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I’ve always been interested in the judging process and hearing the judges’ expert opinions afterwards — needless to say I’m a fan of Strictly Come Dancing, MasterChef and of course Crufts.

At Southport show one year, after watching some top-class showjumping, I wandered into the flower display marquee and was fascinated when reading the judges’ critiques of the medal winners.

I recently returned to judge at the South African Horse of the Year Show. A major part of the amazing experience of judging show animals abroad is adapting to another judging regime. One notable difference over there, which was emphasised in the pre-show pep talk, is that competitors readily accept that judges may not ride their horse. In Australia, animals are often dismissed without performing individual shows. In contrast, UK exhibitors see it as their right to be judged fully after paying an entry fee.

In Johannesburg, stewards removed the saddles in the conformation phase as grooms were not allowed into the ring. A similar scenario was suggested over here in the 1970s, so that some judges would not be able to play “spot the producer”.

The proposal however was thrown out on safety grounds as replacing a saddle and girthing up, say, a cold-backed pony was considered a specialist procedure and generally beyond a volunteer’s remit.

With this in mind I did insist that the riders supervised the re-saddling so that the class didn’t resemble a bucking bronco display or riders disappeared under their animals on the final walk-round.

Championship change

Judges are advised to consider the championship as a separate class — and in South Africa this was definitely the case in the working hunter sections. Competitors had to jump three designated fences again followed by a gallop, instead of being judged on the flat.

I’m sure the jumping aficionados here would applaud such a move, but in practice it didn’t always produce the ideal result. One time, a walkover class winner with two refusals jumped the best round to take the championship rosette.

If there was a mixed-height championship, fences had to be altered accordingly, which was time-consuming — or each height division jumped different fences on the course, which seemed incongruous. There was definitely more importance placed on the jumping phase, with three separate scores for jumping style, manners and pace between fences. There seemed to be more distance between each fence to accommodate the latter, and a mark for the gallop after the jumping round also added to the hunting ethos.

On my last visit in 2002, I bumped into Lucy Payne at Johannesberg airport, who rode the 1965 show pony of the year, Shandon. This time I pulled a hack in top, unknowingly ridden by an old acquaintance Jane Barnes. We both started showing at Readwood Stables in the late 1960s. Her hack Pendle Manor was named after my local landmark Pendle Hill. Pendle also happens to be my stud prefix — what a small world.

Ref Horse & Hound; 30 March 2017