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If the success of the first ridden heavy horse of the year championship at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) is an accurate trend predictor, heavies are going to be a “must-have” for next season.

Congratulations to the 10 riders who made it to the final, especially Virginia Osborne on the home-produced Clydesdale, Kinclune Danny Boy, who took the title, and to professional rider Richard Telford, second on Bill Ireland’s Suffolk mare, Eyke Diamond. Richard is ahead of the game, as now all the professionals will want a heavy horse in their yard.
Seriously, the growing popularity of ridden heavy horses can only be a good thing. Some people turn up their noses, but we must support all rare breeds, whether they be heavy horses or natives.

Look at how showing has helped showcase the versatility of Fell, Dales and New Forest breeds. There are always claims that showing dilutes true type by emphasising attributes needed for a comfortable and athletic ride, but breeds have always evolved and breed societies are there to protect and promote them.

Initiatives like this and the wonderful HOYS heavy horse musical drive, which brought a lump to the throat of those watching, are important. We are not preserving equine dinosaurs; we’re giving them another job. HOYS, which is all about spectacle, was the perfect place for this ridden final. Qualifiers on the county show circuit also attracted plenty of spectators, and there were healthy entries at shows such as Royal Norfolk.

Buy a ladder and get on with it

I’ve had three Shires to back and ride away. The biggest problem was finding a bridle and headcollar to fit, but there are now specialists who make tack suitable for heavy horses. Enthusiasts say that heavy horses have naturally good temperaments, but they still need to be taught good manners. It’s no fun when you’re trying to tack up an 18hh youngster who inadvertently squashes you against the wall because something attracts his attention.

How do you school a heavy horse? I’m tempted to say that the first step is to buy a ladder, but the reality is that you train them as you would any other breed, teaching them to go forward, establishing a good rhythm and using transitions.

I would have no qualms about riding one in the ring. We mustn’t be blinkered; anything that has correct conformation, moves well and is sufficiently athletic deserves to be shown under saddle as well as in-hand. Anyone who still suspects that showing heavy horses under saddle doesn’t fit in with tradition should think back to the days when classes for coloured horses and ponies first went mainstream. I remember someone looking at a lovely mare I showed — who went on to be coloured champion at HOYS — and asking why I had a cow on the yard.

This year, Allister Hood took the HOYS supreme title on Lady Caroline Tyrrell’s coloured cob, Our Cashel Blue. Perhaps we should start taking bets on how long it will be before a heavy horse takes the accolade.

Ref Horse & Hound; 10 November 2016