Threatening and abusive behaviour by the parents and trainers of children competing in pony classes at Hickstead last year has forced organisers to cancel the pony masters class.

“At last year’s Derby meeting we had atrocious weather, and to save the ground we had to move every class, including the pony masters final,” explained Hickstead director Lizzie Bunn. “It was not a decision we took lightly — it cost us a lot to move the classes. We had to hire in show jumps overnight and spend £1,000 on flowers to dress the ring, move the judges and the PA system, and so on.

“But we had really nasty, threatening behaviour towards my family and staff from some parents and trainers. And we don’t need it. We fund £6,000 prize-money for that class, unsponsored, and we were footing it for no thanks.”

Lizzie added that the incident was not isolated. Several weeks later at the Royal International Horse Show, continuing bad weather forced organisers to move more pony classes, the winter finals, to the all-weather.

“We had someone from the International Equestrian Federation coming to inspect the ground for the super league, and ensuring it went ahead was our priority. But it was the same situation again,” continued Lizzie.

“I know a lot of work goes into qualifying, and it’s a child’s dream to jump in the main arena, but we couldn’t help it.”

While the winter finals will still take place this year, the pony masters will be replaced by a new Hickstead young riders masters, with a £6,000 prize-fund.

Pony chef d’equipe Katrina Moore described the move as a “real shame”.

“It’s a great opportunity to jump in one of the best arenas in the world,” she said. “But I can understand they needed to save the main ring.”

Although declining to comment on the incidents because she was not present at the time, Ms Moore added: “Nine times out of 10 it’s just a few individuals who upset things.”

Peter Allen’s daughters, Pippa and Millie, won the pony masters and 128cm winter finals respectively.

He said some people needed to “take a step back and see the bigger picture”.

“It’s nice to be at Hickstead but the weather was awful and of course international classes have to come first,” he said.

“Lizzie Bunn and her team work hard, and it’s a shame to lose the class, but it’s their money providing the prize. We’re lucky the classes were on at all.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (24 April, ’08)