‘Go forward and don’t over-do the make-up’: how to impress the 2024 Royal Windsor amateur hunter judge

  • Ahead of the 2024 Royal Windsor Horse Show, H&H caught up with amateur hunter ride judge Michelle Burgess who will be officiating alongside conformation judge Billy Moran to find out exactly what she’ll be looking for on the go-round and while sitting on the horses.

    Who is Michelle Burgess?

    Cornwall-based Michelle Burgess is a judge who sits on Sports Horse Breeding of Great Britain and British Show Horse Association panels. She has previously judged the ladies’ and small hunter classes at Windsor and she has also officiated the ladies’ show horse of the year final at Horse of the Year Show and at the Royal International, where she also judged the amateur riding horses. She has judged Royal Dublin twice. Michelle hunts with the North Cornwall.

    What will you be looking for as combinations enter the ring?

    “I will be looking for a horse that’s true to type, has good paces and fills my eye,” Michelle says. “I really want a horse that catches my attention from the off with its presence.

    “When they enter the ring I’ll be looking for those horses with nice swinging walks. I don’t like stuffy horses that don’t go forward, so I want something that covers the ground as it moves up the gears.”

    While Michelle is judging the ride, she will give the horses a once over in the championship.

    “I like a hunter to stand four-square over the ground, fills the eye and has enough bone for its type,” she says.

    What will you be looking for when in the saddle?

    “A balanced ride that is light in the hand and goes off my leg,” Michelle says. “A hunter must go forward and they must travel. They must be mannerly, of course, but I would not necessarily harshly penalise a small spook or a stride of wrong leg, especially if it’s my fault, as long as it’s nothing nasty.”

    What are some of your pet hates in show horses?

    “I don’t like stuffy horses that don’t take the rider forward; if you’re out hunting you don’t want to be kicking all day,” Michelle continues. “I also don’t like too much make-up on a horse; there is nothing worse than going up to say hello to an animal and coming away with your coat covered in oil and black smears! I’m not a fan of excessive make-up that looks like the horse has big black panda eyes. Ultimately, too much make-up detracts from the horse when it should enhance, so don’t over-do it.”

    Any advice for those heading to Royal Windsor for the first time?

    “The class will take place on a grass arena so, if weather allows for it, get out of the sand school and practice on grass. It’s a different experience for both the horse and the rider. I’ve always ridden my hunters in fields so they get used to travelling and going forwards in an open space.

    “I would also recommend working on transitions prior to the show so your horse is really moving off the leg and riding up into the bridle.

    “Finally, make sure someone else has ridden your horse a few times before a ride judge gets on.”

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