‘If you holiday with a judge, you shouldn’t show under them’: show ring morals under debate

  • Morals, scoring and social media were among the topics discussed at the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) 2023 judges’ conference.

    Some 180 judges attended the conference on 11 February, which was followed by the society’s AGM and awards ceremony.

    Edward Young, BSPS council member and a show producer, delivered a presentation on the “morals of judging”, discussing how judges should behave and who should show under them.

    “If you spend time socialising with competitors, you could be perceived as a crook even if you aren’t. Judges have to be very careful about the perception they give,” he told H&H.

    “Showing under friends is always going to be a bit of a thing, but the trouble is that the showing world is so small, it’s very difficult not to know everyone if you’ve been in it for any length of time. But if you go on holiday with someone a couple of times a year or speak to someone every day on the phone, you probably shouldn’t be showing under them.”

    Edward also spoke about issues relating to social media.

    “If someone posts a picture of a horse in a category you judge, it’s probably unwise to comment on that picture – you have to be very careful about interaction,” he said. “Similarly, when a judge posts online that they had a lovely day at a show, it gives the opportunity to open a conversation over which they’ve got no control, and it can run away. My advice is if someone wants to thank a show, this should be over the phone or email.”

    Another key point of the conference was an interactive session on way of going and scoring. Video clips of ponies performing shows were played and every table of judges gave a score, followed by a group discussion.

    New chair of the BSPS judges’ assessment board Joanne Pybus told H&H it became apparent that different judges look for different things.

    “There were mid-range scores that quite a few tables gave, then some gave 10 marks lower or higher, so then we discussed how these judges came to their decisions,” she said.

    “On every table there was a mix of judges – some who had been on the panel for 30 to 40 years and some attending their first conference. The aim was to encourage everybody to engage in discussion – and encourage judges to use a wide range of marks when they’re out in the real world.”

    BSPS chairman Paul Cook said there had been a lot of innovation with new awards and classes in the past year, including the Grange Bank Stud awards for younger members, the Robert Oliver showman’s award and the four-, five- and six-year-old championship. Also launched was the breeders’ challenge in partnership with the National Pony Society, encouraging the breeding of British riding ponies, and the “very successful” winter worker stakes and new summer worker stakes.

    “It was a very positive year, and we will continue these opportunities this year along with the new London International Horse Show (LIHS) performance classes and the cradle and nursery stake finals,” he said.

    “We’re trying to make sure all our membership have something they can aspire to and achieve, whether that’s our championship shows, the Royal International, Horse of the Year Show [HOYS] or LIHS. We also have our Burghley Sports Pony final which links with the Pony Club.”

    Among the topics at the AGM was rider safety, with new rules on hat-tagging and on concussion, requiring riders who fall to seek medical advice before riding again – bringing the society in line with organisations such as the Pony Club.

    Paul said one “hot topic” is the HOYS intermediate championships, where the 153cm small intermediate and 158cm large intermediate will be a combined championship for 2023. HOYS said this had been “extensively discussed with the relevant showing societies” and was owing to “concern about numbers” in plaited pony classes.

    Paul added that the BSPS is considering how it can offer alternative opportunities for intermediates

    “We’re looking at how we might do something for the intermediates at our championship, particularly for people who perhaps unknowingly bought a pony for each section and now won’t be able to ride both if they do qualify for HOYS. We strongly encouraged HOYS to consult members and have a longer lead time if changes like these are planned,” he said.

    “We’ll keep this under review and look at how we might ensure ponies are catered for, even though HOYS is having an amalgamated final.”

    A HOYS spokesman told H&H that since the peak of the intermediate show riding type from 2008–2016, there was “no avoiding the reality” that plaited pony numbers have continued to decline.

    “In the past five years, we have seen a 42% decrease in entry numbers for these classes. In a bid to uphold the quality of animals at the final, HOYS took steps in recent years to reduce the qualifying spaces,” he said.

    “However in 2022, one in three intermediates campaigning for this class qualified for HOYS and across the two height sections, 96 animals contested the classes. With these numbers in mind, it is unsustainable to continue running the class in its previous format. In addition, information from the BSPS highlighted that numbers competing at novice level were not encouraging in anticipation of the 2023 season, something we are keen to work with BSPS to improve.”

    The spokesman added that HOYS maintains it is “reflecting the current showing scene” with regard to breeds and types, and will continue to closely monitor numbers at qualifying shows across all sections.

    “Plaited ponies are an important part of the heritage of the show, and we remain committed to working to ensure that they continue to have a place at HOYS.”

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