With membership of the Arab Horse Society (AHS) peaking at nearly 3,000 in 1996, present-day Arab showing attracts a huge following and the ringside at county shows is invariably packed with spectators.

But while the principle of catching the judge” eye remains the same as in other classes, the flamboyant, continental way – with much whirling and twirling and an exaggerated stance – has provoked much debate and divided many enthusiasts.

Some fear that this method of showing in-hand is becoming too theatrical and takes away the dignity of the breed; others maintain that Britain must follow suit with Europe and the USA; while a growing majority favours a middle way, incorporating the best of British and continental techniques.

“In-hand exhibitors want to show off their horses as soon as they come into the ring,” explains judge Nigel Hollings. “After the accepted “whoosh” in, handlers keep their horses motivated by spinning them to show off the floating action of the trot and I frequently ask them to walk.

“The Arab is a very proud breed with natural presence and I look for elegance, power and liberty. I can’t judge a moving target – I insist that horses are stood up correctly and not kept twirling around before the trot-up.”

Fellow judge Stuart Fleming enjoys the variety of pure-bred Arabian horses, saying: “Unlike the more traditional hunter and hack classes, where everything is the same size or weight, we may find an international show champion, ex-racehorse or world-class endurance or performance winner together in one ring.”

Rather than being walked away and trotted back to the judge, Arab horses and handlers follow a triangle, so the judge can view the animal from every angle. Judges must assess both typeand conformation, and the influence of imported breeds has changed Britain¨s traditional Arab over the years.

“The rotund and cuddly British Arabian has now been streamlined with the use of imported blood,” explains leading producer Caroline Nelson. “We have to avoid showing to extremes and treating Arabians as “parlour poodles”, as there was a period of time in the regular horse world where the Arab was a source of amusement.”

Producer and judge Stephen McMorrow believes judging Arabiansis different to any conventional class.

“We now have types within a type, and judges have to assess together many different Arabs – such as Polish, Russian, Egyptian, Jordanian, American or British. They are all different in their own way, but the same criteria must be used in assessing the characteristics of the breed.”

Having been involved with breeding and showing Arabian horses since 1975, Ian and Joan Woodward from High Tor Arabian Stud in Lancashire have also witnessed changes.

“In some cases the style of showing has altered dramatically, especially at European qualifiers, where handlers tend to wear mostly white,” says Ian. “The emphasis is on the standing up and the pose of the horse and spectators love the flamboyant movement.

“International shows here and abroad use a points system, with either three or five judges. Different parts of the horse, ie type, head and neck, body and topline, legs and finally movement, are marked out of a possible 100.” However, Ian still prefers the comparison method of judging, used at county shows and the British National Show. In fact, Britain operates under two sets of rules: at grade C shows and above, the ECAHO (European Arab Horse Show Commission) rules apply, whereas at county level AHS rules are used.

“The AHS is quite happy for judges to tell exhibitors exactly what they wish to see,” says the society’s Dr Joan Bishop, adding that she frequently asks exhibitors to allow the horse to lower its head – many judges agree that some handlers spoil the natural beauty by standing horses with heads held artificially high, which makes the back hollow and could cause problems for a youngster when it comes out under saddle.

Ridden Arab classes are always among the largest on the county circuit. Penny Hollings, who has judged at Windsor, says: “Refreshingly, Arabs are ridden on a long rein, and whereas hunters and hacks may be perceived as being a little sharp if they display exuberance, it is an accepted part of joiede vivre in the Arabian horse.”

Tips from the Top

Ridden specialist Caroline Nelson

Caroline’s prolific winners from the 1970s include Miss McGredy, Clarion, Haroun and Ralvon Elija.

“All our horses spend time in the field and we don’t over-school,” she says. “They learn better when they are hacking out and having fun. I also do a lot of long-reining and some pole work from the ground. Each horse is worked according to its needs and they all have a day off.

“Those new to the art of showing Arabs should learn from successful producers.

“There is no more dangerous place than a small collecting ring full of ridden stallions and ex-racehorses and, while riders are concentrating on what they are doing, they need to be alert and not ride into fellow competitors. The accepted passing manoeuvre of left shoulder to left shoulder still works.”

Amateur producer Lisa Behennah

“Our lovely young mare Khatifa, who qualified for Wembley last year, came to us in 1998 as an unbroken four-year-old who had enjoyed a very successful in-hand career, and we backed and produced her ourselves.

“Organisation is important, as all our work has to fit in around jobs, school runs andfamily life. On our very limited budget, we have to pick our shows carefully and book days off work well in advance.

“Attention to detail is vital, along with dedication, hard work and the right horse. Educating a young horse is important and Khatifa has attended local meets this season, standing like a rock when hounds moved off in the opposite direction – not bad for a so-called “dizzy” Arabian.”

Producer Stephen McMorrow

Unbeaten under saddle last season, the eye-catching stallion Rusleem, produced by Stephen, added the British ridden title at Wembley to his long list of credits. With other commitments this season, Stephen and Rusleem are taking a back seat.

“We can learn from the continental way of showing. Done correctly, nothing looks better than an Arabian flowing freely on a long, loose rein. The problem arises when inexperienced handlers try unsuccessfully to copy this.

“Unfortunately, many handlers let us down, particularly at county level, anddo not turn themselves out correctly.

“Production is very important – we spend so little time in the ring and every minute counts. Unlike hunters and hacks, we cannot remove whiskers, trim bridle paths or use make-up.

“The ride Arabians give is quite unique and I worry that judges from other panels will make the mistake of comparing them to other types of horse.”

In-hand specialists Ian and Joan Woodward

The Woodwards¨ High Tor Arabian Stud currently has around30 Egyptian and Egyptian-related horses. One of its stars is the stallion Shaikh Al Kuran, bought from Kentucky in 1993.

“Last year, Kuran produced one British national champion, one reserve national champion, one futurity champion and several other winning fillies,” says Ian.

“My tips for showing would be to have the horse immaculate, not overweight, a well-fitting bridle, and the handler to be as well turned-out as the horse.”