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The Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) in-hand competition has always been a particular favourite of mine — and not just because I have judged the final or been on the “foal end” of four winning mares: Culross Maid Of Honour (1992), Ainsty Merry Maid (reserve 1989), Huttons Ambo Camelia (reserve 1997) and Mountain Firefly (champion 2007).

The competition started in 1965 when it was sponsored by Fredericks and Pelham Timber Buildings and ran for 5 years under “the Fredericks” banner.

A modest affair compared with the present day, it nevertheless held the same objective — to find the supreme light horse or pony in-hand champion of the year, irrespective of type or breed. It was judged on a similar basis to “best in show” at Crufts.

But it wasn’t until the competition was reinstated in 1972 at the instigation of Lord Kenyon — who was a director of Lloyds Bank and bred the Gredington Welsh ponies — that I began to take a keen interest.

Perhaps this was fuelled by the fact that a former Royal International [RIHS] show pony champion Whalton Ragtime became the first pony broodmare to win the Lloyds Bank title in 1973.

So I was honoured to judge the first “Cuddy” qualifying round of this season at Notts County Show, exactly 22 years after Maid Of Honour took her ticket there.

The first thought that came to mind when the exhibits entered the ring for preliminary judging was, are we also losing the all-important walk in led classes? Some ponies, especially the Welsh breeds, were like corks bobbing on water.

Confirming that first impressions are so important, my champion, reserve and the Highland representative all excelled at walk. This observation laid the foundations of the judging process.

I spoke to an eminent exhibitor about my concerns afterwards and he thought that the problem stems from the fact that many Welsh pony handlers focus on the traditional exuberant trot out. Consequently, some ponies anticipate this practice.

To be fair, the M&M supreme in-hand championship was held immediately before the Cuddy qualifier and some of those stallions could have been out in the blustery conditions for too long. Did this put the plaited contenders, who came into my ring fresh, at an unfair advantage and should the show look into this matter for next year?

When in the main ring for final judging, I pulled 5 forward before selecting my champion and reserve. I‘m sure competitors and spectators alike would wish to see this happen more often in similar circumstances, as it reveals which others were in with a shout.

Included in my final 5 were the Highland Benbreac Of Croila, who came alive in the main ring on hearing the band; Freckleton Real Class, the coloured and sport horse champion with a most expressive trot, and the Welsh section B Janpete Tom Thumb, who gave the cleanest performance of the Welsh contingent.

On reflection, it developed into a 2-horse race early in the proceedings. It was between the 3-year-old hunter Golden Lancer, who was so light on his feet for such a big horse, and the riding pony filly Kellythorpes Strike A Pose, a HOYS finalist last year as a yearling.

In the end, Strike A Pose — who was shown to perfection by Simon Charlesworth —was the obvious winner. She has everything I look for in a future saddle prospect: charm, scope and movement.

Fingers crossed that they will follow in the footsteps of Maid Of Honour at the final in October.

Stuart’s column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (29 May 2014)