‘Riders should show good manners’: what the Royal International’s working hunter pony judge is looking for

  • With only a few days to go until the highly-anticipated Royal International Horse Show (RIHS), H&H caught up with working hunter pony judge Brigit Ensten to find out how competitors can maximise their score during the jumping round.

    Brigit Ensten will judge the jump section of the working hunter pony classes at Hickstead alongside conformation judge Richard Hollinshead on Wednesday 26 July.

    Who is Brigit Ensten?

    Brigit Ensten is a leading showing competitor and judge who is on numerous showing panels including Sports Horse Breeding of Great Britain, the British Show Horse Association and the British Show Pony Society.

    She has judged the coloured classes at the RIHS in previous years and she has also officiated at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), last judging the cobs there in 2018. She has also judged at major shows in Dublin, Balmoral, Sydney and Johannesburg.

    “I feel so lucky to have judged at all the major shows as well as many lovely county shows,” Brigit says. “One of my most memorable appointments was at the final Royal Show over a decade ago where I judged the ride section of the ladies’ qualifier.

    “The RIHS is the pinnacle of summer showing. The venue at Hickstead is one of the grandest in the country, and it’s an honour to judge there again.”

    What will Brigit be looking for during each jump round?

    “I will be looking for those combinations that come into the ring looking as though they are a partnership. When the pony and rider are together as one and clearly know each other inside out, the round is likely to be more harmonious and balanced. There’s nothing better than watching a forward, smooth and well-executed round performed by a happy child on a happy pony.

    “I like the riders to show good manners; saying please and thank you is important and should not be overlooked.

    “It’s a big ask for these kids and while it’s an exciting experience, riders should remember that there’s nothing quite like jumping at Hickstead. The ring is on a slight hill, and the terrain has a lot of ups and downs. Make sure you do your homework before you get into the collecting ring, and try to ride positively. It will be nerve wracking, but I encourage you to try to smile and enjoy it.”

    What will make the 2023 RIHS supreme working hunter pony?

    “My co-judge and I will ultimately be looking for the best pony in the ring. While we will take the jumping performance into consideration, the championship will be judged as a separate class. There will be six ponies presented, and again we’ll be looking for the combination which stands out and looks like a partnership.

    “Our champion will have taken our eye and will be a true working hunter pony in type.”

    Finally, any advice for those jumping at RIHS for the first time?

    “If you get a chance, watch a few more experienced combinations jump before you so you can learn from them. You can pick up so much from just watching other people.

    “Encourage yourself and be proud that you’ve qualified to get there, but always have aspirations and aim high. I remember jumping at the RIHS myself and it’s a really exciting experience — the buzz is like no other.”

    “Finally, be pleasant and encourage your fellow competitors. Let’s be positive outside of the ring, too.”

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