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A well-known trainer once gave me a wonderful piece of showing advice that
is so appropriate for all those competing at this week’s Horse of the Year Show (HOYS): “Don’t expect too much, as it’s better to be surprised than feel disappointed.”

How true. One year our Royal champion and the hotly tipped favourite didn’t make the final line-up. In contrast, a pony that was difficult to produce chose the one day in his career to excel, giving us our first HOYS show hunter pony championship.

Every exhibitor has their own memories of HOYS and they are not always related
to personal success. I well remember being captivated when watching the 1950 and 1951 show pony of the year, Pretty Polly, sparkle under the Wembley spotlight in the 1970 personality parade.

What a pity today’s audience is denied the same opportunity to observe such awe-inspiring equine legends all together. I would hope that in the future an adapted version of this much-missed spectacle could be reinstated in the HOYS programme.

It’s sad to think that nowadays we are willing to view something such as a perfectly executed serpentine at canter as a shining example of showmanship. It’s such a far cry from the past, when we often witnessed more extraordinary displays by today’s standards.

A HOYS moment that stands out for me took place during the preliminary assessment of small hacks, when David Tatlow — resplendent in top hat and tails, albeit incorrect for morning judging then — was sitting in a deckchair reading a newspaper behind Shalbourne Last Waltz, who stood like a rock unattended.

I’m told leading showmen years ago would sometimes leave the ring to chat to their owners in the grandstand, confident that their horses would remain in the line-up. That would cause a stir today.

From 1965 to today

The Cuddy in-hand final on Friday will be the 51st. The series began in 1965 with only nine qualifying rounds. In 1973, as more shows came on board, the final was divided into the present-day two-section format — one for ponies and one for horses — and it was changed temporarily by a new sponsor to youngstock and adult.

This time there are 14 ponies and eight horses. It has been suggested there should be an equal number of separate horse and pony qualifying rounds to guarantee an even balance. But this would be a mistake as it would compromise the integrity of the competition’s objective, which is “to find the supreme light horse or pony in-hand champion of the year irrespective of type or breed”.

But given that there are 13 native ponies forward this year, there is some merit in considering splitting the sections into native and plaited animals, which would in my opinion make the judges’ task much easier at HOYS.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 5 October 2017