It’s the ultimate showcase for our wonderful native breeds, but standing out from a strong field at Olympia’s Blue Chip British Show Pony Society (BSPS) Heritage mountain and moorland championship is a tough task.

Which judges will be making the big decisions this year and what will they be thinking?

In the first of a two-part series, performance judges Sharon Thomas and Kevin Walker share their top advice.

Judge one: Sharon Thomas

What do you like to see in the ring?

“I don’t have one particular must have. I am judging an overall performance and I never close the door, putting marks on or taking them off. I judge it as a whole.

“I love to see a well-balanced pony covering the ground and carrying itself in a free, natural pace, bearing in mind its breed type.

“It should have a purposeful walk and all paces must be generated from the hindquarters. I expect to see a correct halt, exhibiting good manners, with an overall presence and a take-me-home performance.”

What are your pet hates?

“Disobedience and overbent ponies that are evading the bit.”

Any tips for the riders?

“I don’t see there is one overriding principal challenge – the whole competition is a challenge for the best pony on the day to succeed as champion. However, I would advise the riders not push too hard – and enjoy the ride.”

A little bit about Sharon…

Sharon used to show native breeds with her children at top level, and is a starred panel judge for ridden and working natives as well as show, show hunter and working hunter ponies. She is show director for the BSPS Heritage show, and a member of the show committees for the winter and summer championships. She also sits on the BSPS judges’ assessment committee.

“I have a passion to try and help with my judging to encourage the breeding of each mountain and moorland breed, keeping them true to their historic breed type and movement,” says Sharon.

“This will be the first time I’ve judged at Olympia and I’m very much looking forward to it.”

Judge two: Kevin Walker

What do you like to see in the ring?

“I would expect to see a Welsh section B and a Connemara, for example, to have a way of going which is long and floating in action compared with that of a Dales or Welsh cob, which has a more high-stepping action.

“A Dales should show the soles of its feet from behind before touching the ground. A Highland would not be expected to go extravagantly as it is built as a pack animal; it should move purposefully and be sure-footed.

“Animals that excel in their way of going and give a fluid and mannerly show will catch my eye; I will be looking for star quality to win.”

What are your pet hates?

“Animals that dish.”

Any tips for the riders?

“Look as though you are enjoying yourself and try not to get stressed by the sense of occasion.”

Continued below…

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A little bit about Kevin…

Kevin, from the Brynoffa Stud in Mold, North Wales, has been a starred panel judge for the Welsh Pony and Cob Society since 1992 and has also been on the National Pony Society (and BSPS panels for many years. He has bred section As and Bs since 1977 and judged extensively in the UK and abroad.

“At Olympia, I will be keen to establish whether exhibits are going according to the expected standards of their respective breed. At this level of competition, expectations will be high and one would be expecting to see polished performances throughout,” says Kevin.

Come back next week for top tips from the conformation judges.

Don’t miss H&H’s live coverage of the BSPS Ridden Mountain and Moorland Championship at Olympia on Monday 19 December, starting at 9.30am, and the full showing report in the 22 December issue of Horse & Hound