Katie Jerram-Hunnable: A shop window for our breeders *H&H VIP*

Opinion

A good horse is a good horse no matter how it’s bred, but we all have our favourite recipes for success. Mine has always been a mixture of Irish Draught and thoroughbred blood, so it was great to see so many lovely animals at the Irish Draught Horse Society (GB) championship show (17-18 August).

The in-hand classes were enormous and it was encouraging to see so many promising youngsters. I’d love to see more of them at county shows; I know the costs of fuel and entry fees may be limiting factors, but it’s disappointing when there are only one or two forward. These shows are a great showcase and shop window for breeders.

Youngstock classes offer a fantastic foundation. A youngster who has been to a few shows as a two- and three-year-old is much easier and happier when he starts his ridden showing career, because he’s seen all the sights and sounds. While it’s important not to over-show youngsters — or to put too much weight on them in the mistaken impression that judges want them to look extra mature — letting them see showground sights, such as ringside barriers, gives them a head start when they begin under saddle.

Some people complain that three-year-olds shouldn’t be shown in double bridles, something that was prohibited for a while under Sport Horse Breeding of Great Britain rules and then allowed again. I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong way, because it all depends on how well the bridle and bits are fitted, and how skilful the handler is. Good hands are as essential when showing in-hand as when riding.

As long as the handler runs the horse off the bradoon (snaffle) and doesn’t apply a strong curb rein, I can’t see a problem. The proviso is that the horse should be accustomed to two bits before being shown and that they and the bridle should be adjusted correctly.

Recently, a young handler complained that her horse was pulling his tongue back. The reason was that the bits were too high. I like a horse to be able to mouth his bits and be comfortable with them, not struggle against them because they are pulled too tightly into the corners of his mouth.

More than bad behaviour

When fitting any bit, don’t just count wrinkles at the corners of the mouth. Look also at how the bits rest inside the mouth as well as the adjustment of the curb chain, and assess your horse’s reactions.

If he resists, he isn’t being naughty. He’s uncomfortable, and this is either because of dental issues, because the bit fit needs adjusting, the mouthpieces don’t suit his mouth conformation or any combination of issues.

I’ve recently been training members of the English team for the National Pony Society (NPS) International Tri-Nations Challenge, an annual event between Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand featuring teams of young riders. I was delighted to see the home team win the British leg of the championships at the NPS championships, as this initiative covers everything from ridden and in-hand ability to knowledge of horse welfare.

Good luck to all those who will be travelling to Australia next year.

Ref Horse & Hound; 29 August 2019