Working hunter fence size and RIHS riding standard in the spotlight at BSPS conference

  • Concerns over the increase in spread widths in mountain and moorland (M&M) Heritage working hunter pony classes was the hottest topic of debate at the BSPS members’ conference held virtually on 19 January.

    Championship show vice-chairman Philip Hilton confirmed that the reason for the change has come from “pleading course-builders, judges and competitors” who had made note of the lack of challenge in Heritage working hunter classes at championship shows.

    “These are performance classes and competitors should expect to be challenged,” said Philip. “Many of these classes are held on sand arenas and the level of competition is only increasing. However, the BSPS has taken the communication received on board and will be reviewing this rule if it does not work. Furthermore, there will only be one spread at the maximum height in the course. This fence will also not be part of a combination and will be placed towards the end of the course. I’ve seen some very capable ponies on the circuit so we encourage competitors to give it a go and we welcome feedback.”

    Several members questioned the rule amendment, including Christine Pearsall who voiced concerns that the exceeding 143cm section was rapidly becoming a “Connemara class” and that the increase would only discourage entries from owners of other breeds.

    Competitor Freya Cade said while Heritage novice classes consistently received strong entries, the open and restricted Heritage ranks were lacking in numbers and the change would only deter people further. She suggested “adding clever lines and increasing technicalities instead of putting a big back rail on a spread” to make the classes more challenging.

    In sum, BSPS council member Paul Cook said that at the judges’ conference in February, the society will make a concrete decision on the ruling, taking into account the members’ feelings and advice from native breed societies as well as judges.

    New developments for 2022

    Among other rule changes and developments for the 2022 season discussed during the conference, the new winter worker stakes classes were warmly welcomed.

    “We were concerned about the lack of ponies coming through the working hunter classes so a plan was hatched to encourage young ponies with no pressure,” said Philip. “The classes have no rider age limit so siblings, trainers and parents can introduce a pony to competition. The marking system will be skewed towards the jumping phase and there will be no mark for breed type.”

    Finally, Philip announced the BSPS’s new rule that competitors who want to ride at the Royal International (RIHS) in the working hunter pony finals must have ridden in two qualifiers before they can compete at the championship.

    “The RIHS has requested this in an attempt to improve the standard of riding in the working hunter pony final, which is currently felt to not be at a level expected at a major championship,” said Philip. “This will hopefully ensure riders are more prepared and it will also go some way in eliminating the concern that one jockey is riding in the qualifier and another at the final.”

    The fact that riders in Ireland only have one qualifier to attend will be considered by the board and reported back to members.

    Joanne Pybus, chairman of area chairmen and of BSPS area 1A, confirmed the importance of members supporting their local area where possible. She also discussed the rule that all area shows with RIHS qualifiers must elect a non-competing committee member to select the qualifying judges, and she reminded that BSPS area shows who hold sport horse or show horse RIHS qualifiers must abide by the rule that no committee members can compete in those classes at the show.

    Further adding to the RIHS discussion, it was confirmed that qualifiers and finals held during 2022 will continue without a marking system and that judges will be given guidance on how to judge with no marks in big classes.

    Important rule changes

    BSPS secretary Karen Ward highlighted a few key rule changes members should be aware of, including rider age changes. From 2022, the age from which riders can take part in tiny tots and first ridden classes has changed from five to four, and riders of Pretty Polly-eligible 138cm and 148cm show ponies can now be aged up to 18 years old, while riders of Pretty Polly-eligible not exceeding 133cm and not exceeding 153cm show hunter ponies can be up to 20 years old.

    “This is to give people who might have a part-bred, and are still of a suitable size to ride their pony, more opportunities and to encourage more home-producers,” said Karen.

    Karen also announced that in Heritage ridden classes, galloping will only be permitted in individual shows and that riders of working hunter ponies can now ride two ponies in the same height section and both ponies can be placed.

    Dope-testing officer Dawn Christie reinforced the importance of members being aware of the anti-doping rules brought into play in 2021.

    “Any ignorance of the rules is totally unacceptable,” said Dawn. “Equine societies are now standing side by side against the doping of ponies and horses, so please read the rules and be aware.”

    Pathways for future judges and social media use were also touched on. The BSPS advised members to be aware of the pros and cons of social media and to “pause and consider if a post will cause harm, distress or will be derogatory” before they press send. The society is aware of the importance of social media but won’t accept misuse.

    Chairman of the BSPS judge assessment committee Paul Cook paid tribute to those the showing world has recently lost, including esteemed judges Allan Robertson and Rosemary Young. He also thanked the organisers of the major championship shows for their work during 2021, a challenging year for equestrian sport in general owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Vice chairman Nigel Hollings concluded the conference by thanking the outgoing chairman Pat Pattinson who has held the position for 11 years and will be retiring at the AGM in February.

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