Robert Walker: Judges are penalising immature horses *H&H VIP*

Opinion

The step away from affiliation in the novice classes at Great Yorkshire seems to be paying off, as I have mentioned before. There were 26 and 27 entries in respective novice lightweight and heavyweight hunter classes, which tells me the goal of increasing entries has been achieved.

Allowing people to attend such a prestigious show without having to be a member of a society is definitely the way forward. It’s bringing the enjoyment back into the job. Who knows, next year these riders might decide to join up and have a go at open classes.

On the other end of the scale, the £1,000 four- and five-year-old finals at the National Hunter Championships (1-3 July) had just two entries in each class.

Even though £1,000 is a lot of money, people are protective of their horses and, in July, many have other aims, often still trying to qualify others for Horse of the Year Show (HOYS). Perhaps the society could knock the need to qualify on the head and just run four- and five-year-old ridden classes with the same money on offer.

I do commend Sports Horse Breeding (GB) on pushing the once-struggling fixture forward and moving it to the popular venue at Addington. But while the prize pots are a good incentive and people should use them, in my opinion, it’s not a proper championship show when it’s held so early in the term.

Quality over quantity

I was interested to read Simon Reynold’s latest column when he compared many show animals to “fat robots”. I think our judges have an impact on why we see so many overweight horses in the ring.

I have many young horses and I get frustrated when judges don’t reward a lovely, quality horse because it is immature or a little raw. I have regularly been told: “What a lovely horse he will be next year.” As competitors, what does this tell us about what a judge is looking for?

Judges are often penalising animals for not being heavy enough. Our own novice, Our Merrigan, has been kept back for this reason. He has taken a long time to mature and, as judges seem to be obsessed with topline, I knew what they would say. Surely something must be done here if competitors are to show suitably weighted, healthy animals?

Testing concerns

I am pleased to see an increase in dope testing at various shows, although I do worry about the reliability of such tests.

We often leave our horses on the lorry or in stables at shows and there is no security at all. If there is a positive test, there could always be a flaw in the system. Someone could easily have tampered — intentionally or unintentionally — with a horse. There were concerns, for example, over the security of testing at Great Yorkshire.

I was discussing how we dope test in showing with someone from the racing industry. Testing in racing is clinical and secure, whereas in showing the test is done and then we have no idea when it gets sent off. While the processes are different, the stigma of a positive test is the same. Maybe it’s time to review our procedures.

Ref Horse & Hound; 18 July 2019