‘Our champion will own the ring’: meet the Royal Windsor judge looking for presence and manners

  • With the 2024 Royal Windsor Horse Show just around the corner, H&H chatted to open, amateur and novice hack ride judge Zara Owen to find out what she’ll be looking for in her champion hack, and how each exhibit should ride in her ideal world.

    Who is Zara Owen?

    Zara Owen is a judge who sits on British Show Horse Association and Sports Horse Breeding of Great Britain panels. She is in her second year of judging and this year, alongside Windsor, she has appointments at Newark and Notts County, Devon County and Midland Counties.

    She will be judging Royal Windsor for the first time, though she has enjoyed success there as a competitor.

    Zara has ridden at top level for several years, winning titles at many major shows. She is also a multi-Royal International and Horse of the Year Show finalist.

    Zara’s most loved horse was her star ladies’ ride Red Letter Day, who took to the centre line on many occasions when Zara was both side-saddle and astride.

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

    “First and foremost, a hack must show that it has both presence and manners when it first enters the ring,” Zara says. “As the horses move through the paces I will be looking for something that moves and covers the ground, especially in the trot.”

    The hack championships will take place in the Castle Arena.

    “The main ring has a unique atmosphere and anything can happen,” Zara says. “I will be assessing each horse as if it’s a completely new class, and the horses must rise to the occasion and own the ring.”

    What will you be looking for when in the saddle?

    “I’ll be conscious that I’m riding hacks, not hunters or any other class of horse,” Zara says. “I want something that is polite, obedient and in front of my leg. I like a horse to travel and move forward, too.

    “It’s very early in the season and so I’ll judge the novice classes accordingly.”

    What are some of your pet hates in show horses?

    “It all depends how each horse goes on the day you’re judging,” Zara says. “Ideally, I don’t want a horse to explode under me, but on the other hand I don’t want something that I have to constantly kick.”

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

    “It’s a long walk from the stables to the ring so do give yourself plenty of time to get up there. There’s nothing worse than rushing at the last minute and spoiling all your hard work and preparation.”

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