Stuart Hollings: The marks system does work *H&H VIP*

Opinion

I thoroughly enjoyed judging the show ponies at what is considered to be the best outdoor gig of the season — the Royal International (RIHS) — when show animals are at their peak and a big arena allows the good movers to perform at their best.

My co-judge Debbie Gregson and I were in deep conversation throughout the go-round, so that when selecting the initial line-up, we were singing from the same hymn sheet. This is crucial and meant that we could trust each other’s judgement when we went our separate ways. No dialogue and a random pull-in are not for me!

Even though none of the ponies with my highest conformation scores won, the results were satisfactory, proving that the marks system does work.

In line with my brother Nigel’s sentiments in last month’s Sunday Telegraph, that judges are fully aware of and actively discouraging obesity in the show ring, I made a point of marking down ponies that were too round for this time of year.

Frustratingly below-par in-hand shows were penalised, too. Some riders down the line actually asked where to stand their ponies up! Presumably they had been watching the ridden shows for inspiration, so why not those displays in the conformation phase, which also carry 50% of the marks?

‘Masterpiece of ringcraft’

Our champion and reserve came from the middle height section (138cm) and were real ‘London ponies’ that you could envisage trotting down the centre, under lights and in front of a crowd in the capital. Many ponies entered the ring without a smile, either through overpreparation or sometimes, I suspect, resenting their earplugs.

Our champion, Drakemyre Puttin On The Ritz, lived up to his name and his jockey India Till later gave a display worthy of the supreme title, well choreographed by their trainer Katy Carter. It was a masterpiece of ringcraft in that awkward main ring space. They didn’t disappear behind the jumps or into the distance, but performed in front of the judges.

H&H’s RIHS preview issue highlighted suggestions from the experts on how to execute something memorable in a supreme scenario. I don’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved that a rider wasn’t brave or stupid enough to incorporate the water jump — where the judges were — as a prop!

Rewarding great turnout

Judging the Ronnie Marmont championship (open to show hunter pony ponies exceeding 143cm and intermediate show hunters, and judged on turnout, condition and presentation) at the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) summer championships came with added responsibility.

Ronnie was the doyen of turnout in his day and, on a personal note, contributed an expert opinion passage in my Successful Showing book, published in 1989.

The remit was to choose the rider most correctly turned out, aboard a well-presented hunter type, and this task was made easier when I spied that there were only two competitors whose garter strap buckles were in the correct place.

Tabitha Green was the lucky recipient of the Schweppes trophy, which Ronnie won outright when the RIHS was held at White City.

Ref Horse & Hound; 12 September 2019