In my last blog I alluded to a trip I was about to make, so here it is; I spent last week as a judge at the Dublin Horse Show. I received an email a few months ago asking if I would do the job and, once I realised they hadn’t made a mistake and did actually want me, I have been swotting up ever since!
My fellow judges for the young event horse classes were Lucinda Green and Leslie Law, so I felt very privileged to be working alongside such eventing royalty.
Before the competition commenced, there was lively debate around the dinner table about the direction eventing is taking and the type of horse required to be successful.
Being a Thoroughbred fan myself, it was pleasing to hear everyone, including judges, stewards and ringside spectators, all keen to see horses with “a lot of blood” in them come to the fore, the reasoning being that the Thoroughbred has the ability to gallop round the top four-star tracks without undue fatigue or strain on the body. However, the Olympics are run over a three-star track, so the dressage and showjumping phases have taken on more importance, which is where many warmbloods have an advantage over the Thoroughbred. This poses quite a conundrum for modern breeders of event horses, not to mention us as judges!
There was also a lot of talk on the production of young horses and how we wanted to see the horses go in the ring. We were judging the four and five year olds and the small eventers, and one thing we were all very clear on was that we would mark down any horses that showed over collection and would promote those that were ridden forward into a soft contact.
The competitions were run over two days, with the first day consisting of a flatwork phase, which I judged, showjumping, judged by Leslie, and an evaluation of their conformation, judged by Lucinda (who I’m pictured with top).
I was very impressed by the quality of horses and riding, and I awarded high marks to those horses that demonstrated relaxation, rhythm and willingness to go forward. I would forgive the odd spook, but signs of being overbent, tense or overproduced were marked down.
Although I really liked a number of horses, we waited until one of the last in the four year old class to be seriously “wowed”.
Brookfield Cavalier Cruise didn’t put a foot wrong and went into the lead overnight, and finished as the winner of his class.
Day two took us into the main arena to judge the cross-country and gallop phases of the competition. With a maximum of 15 marks from each judge, the crowd was kept entertained by us revealing our mark for each horse without prior discussion! Most of the time, we were pretty much in agreement but there was the odd horse that brought wildly varying opinions!
Once again, the best rounds were by those whose riders sent their horses forward in a great rhythm. You could tell that some horses, including the five year old winner, Flemington Ruby, a lovely horse called Castle Howard Romeo, and one of the small event horses, Metalbridge Honey, absolutely loved their job, putting smiles on the faces of their riders and everyone watching.
The winner of the small event horse class was the beautifully produced Derg Masterpiece, and all three of us also loved the runner-up of this class, Mr Chocolate, who was a stunning dun Thoroughbred x Connemara.
I learnt so much from the whole experience and I was also delighted to come away with the feeling that the people behind the young event horse class at Dublin are really doing their best to promote sympathetic, “horse first” production of young competition horses. I would encourage any rider entering these competitions to bear this in mind and take part in them to give the horse a good experience and ride it to its age, rather than over training it for a win. I also loved it when a horse came into the ring without any “gadgets” and a plain bridle! You could do far worse than checking out how Colin Halliday and Nicola Ennis rode their horses in the competition; they really impressed me.
My judging experience came to an end with the international performance Connemara class, and what fantastic ponies they were! All of them flew over a decent track that had the working hunter horses in the previous class struggling. It was a team competition between Ireland and England and Ireland just edged it this time.
The show really has got an incredible atmosphere and the right mix between entertainment and serious competition. Lorenzo the Flying Frenchman was providing inter-competition entertainment and what an unbelievable horseman he is! The Irish just love their horses; I couldn’t believe the crowds around every outside ring for the showing classes and all the stands were packed out for the Puissance and international jumping classes. Any time we sat down at the show, in the hotel and the city, there was a passionate and knowledgeable horse person who wanted to “talk horse”. If you haven’t been before, make sure you make the trip in 2018!