Let us not lose sight of what the ride judge is looking for. Particularly in the hunters and cobs, the ride judge is not there purely to assess the accuracy of the movements asked. The judge is there to get a “feel” of the horse. Is it ground-covering, bold, balanced and comfortable? Essentially, would I want to sit on this horse all day out hunting?

It makes me cross when I hear people moaning that a horse won with a wrong leg or a spook (hack classes are an exception). I could sit on a horse and it appears to give a good ride, but if it’s not comfortable, lacks engine or is downhill, then I wouldn’t want to hack to the meet, let alone hunt it. An odd spook wouldn’t worry me — at least it won’t fall down a hole.

Schooling is obviously important and you can make a horse obedient, but you won’t change whether it’s comfortable or not.

I was very disheartened at a show earlier this year, when taking a youngster to ride round for experience. I was accosted and told that if the horse wasn’t competing, then it wasn’t allowed at the show. How on earth are young horses expected to learn?

Getting the balance right

There is a fine line between overworking your horse and it being too fresh. My tips are to practise in different environments; get other people to ride your horse and don’t be frightened to let him have some personality and sparkle. A show horse should have charisma and be full of presence.

However, on the flip side, the judge is not a crash test dummy. I cringe when I hear, “Oh, I hope he’s a good boy, it’s his first time off the yard and no one else has ever ridden him before.” If your horse isn’t going well enough for you, don’t expect a judge to ride it. Go home and practise.

Horses are great levellers

I always remember going to Dublin Show with my dad and trying a potential worker.

It was a very nice horse, but let’s just say it wasn’t prepared. It was all going well, but Dad being Dad decided to throw a bale of straw under the fence and proclaimed the infamous last words: “Just trust him a bit now, Si!”

Seconds later, I found myself on the floor, minus the horse but with the bridle, and the enthusiastic Irish man shouting, “don’t worry, I’ll catch him for you”.

Feeling pretty humiliated, I shouted, “don’t f*****g bother!”  I stood up to a very sarcastic round of applause from some jumping friends, but later on in the pub after a few pints of the black stuff, it was all good fun. That year I quite literally took home a bit of Dublin.

At the end of the day, horses will be horses and they are great levellers, but if you’ve done your preparation right, the job should run smoothly.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 28 May 2015