During the British Equestrian Writers’ Association lunch at Olympia, I was asked what has been the most significant change on the showing circuit in recent years.
Could it be the introduction of the marks system when judging ponies? Or perhaps the popularity of the relatively new coloured and mountain and moorland (M&M) classes, which often put the numbers in traditional plaited sections to shame?
After much thought, I opted for the increase in opportunities for the amateur and home-produced competitor at top level across the board.
Apart from the many classes seen in showing schedules across the country — especially at the various end-of-season championship shows — amateur riders are also given a shot at the big time in their own category during Royal Windsor and the Royal International weeks, at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) courtesy of the SEIB Search for a Star series and even at Olympia in the senior showing championship.
British Show Horse Association board member Sue Phillips — whose cob Randalstown Top Notch won last term’s £500 amateur purse at South of England partnered by physiotherapist Emily Proud — told me: “We are so lucky to be able to contest both open and amateur classes, with the latter offering the most lucrative prize money.’’
Possibly the richest awards in this sector, with a first prize of £1,000, are the Colosso family final for horses and the Top Spec home-produced pony equivalent, held mid-season at Arena UK.
Amateur-run horses can be produced from professional yards and, with this in mind, Irene Susca kindly donates an additional £500 between the two highest-placed home-produced riders in the Colosso amateur final line-up. Last year, Lucinda Haines went home £1,300 richer after winning aboard home-produced Colbeach Mark Of Respect.
With this in mind, I was rather disheartened to read that there still seems to be some bellyaching in the amateur ranks, particularly targeting professional riders.
A suggested ruling to ensure “the same rider competed an animal in both a qualifier and final would give amateurs a more ‘level playing field’’’, in my opinion, does not have legs. In fact, a society unsuccessfully actioned a similar proposal a few years ago and, if my memory serves me right, was accused of restricting commercial practice.
I’ve always maintained that the biggest threat to any professional is a talented amateur. Sarah Carey, who took the HOYS hack crown on her home-produced Pearly King last October, believes that an amateur has an advantage, as they are able to lavish every attention on one horse compared to a professional overseeing a busy yard.
When Connemara specialist Sandra Burton topped the 2018 M&M line-up at Olympia for the second time in six years, she summed up the professional vs. amateur debate so positively.
“It was an honour and privilege to go head to head with the top professionals and when you manage to beat them, it’s like winning a gold medal.’’ Hear, hear!
Ref Horse & Hound; 2 May 2019