canter and gallop with a simple change of rein.

When we look at other disciplines, we have the four-year-old event horse classes where jumping and a more complex dressage test are required. The level of training for this is much more intense than a showing class, as is pure dressage for youngsters.

British Showjumping actively encourages young horse jumping classes with four-year-old championships and, of course, we have racing. I’m not wanting to wish a horse’s life away, but there aren’t many excuses as to why a horse isn’t capable of riding around in a big circle.

Ref Horse & Hound; 15 June 2017