Ahead of the highly anticipated Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) (24 — 29 July), we caught up with working hunter pony jump judge Sarah Lears (pictured competing at Horse of the Year Show) to see exactly what she will be looking for on show day.

Who is Sarah Lears?

Based in Wigan, Lancashire, Sarah works for the NHS as an occupational therapist and also runs her own DIY livery yard. She mainly competes in working hunter classes, also showjumping her horses.

“I started showing when I was about three,” said Sarah. “While I still show and compete, horses are a hobby for me.”

Biggest win?

While riding ponies, Sarah won the working hunter pony (WHP) section at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) three times and also had victories at the RIHS. She has qualified for both finals most years since moving on to horse classes.

Judging experience?

> “I’ve been judging for about five years now — this is the first time I’ve judged at the RIHS.”

> Panels: She sits on the BSPS WHP panel only — “As I’m pretty busy with work and competing myself, I focus on WHP judging.”

> Favourite appointment: “Cheshire County — they always have a testing course for the workers.”

> Issues in the discipline: “Overweight ponies and inconsistency in courses in the qualifiers — they all need to be of a similar standard with regards to height and technicality and at the moment, they aren’t.”

On the day

What is the first thing you notice when a WHP enters the ring?

“Its attitude. I love to see a pony enter the ring that looks like it wants to do its job.

What are your jumping pets hates?

“I don’t like to see over riding to fences, which includes taking pony out of their rhythm. A good round should be forward and fluent.”

What would you let a combination off for?

“I would let a pony off for having an unlucky fence, if he jumps a nice round, as opposed to a pony that jumps a bad clear round and hits every fence.”

What recurring ‘no-no’s’ do you often see crop up when jump judging?

“In small arenas, I don’t like to see children not changing legs, which means they can end up jumping out of a disunited canter where the pony is unbalanced. I think pony jockeys — especially in intermediate classes — should be able to do their canter changes.”

Name three key characteristics of your ‘perfect’ working hunter pony

“Bold, careful and quality.”

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A working hunter pony you have always admired?

“Stambrook Pavarotti — I may be biased as we own him but I’ve been unsuccessfully looking for a 16.2hh version of him for horse workers for about 10 years.”

And finally, Last bit of advice for those competing at the RIHS

“Relax and try to enjoy it — this is supposed to be fun.”

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