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Despite year-round competition, springtime still heralds the start of the showing season for many competitors, as well as being “conference time” for our distinguished judges.

The hot topics at the British Show Horse Association (BSHA) assembly were the marks system, type and the new ladies’ side-saddle class.

Most judges were strongly against the use of marks; some indicated that they would even consider resigning if this system were introduced across the board in horse showing. The main argumment was that marks remove the element of discussion between the judges, as many believe that dialogue often produces a better result when they have to justify their decisions.

There was a consensus that a marks system could lead to more robotic performances, as witnessed in pony classes. One judge stated: “You wouldn’t drink flat champagne, and neither do we want to see lacklustre show horses.”

Muddling type

Type, which defines the classification of the show horse, attracted the widest range of discussion. I explained that although type is an important factor, sometimes as a judge you are reluctantly left with a less ideal winner because “type” did not perform on the day or was disappointingly stripped.

Some judges feel that the success story of the BSHA, the riding horse — by its own definition, something between a hack and hunter — has had a detrimental influence on type in hack and hunter classes, including the small hunters. Do you agree?

Hunter classes were also on the agenda and one expert believes a new type — the “muddleweight” — all too often features in the rosettes. This is a hunter that doesn’t fit into a definite weight category, but it can also be a horse whose bone below the knee does not match its body/height, nor meets the specified weight class requirement.

Ladies’ championship rebranded

The ladies’ hunter of the year has now been opened up to include hacks, cobs and riding horses and been rebranded the ladies’ side-saddle horse of the year class (news, 19 February). There was concern about all these horses galloping together. Less justifiable was the fuss about how to assess a cob against a hack. Easy. Just judge this like a mixed M&M class or a supreme championship with type being a major consideration — and not just in the conformation phase but also the ride — otherwise it will become morphed into just another side-saddle class.

Vet Jane Nixon gave an excellent talk on conformation at the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) gathering two weeks later. She reminded judges that conformation should also be assessed on the move and not just when the animal is stationary. As a show secretary it was music to my ears when judges were also told that mark sheets can now be displayed after each class and not kept under wraps until the championship is over.

I think that if you leave these seminars stimulated and take home just one pearl of wisdom, then the trip has been worthwhile. Good luck this season.

Ref: H&H 23 April, 2015