Dale Atkinson: ‘Hack judges can’t be charitable and no to bling’ *H&H VIP*

  • Judging Royal Windsor’s amateur classes was both a pleasure and a privilege. As judges, we may be assessing top competitors of the future and, as the cob and hack championships proved, amateurs at the top of their game can compete on equal terms with professionals.

    Including amateurs in the championships and giving them the chance to ride in the Castle arena makes the Windsor experience even more special. Those who won through won’t forget it.

    It was disappointing to lose the riding horse and hunter classes — and, of course, the first night of The Queen’s birthday pageant — to Wednesday’s washout, but cob and hack competitors benefited from perfect going that could so easily have been a quagmire had Wednesday’s classes gone ahead.

    There was a dividing line between those who show regularly and those who were there for the Windsor experience. The competitor in the 21-strong cob class who told me she’d chosen this as her first show certainly made the most of the latter.

    Ride judge Gemma Rees and I shuffled a couple of places in the cobs after they had been ridden, so the lesson here is to school your horse to go politely for other riders as well as yourself.

    We also had to change the final hack placings. Hacks can be so challenging — so often you think you’ve sorted your line-up and one makes a blip that tips the balance.

    This happens in open hack classes as well as amateur ones. You are dealing with horses that have to be elegant and mannerly with lots of presence, so they have to look as if they’re at boiling point without quite reaching it.

    Hack judges can’t be charitable as manners are essential. You might forgive a hunter some overexuberance but not a hack.

    Some hack riders needed to check their mental clocks, because their one-and-a-half minutes were a lot longer than mine. A short show means just that, even if you do want to make the most of your experience.

    No bling, thanks

    Turnout ranged from spot-on to not quite right. I saw riders sporting sparkly hat ribbons, scrunchies and coloured snoods — not needed thank you! Ditto black hoof varnish and cosmetic products for horses.

    Are tradestands partly to blame? When these products are on sale, some may think they’re universally acceptable. They’re not — and sometimes less is more. Riders must also remember that any visible jewellery should not be worn.

    A final tip for those who want to shine is to practise standing up your horse for the conformation judging.

    I know it’s hard when a horse reacts to show atmosphere and you’re feeling the pressure, but get it right at home and you’re more likely to get it right on the day.

    I hope competitors enjoyed their classes as much as I did. When Gemma and I thanked you for coming before us, we meant it.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 19 May 2016