Nigel Hollings: We must look at the bigger picture *H&H subscribers*

Opinion

Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) is unique. It’s the one every competitor really wants to win, as the results are the most remembered.

When I enjoyed my first taste of success there in 1972, it was a far cry from what exhibitors experience today with so many extra classes. The preliminary judging took place outside on a black cinders surface, on the site of the Wembley Conference Centre. The conformation phase was judged on the adjacent Wembley Stadium car park and the concrete would certainly test the soundness of the animals.

The top eight from each class went forward to the afternoon final judging and presentation inside the Empire Pool Arena. Then, the results were revealed in the privacy of the collecting ring as the competitors’ numbers were read out in the order you entered the ring, led by the winner.

These days, even though the early judging times and evening exercise slots are not ideal, we must look at the bigger picture and appreciate how lucky we are that this wonderful grand finale still takes place when other institutions, such as Thomas Cook, have fallen by the wayside in these uncertain times.

Set to test

Show ponies are a high priority of mine at HOYS. Performance judge Tom Barron was looking for accuracy in his set show that tested the jockeys and simultaneously entertained the spectators. It was incredulous that one simple element — a five-second halt from trot, half-way through the change of rein — could have so much influence on the outcome.

I thought some exhibits during the week, including several winners, were too plump. In fact, Tom’s co-judge Christine Pearsall told me that she deducted marks when the ponies were “too well covered”.

A special mention must be made of Rotherwood Rainmaker’s incredible record-breaking sixth HOYS 128cm win.

However, the championship fell to a new face on the circuit this season. Stretcholt New Dimension was simply outstanding, on only his seventh show ring appearance.

Shift in focus

Has the ridden part-bred pony class — which was introduced five years ago also to showcase part-bred natives — been high-jacked by part-bred Arab show ponies? Looking at the list of previous winners and including this year’s champion Drakemyre Puttin On The Ritz, it would appear so.

Consequently, would it not be better to make this into a more familiar part-bred/Anglo-Arab class or section to include the larger height category, particularly with the demise of the Cherif championship final?

In my capacity as British Show Horse Association chairman, I had the pleasure of presenting the rosettes in the ladies’ show horse final won by Francoise Babington.

Apart from winning the HOYS working hunter pony championship with Young Dragonara back in 1996, Francoise also headed the 128cm show pony class twice (1989 and 1990) with Covenham Sensation. Interestingly, the 2019 working hunter victor Hayden Hankey won the show pony championship on Sensation a year later, becoming the second boy to take the title. Here’s to another 70 years!

Ref Horse & Hound; 10 October 2019