How young is too young? Age debate rages in showing circles

  • Debate is raging within the showing fraternity over how young is too young when it comes to children riding horses in the ring.

    It follows 12-year-old Sam Walker’s back-to-back reserve hunter titles at North of England Spring (6-8 April) and BSHA Northern Spring (16 April).

    On both occasions Sam, a competent jockey who has successfully shown myriad ponies in the ring and is a regular in the hunting field, rode with skill to stand reserve to his father, Robert.

    “Sam has ridden in two hunter championships in the past 10 days. He schools the horses all the time at home and I would never put him, or anyone else, on a horse I didn’t think they could ride,” said Robert.

    Robert had qualified both horses — Our Kingsman and Party Time V — for the championship by winning their classes. Sam then deputised for Robert in the championship due to his father having more than one horse qualified to bring forwards.

    Concerns have been raised, however, about other children who are less able riding horses in the ring — with different rules under the various governing societies.

    Currently the British Show Horse Association (BSHA) has a minimum age of 15 to ride a horse in the ring, whereas British Show Pony Society intermediate and Sport Horse Breeding of Great Britain (SHB (GB)) classes do not.

    Bryan Smart, who judged the hunters at Northern Spring, commented: “Walker junior rode very competently today — but would other youngsters with less responsible support and experience cope as well?

    “I do believe that in this day of health and safety and litigation, SHB (GB) needs to look into this situation very closely.”

    H&H columnist Stuart Hollings, who is show secretary at the same show, a judge and former committee member, added: “From a secretary’s point of view, the question I would like someone to answer is if there was a serious accident involving an over-horsed young rider in a buzzy show ring, could the show and the judge who is in charge of the ring be held liable — or the governing society for not having a minimum age limit in place?

    “Horses are unpredictable and at the large shows with big rings accidents do — and can — happen.”

    Continued below…

    But in her H&H column (27 April issue), pony producer Julie Templeton argues that children riding hunters in the ring is not a new concept. Robert Walker rode a hunter that stood champion aged 14, and a grandson of Bill Bryan achieved the same at just 11.

    “If children are talented enough to move up through the ranks on horses, then they should be encouraged to do so,” added Julie.

    H&H has contacted SHB (GB) for a comment and is awaiting its response.

    For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.

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