My first judging appointment at Olympia certainly lived up to expectations. I’ve ridden in the native final on four occasions and was lucky enough to win in 1997 on Rannoch Of Trailtrow, a Highland, but being on the other side of the fence allows you to appreciate the competition in a different light.
The first thing I noticed when I was standing in the middle was just how small the arena is; the atmosphere felt electric and it was a really intense experience that was heightened by the marking system where the judges are required to show their scores after each performance.
My co-performance judge, David Machin, and I were generally impressed with the quality of the competition seen across the board. We both said before the final even started that we would be looking for something with a little bit of extra sparkle, and a rider who performed with a little bit more showmanship. Our marks reflected this.
Our champion was outstanding. He didn’t put a foot wrong and his rider extended him well. We also loved the Welsh section B in reserve; his young jockey dropped her reins at the end of her show, producing a lovely walk on a long rein. We both commented on how much trust she had in her pony. The Welsh cob in third, who received the highest performance mark, also did a fabulous show.
‘Go for it’
However, I would say that some of the riders did let their ponies down on the day. While I can appreciate the pressures they are under, a few appeared very “guarded” during their shows and perhaps rode too quietly for the occasion.
Some of the shows were too safe and were exactly the same as what would be seen at any other show during the season, and not what you would perhaps expect at a championship final such as Olympia. At such a big occasion, you have to absolutely go for it.
Judging was a completely different experience to riding. When you’re piloting you are filled with nerves, so I can appreciate why riders “played it safe”. But when you’re stood in the middle with a field of exceptional ponies before you, you really do need something that is going to shine.
A few seasoned ponies I expected to be impressed by also appeared to be a little jaded. While a lot of big hitters might have scooped best of breed accolades, it was evident that some of them looked like they’d have enough of the show ring at this time of year and it left them out of the front line.
In all, the majority of the 40 went very well. Turnout was also very high for the time of year. Looking ahead to next season, competitors should be aware of not letting the trend of overly “podgy ponies” creep back in. As conformation judge Jackie Webb noted, there were a couple of culprits who were carrying some extra weight and were marked down for this.
With four judges on the ground, anything can happen. Olympia is certainly one of the most exciting showing competitions of the year.
Ref Horse & Hound; 3 January 2019