The GYS (12-15 July) will not hold qualifiers for the show hunter pony, children’s riding pony, lead rein pony of hunter type or plaited lead rein/first ridden finals this year.
The move is a result of a new rule brought in by the GYS last year, and applauded by welfare charities, that means show animals can only be ridden by the riders entered to compete with them in certain classes. A substitute rider may only ride the animal outside the ring if he or she is eligible in age to compete in the same class.
The rule is in addition to the ban on anyone riding a horse or pony whose weight, including tack, is more than 20% of the animal’s weight, anywhere on the showground, which has been in place since 2016. The age rule was brought in as some people were still flouting the 20% rule.
World Horse Welfare was among those backing the rule but GYS entries and livestock coordinator Amanda Stoddart-West told H&H HOYS contacted the show’s organisers to ask them to drop it.
“We were contacted by [HOYS organiser] Grandstand Media who said they had received safety concerns regarding our rider rule and asked for it to be removed in order for us to be given the qualifiers for those particular classes,” she said.
“The rule was introduced for the 2021 show as despite having the 20% rider weight rule in place since 2016, we were still seeing riders who were far too big for the animals, warming up in the vehicle parks and so on. While safety obviously factors highly in all classes across the show, the wording for the classes states that the pony should be suitable for a child, so suitability must be a major consideration when entering any class.
“There are plenty of other ethical ways to settle a pony rather than simply putting a bigger jockey on it to warm it up, or maybe the pony is just not suitable for some reason. The phrase ‘taking the edge off it’ has been used but surely this comes down to suitability and if the pony is suitable for a child, then this shouldn’t be necessary.”
The show’s equine vet, Julian Rishworth, added: “It’s hard to see why a welfare-based decision is being punished and it appears to be sending very strange messages and not ones that reflect well on HOYS.”
A spokesman for HOYS confirmed the decision was made owing to the rider-age rule.
“Whilst Horse of the Year Show always holds equine welfare as our highest priority, we also have a duty of care to the safety of the children riding in our qualifiers,” a spokesman for Grandstand Media said.
“We work closely with both the British Show Pony Society and the National Pony Society to ensure we are all driving the sport forwards in terms of fairness and welfare, and will continue to act as such, stepping in at our shows when we feel a pony is not suitably mounted.
“As a result of this new rule and a decreasing number of entries in these classes at the Great Yorkshire Show in recent years, it is no longer viable to hold these qualifiers at the Great Yorkshire Show.”
Ms Stoddart-West said looking at the past few years’ entries, numbers in the affected classes had fluctuated but “probably no more so than in any other section”.
“For example, in 2013 we had 19 lead rein of hunter type ponies entered and in 2021 we had 17 entries in this class, which considering the circumstances surrounding last year doesn’t seem too bad,” she said. “Likewise in 2011, we saw 14 first ridden entries and in 2021 there were 15, or the 13.2hh children’s riding pony, which had 15 entries in 2011 and 16 last year.”
GYS CEO Nigel Pulling said: “We have also received a great deal of support across the equine sector from those who think welfare changes have been and are necessary in the showing world to ensure longevity, particularly in light of the Animal Welfare Act. Welfare is of the utmost importance here at Great Yorkshire and will remain at the top of the agenda for all animals on the showground at all times.”
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