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Two exhibitors — albeit cracking a joke — have unwittingly captured the different attitudes I’ve witnessed this season towards qualifying for the two major showing finals, the Royal International (RIHS) and Horse of the Year Show (HOYS).

A “show pony Dad” was overheard saying that he hadn’t realised his family had gone into racing. “Suddenly it was a case of under starter’s orders and we’re off, travelling the length and breadth of the UK in hot pursuit of a coveted HOYS qualification.’’

In contrast, the other concluded that it was harder to obtain antibiotics from his GP than qualify for RIHS. This sentiment was recently echoed by Horse & Hound blogger Chloe Chubb when she qualified her Dartmoor for Hickstead at their first attempt: “If only getting a HOYS ticket could be that easy.’’

This term I have seen several RIHS classes with only a handful of entries forward and occasionally with none at all, especially in the hacks, a type already viewed as endangered.

This begs the question — are there too many opportunities on offer, making it all too easy to qualify? This particularly seems to be the case in hunter and coloured sections, which have additional RIHS qualifying rounds from mid-season for the following year.

Show director David Ingle told me that the RIHS is about people: qualification needs to be achievable and fully inclusive. He said: “We constantly aim to ensure that this is the case, as we want people to come and enjoy the RIHS.”

Undoubtedly, it’s a win-win situation for the showing societies that select qualifiers, as they receive the affiliation fees regardless of the number of entries and subsequent levies sent to RIHS HQ.

To be fair, there are other factors to consider: the bad weather played a significant role this time as many animals were not ready for the early qualifiers.

Other demands

Compared to 15 to 20 years ago, it isn’t as easy for school children and students to get time off for weekday events and the same applies to competitors who have full-time jobs. This is one reason we have moved the 2019 North of England Spring Show to a weekend slot.

The chief executive of Westmorland County Agricultural Society, Christine Knipe, appears to have found one solution: “If a child wishes to compete at our show — which is held on a Thursday in term time — we will write to their head teacher seeking permission for them to enjoy a worthwhile day’s education outside of the classroom, and 90% give their blessing.’’

Fortunately, my brother Nigel and I never encountered such problems, because our headmaster at Clitheroe was a huge fan of the royal family. He allowed us to compete at shows, particularly those with a royal title. Even in the middle of exams, we managed to get a day off for both the Royal and Royal Norfolk Shows.

Ref Horse & Hound; 5 July 2018