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The highlight of the 2015 showing season for me has been the duel for supremacy in the maxi-cobs between Hallmark IX and Starry Night, culminating in a battle royal at the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS).

Not since the days of Holly Of Spring have I been aware of enthusiasts making a specific trip to a show or ringside to witness the outcome, which can only be good for showing.

Both cobs are 11-years-old and professionally produced to their living best, although different in type and ride. Prior to HOYS, Simon Reynolds and Hallmark beat Robert Walker’s charge, Starry Night, on their first and last meetings at Derbyshire Festival and the British Show Horse Association Championships. In the meantime Starry Night won at the Great Yorkshire and Royal International — it was a two-all draw.

Both returned to the NEC for the final ride off with incredible HOYS form: Hallmark had won six times on the trot, including landing the supreme title in 2013, and Starry Night had had five consecutive victories. For those in the know it was billed as “Rocky II, the rematch”, as they last went head-to-head there in 2010, when Starry Night was reserve in the cob championship to Jack Cochrane riding lightweight winner Hallmark, before he upgraded to maxis the following season.

My stance was one of neutrality, even though I first went into the ring to strip Hallmark at Flintham show in 2008 — his debut on English soil. But I’m also an avid fan of Starry Night, having awarded him a major championship in 2013.

At HOYS, Starry Night stole Hallmark’s crown with a convincing total score of 96 points, before Robert retired him from showing in the traditional manner. The big question now is, if Hallmark follows suit, who will become the next maxi legend?

HOYS record-breakers

Jayne Ross wasn’t the only record-breaker at HOYS when Broadshard Simplicity, owned by the Wallace family, captured supreme horse honours for the second consecutive year. Owner Martin Wood also made history when winning the Cuddy in-hand title for the second year running with two different animals, Romanno Royale following in the footsteps of Renedene Royal Charm.

Nobody can underestimate the importance of the Cuddy in-hand competition — without it, those shows with qualifying rounds would definitely axe some of the classes. One could also argue that as owners now send led animals to professionals with the specific goal of qualifying them for HOYS, like the ridden classes, it’s also keeping some of the in-hand specialists in business.

In the early days, exhibitors local to that regional qualifying round would often go through to HOYS. Now, the competition has almost become a travelling professional circuit. Steve Pitt’s team qualified six for this year’s final, matching the previous records of Stanley Grange and Robert Cockram/David Puttock.

Could this be detrimental in the long term if the hobby breeders begin to feel it is beyond their reach? Perhaps some sort of wild card, as seen in the ridden sections, for the highest placed amateur in qualifiers could be introduced, together with more recognition at the final itself.

Pillow talk!

In February I was honoured to be the first person to be featured in the H&H series “The best of my fun, I owe it to…”. This revealed: “When I’m getting into bed with… My current book, Clare Balding’s My Animals and Other Family.

On meeting Clare a month later at Crufts, she joked: “I believe we have been to bed together.” To which I cheekily replied: “How was it for you?” Slightly taken aback, she said: “I can’t remember.” To which I responded like a bull moose: “Well, nobody has said that before!”

Ref: Horse & Hound; 29 October 2015