The British Show Pony Society (BSPS) Heritage championship was a perfect example of how a show should be run. It was incredibly well organised, with well-supported classes and a wonderful atmosphere, which was truly competitor-friendly.
Inevitably, riders at championship shows sometimes find that they must be in two places at once — or in my case, four rings at the same time. Officials understood this and were extremely accommodating, which isn’t always the case.
The team of officials made the judges’ requirements clear. In previous years, we’ve had semi-finals where a judge in one ring would want an all-singing, all-dancing show and a judge in the next ring would want competitors to keep it simple.
The problem was that no one told the competitors, so we were left to make up our own minds and face the consequences if we made the wrong choice. This year, competitors were pulled in after the go-round in each of the Olympia qualifying rounds, then told exactly what the judges wanted to see.
Walk this way
It was also great to see judges stipulating they wanted to see native ponies going how native ponies should go. Most instructed us to show off our ponies’ natural paces, with the emphasis on a free walk and a good gallop.
In my book, the walk is so important. This applies particularly to breeds such as the Highland, because these ponies are bred to carry weight over all terrain and the walk has to take precedence.
As riders, we must be careful not to spoil a pony’s walk. Sometimes, competitors become nervous as they enter the ring and take too great a hold, which shortens the pony’s pace. You need to tell yourself to lengthen the reins a little and allow your pony to walk on.
The other temptation some riders fall into is pushing ponies out of their natural rhythm. They think this improves their movement, when in fact it does the opposite. In particular, a few Welsh cob competitors seem to think the faster they go, the better it looks. It doesn’t.
This show didn’t have a single negative, and it isn’t often you can say that. The stewards and the sponsors were exceptional, especially in the Olympia qualifying rounds. Here, each combination claiming a golden ticket was presented with a lovely rug, which was a generous gesture.
In my column just before Horse of the Year Show (28 September), I said how pleased I was by the increase in the number of mares forward for this year’s final. I was delighted to see the girls didn’t let me down at Birmingham, with a couple taking top honours and an exceptional Danish-bred Connemara mare taking the overall mountain and moorland title at just five years of age.
Now we’re coming to the end of the season, I hope everyone going to Olympia has good luck and good fun. Competition will be hot and Santa can’t give red rosettes to every rider — but we couldn’t have a more enjoyable end of season finale.
Ref Horse & Hound; 26 October 2017