‘Know your breed’ — judges tips for showing large native breeds in the ring

If you’re planning to show a large breed mountain and moorland (M&M) pony this season, you need to know how to stand out in the ring and catch the judge’s eye. The following tips will ensure you make an instant impact and help you avoid any pitfalls.

Class options

Mountain and moorland ponies are divided into two categories – small and large. The ridden large breed ponies must be four-years-old and over and registered in the approved pure breed society stud books of the Connemara, Highland, Dales, Fell, New Forest and Welsh sections C & D. Riders can be any age.

Three societies govern the championship classes, including qualifiers for Horse of the Year show (HOYS), Royal International Horse Show and Olympia. These are:

  • National Pony Society (NPS)
  • British Show Pony Society (BSPS)
  • Ponies (UK)

Where do the large breeds come from?

M&M ponies form a group of several breeds of ponies native to the British Isles. Many of these breeds are derived from semi-feral ponies kept on moorland or heathland, and some of them still live in this way, as well as many now being kept as fully domesticated animals for riding and driving purposes.

  • Connemara ponies come from County Galway in western Ireland
  • Highland ponies hail from Scotland
  • Dales ponies derive from the eastern Pennines in north England
  • Fell ponies are from Cumbria in north-western England
  • New Forest ponies come from the New Forest in Hampshire on the south coast of England
  • Welsh ponies originate from Wales

What does the judge expect?

Riders in native pony classes will be expected to perform an individual show.

“In M&M classes I’m looking for ponies that best meet their own particular breed standard,” says Gill Wright, NPS judge and representative of the native breed societies.

“It’s important that the ponies exhibit the type characteristics, both in conformation and action that are defined in their own breed description, and are trimmed to their breed’s individual specification.”

“The body shape I prefer in natives is that of a deep bodied pony that would be tough and hardy,” adds Gill, who also runs her own Burley Stud breeding New Forest ponies. “The depth of body should match the length of leg.

“This general body type is better adapted for living in the fairly hostile environments from where most of our native breeds evolved. Many tend to be broad at the withers, which shows their multi purpose heritage.

“Large breeds should have plenty of hard flinty bone, well formed round feet and be capable of carrying considerable weight.”

How to turnout correctly

“Make sure your pony goes happily in your chosen bridle rather than unhappily in a double because you think that you have to use it,” says Gill. “Riders in all classes should wear tweed jackets, breeches or jodhpurs, shirt and tie and current standard riding hats.”

Breed societies all produce their own showing rules, so make sure you are aware of them and follow them.

Nine top tips for showing natives:

1. Bridles should be plain and workmanlike
2. Use plain browbands
3. Either no numnah or one that is discreet and matches the pony and saddle
4. No boots or bandages
5. Brown or black tack: brown is preferred by traditional judges and is always correct in the show ring
6. Snaffle bridles for novice classes
7. Double bridle or pelham for open classes
8. Straight cut or working hunter saddles show more of the shoulder and movement, so these types are preferable to general-purpose saddles
9. Manes, tails and feathers may be pulled or trimmed for some breeds — but check with the breed society’s specifications

Way of going

“The way of going varies considerably from breed to breed depending on the uses for which the ponies were bred for in their own particular original environment,” says Gill. “It is vital that ponies exhibit the correct movement and way of going for their own breed.

“Fells, Dales and Welsh cobs in particular should show personality and a very active trot, which in many ways is the most important pace for those breeds, so every effort must be made to emphasise this gait,” advises Gill.

“I like to see New Forest and Connemara ponies give a smooth, polished show with a really good gallop, while Highlands should show a ground covering walk together with a well balanced show.”


“In general I like to see relaxed swinging walk,” says Gill. “The walk is a very important pace and riders should ensure that their individual show demonstrates this.”


“The trot should be active, free and straight with powerful, active use of the hocks.”

Canter and gallop

“The canter should be light, balanced, rhythmical, but should also show some personality. Natives should show a good extension in gallop, lengthening and lowering over the ground, pulling up when asked in a controlled and accepting manner.

“All transitions should be relaxed and smooth without resistance,” notes Gill. “The overall way of going should be uphill and light, with the hind legs coming right underneath the body so that the pony is working through from behind.”

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Judges’ pet hates

Gill doesn’t like to see the following in the show ring:

  • “Riders that don’t use the ring. If you find yourself too close to the pony in front of you take a circle and find a gap to slot into.”
  • “Overbent ponies that are normally on their forehand. This not only spoils the impression, but also stilts the natural pace of the pony shortening the stride, spoiling the movement and makes even the longest front look short.”
  • “Ponies that refuse to stand when leaving the line up.”
  • “Competitors that try to catch the judges eye in trot by racing round flat out. This destroys the natural paces and usually unbalances the pony, harming the overall impression.”
  • “Natives that move like riding ponies – i.e showing a flat, low action and not showing the roundness that is essential for safely moving over rough country.”
  • “Ponies that go like a hack. It’s important that they show manners but some personality is a must.”
  • “Ponies that are overweight and unfit. Excess weight is a way to hide a multitude of conformational faults and it often causes the pony to have puffy, lumpy joints as well as causing noisy, laboured breathing. It also detrimentally alters the way the pony moves.”

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