Spectating at HOYS and don’t have a clue about the show ring? Read our bluffer’s guide on how to watch a showing class…

  • Even if showing isn’t your discipline of choice, if you’re spectating at the world famous Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) this week you’d be a fool to miss out of seeing the country’s best show horses and ponies (and riders) take to the stage at the biggest showing show there is.

    Combinations have worked tirelessly all year in all weathers to qualify for their moment in the NEC spotlight, so why not settle down at one of the seats in either the International or Top Spec arenas, grab a catalogue and see if you can pick out this year’s winners?

    You’ll have caught the showing bug before you know it…

    1. The first section is called a go-round

    While this portion of a class is not marked or scored on paper, the initial go-round is important so take note. The go-round is the first time the competitors get to make an impression on the judges. Horses will enter on the right rein. The judges will be looking for the animal which catches their eye the most. Of course, exactly what type the judges will be drawn to depends on which class you’re watching. For example, in the hunter ranks a horse a with a ground covering and forward yet rhythmical way of going will be favoured as opposed to the show pony first ridden class where you’d ideally want a pony going steady away and sweetly for the young jockey. The go-round is a good place to pick out your favourites so note down the back numbers of your choices so you can inspect them during their individual shows.

    2. There are usually two judges (and a heap of stewards)

    It can be hard to separate the judges and the stewards in the middle of the ring, as all will be dressed in super-smart attire. Once you’ve eyed up who’s officiating, you’ll notice that once the competitors are lined up after the go-round, one judge will remain in front of the line ready to assess performance and the other will head off to another part of the ring to inspect conformation. The stewards are there to ensure the class runs smoothly, to take down the judges marks and basically to keep the show on the road. These individuals will usually be on the go from the very first class in the ring just after dawn until the curtain comes down after the last lap of honour in the early evening.

    3. Riders will then do a show, or the ride judge will ride each horse

    In pony classes, each jockey will be required to perform a show for the judge. At HOYS, this is usually a short set show with certain requirements each combination will need to perform. After each performance (signalled by the salute of the rider), the judge will award a mark out of 50, in secret to the steward who will be in charge of noting down each mark on a sheet. At the end of the class this score will be added together with the score awarded during the conformation section. And ta dah, the pairing with the most points wins! The horse classes get a slightly treatment; each rider will be asked to dismount from their horse and the ride judge will jump on and take each one for a spin around the arena.

    4. The conformation section

    The rider will remove the saddle from their horse and then present him to the judge in-hand, ensuring he is stood up correctly with his feet square. On the judge’s request the horse will be led away at walk and then turned and trotted directly back. The judge will then award another 50/50 mark for each horse’s conformation.

    5. The prize-giving

    HOYS has a unique placing structure which adds to the tension of the prize giving. When the class is complete, the highest placed 11 combinations will be pulled forward in no particular order using back numbers to form a new line. The rest of the unplaced competitors leave the ring. The commentator then reveals the top nine placings in reverse order, counting down all the way to the winner who will be asked to come and stand in-between flowery pillars for the presentation. To be placed at HOYS is a huge achievement for all riders, owners and breeders and to win is the ultimate dream. Showing competitors dedicate their whole lives to the cause so remember what you’re witnessing and expect a lot of tears!

    Continued below…

    6. The iconic lap of honour

    You’ll have the victory lap theme tune stuck in your head for the next week. The HOYS lap of honour sees the competitors head out in trot or canter before the winner completes their own ring of the arena before leaving down the centre line. Some choose to trot out and others opt for a gallop. Make sure to join in with the clapping.

    For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday and don’t miss the full HOYS report in the 10 October issue

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