The ridden hunter classes at Royal Dublin Show were as exciting as ever, but the judging protocol didn’t quite work. Judges were asked to pull a handful of horses forward in each section and then to dismiss the back line, which isn’t fair on horses or riders and caused a few problems.
At Dublin, young horses are the norm — which is why it’s such a great shop window for breeders and buyers — but I strongly believe that even when classes comprise mainly experienced animals, they all should stay in the ring until the end. Horses are herd animals and when you have a group in a lively showground environment, it can be too much to ask your top contenders to remain calm when they see most of the other horses leave the ring.
I know riders may want to leave when they know it isn’t their day and they have another horse waiting to be ridden. In some cases, an individual can ask permission and leave without causing problems, but a mass exodus is never good news.
The same applies to championships: all should stay until the final rosette is in place. It’s safe practice and lessens the risk of a worthy winner losing out at the last minute. Of course horses should be mannerly, but let’s be realistic in what we ask of them.
Much has been said about the Royal International’s general improvement of facilities and safety measures and I’ll add my praise. Rider falls in the hunter classes were not due to the going, which was fantastic — so what can we actually learn from them?
Hindsight is wonderful, but one lesson must be that horses in these classes needed studs; I was certainly grateful my horses had them. The all-weather track around that big main ring is great, but horses sometimes step off it on to the grass, and that’s when accidents happen so easily. A horse which lowers and lengthens down the long side gets confidence from the security of the track and if he steps off, loses that security in an instant unless he has studs to help him.
‘We all need a game plan’
Without criticising any competitors, we all need to have a game plan. We’re out to show off our horses, but to do that we have to think about other riders as well as ourselves. Too often, riders came around the bottom corner and pushed on to the top when they weren’t in the perfect place to do so.
When preparing to gallop, I try and go first or last and avoid being stuck in the middle. That way, you lessen the risk of a big-moving horse with plenty of acceleration being held up by another, or running into a pile-up. Be aware of how other horses go and plan accordingly.
Finally, I was sad to learn that photographer David Miller has died. We will miss his talent, quiet competence and sense of humour — you knew that when David was in the ring, you and your horse would be treated with consideration.
Ref Horse & Hound; 18 August 2016