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Years ago with competing and reporting, I often knew more about the ponies — their history, breeding and age — than the riders themselves.

Once, judging at a show, I left a jockey dumbfounded when I challenged him after he tried to mislead me that his “old soldier” of an intermediate was a mere seven-year-old!

Competitors often told these kind of porkies, convinced that judges would move older animals down the line.

Furthermore, the practice in ridden hunter ranks in those days was for exhibitors to replace their horses after two or three seasons, before judges began to look for newer models.

My brother Nigel will never forget being told by a judge at the Great Yorkshire in the 1970s that his second-placed lightweight would have been champion that day had it been seven and not 10.

How things have changed. Even though judges are on the lookout for a new star, it appears that older show animals are treated with more respect.

Last season, heavyweight hunter Rockefeller triumphed at the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) for the second year running at the age of 14, and small hunter Lough Crew, 20, collected a Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) ticket for the 16th consecutive year. At the Lancashire Championships, 18-year-old 122cm show hunter pony Treowen Ranger took supreme honours.

Could this be due to the current generation of judges expecting a foot-perfect performance from their winners, which many experienced animals can give?

I believe it’s simply because the modern mindset involving the showing of older equines is totally different. Not only are they competing for longer at top level as owners have become more educated in their care, but they are also being actively promoted by the success of the senior and Retraining of Racehorses classes.

Senior Showing and Dressage Ltd, which runs the home-produced competition with a finale at Olympia, has launched an exciting new series for 2016 in conjunction with Saracen Horse Feeds — and it’s open to all. The final in July offers £1,000 to the champion; visit www.seniorshowingand dressage.co.uk.

Opportunity down under

Last spring, 20-year-old Cheshire-based Jemima Walker returned triumphant from her second showing season in Australia, after riding the 2015 show pony champion at Sydney Royal Show.

In February, the National Pony Society (NPS) announced a marvellous opportunity for like-minded enthusiasts to join a UK team of six riders to compete in Australia in 2017 and New Zealand in 2018.

Register your interest with English liaison officer Daniel Park without delay!

Meanwhile, we will see Australian and New Zealand teams compete at this year’s NPS show in August as part of the first leg of this exchange.

Each rider will be based at a well-known establishment, receiving training on the loaned pony they will be showing. Host yards to date include Julie Templeton, Jerome Harforth, Team Colosso, Rachel Helliwell and Oliver Burchell-Small.

They will then compete against UK riders under four judges in the Kellythorpe Stud International Rider Challenge, kindly sponsored by Lisha Leeman, which includes an evening final — as well as taking part in the young judges’ competition on the eve of the show.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 28 April 2016