At first glance, the new junior ridden mountain and moorland classes at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) were a great way to keep the peace. By providing a small breeds championship limited to riders aged between 10 and 14, organisers placated those who complain that adults shouldn’t ride smaller ponies and opened another door for young riders.

But is it that simple? I’m certainly not against the new championship, but it could have been thought through more clearly. I can see that it’s a good idea to give young riders another chance to ride at HOYS and more classes to aim for, but the framework behind it isn’t logical.

When HOYS announced the junior championship, it said that adults dominated many of the small breed classes and that this could potentially stifle young riders’ progress.

I don’t think that’s true. For a start, the transition from first ridden classes to small breed ones isn’t usually difficult and most children manage it confidently. As a 5ft adult who rides small breeds, I know I’m biased, but I also know that some young competitors give us a run for our money and that adults don’t always win.

The crunch point

The real step up comes when a 13- or 14-year-old who is too tall to ride small breeds makes the transition to a large native. Moving into an open large breed class is far more daunting than moving from first ridden ponies to small native breeds.

Also, limiting riders at the upper end of the age limit to small breeds doesn’t match what happens in real life. Many 12- or 13-year-olds are often already riding large natives happily, even if some aren’t quite ready for open classes — so how about making it a junior ridden championship for all breeds?

This championship is designed to encourage showing riders of the future, but the rules don’t actually follow this through. They specify that a combination may compete in both first ridden and junior ridden qualifiers — and of course there’s nothing to stop eligible riders also competing in open ones — but that any rider who gets a HOYS ticket in both must choose which class they want to compete in at the championships.

The pony keeps its qualification for both classes and an alternative jockey can be nominated to take the spare ride. I don’t believe that the same combination should be able to compete in first ridden, junior and open qualifiers. I also think that allowing a substitute rider almost defeats the whole purpose of the class.

Finally, the addition of junior qualifiers has led to a reduction in open small breeds ones. This is bad news for breeders who want to showcase stallions under saddle: if we want to look after our native breeds, then by definition we must also look after breeders.

Hopefully, the organisers will review these junior championships when they have seen how the first series works. In the meantime, good luck to all those aiming to qualify.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 12 May 2016