The Royal International (RIHS) has a long tradition of being the mid-season barometer for everyone interested in the show ring. This year proved no different.
Looking back, I was surprised to note on the roll of honour in the Dick Saunders pavilion that my first time judging at the show was 25 years ago.
It was in 1994 that a rather more youthful Allan Robertson came to Hickstead and judged the show pony lead-rein and first ridden classes. But the pinnacle of that day was having the honour of joining Hopper Cavendish and Tim Stockdale, that year’s King George V Gold Cup winner, to judge the supreme ridden animal for the Winston Churchill Cup.
Now a quarter of a century later, I was back to judge the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) Heritage mountain and moorland (M&M) classes alongside Caroline Whiteley.
Six hour stint
In record-breaking heat, the task of sorting the five mammoth classes began at 7.30am and continued over six hours.
First in the ring were the native small breeds with worthy representation from each forward. The numerically largest class of the day was for the Connemara and New Forest ponies — despite a lack of numbers forward for the New Forests, it was good to see one figure in the final placings.
Undoubtedly the most challenging, but nonetheless rewarding, class of the day was that for Dales, Fells and Highland ponies. These breeds coped admirably in the hottest part of the day.
As we all come to expect now, the classes for the Welsh breeds left their own indelible stamp. Whether it was chance or good luck, we saw each Welsh section represented in the final overall championship, despite there being only two classes for the four breeds.
The final championship is contested during the afternoon performance in Hickstead’s world-famous main ring. The famous Derby bank, devil’s dyke and Irish bank provide the backdrop for this coveted title.
Having secured the overall junior championship title for his young rider, the diminutive Welsh mountain pony stallion Thistledown Snow Storm laid down the gauntlet with a stunning display in the main arena. However, it was the outstanding performance and blistering gallop along the front that captured the hearts and applause of the appreciative Hickstead crowd, and tipped the balance in his favour and allowed him to capture the supreme title.
As judges, both Caroline and I were in full agreement that our champion was a worthy winner and deserving of the title.
Plea to owners
On a final note of caution, I am sad to have to report that there remain far too many ponies carrying excess condition. This is neither healthy nor beneficial to their longer-term prospects.
Owners, please remove those blinkers and take a long, unbiased and critical look at your horse or pony and make a decision about its weight, if for no other reason than you want to do what is best for the animal you love.
Ref Horse & Hound; 1 August 2019