Life lessons from showman Stuart Hollings *H&H Plus*

  • The leading showing figure talks about his career as a judge, his role as ring-checker and why the marking system changed the way he sourced ponies

    In the early days of production, apart from plaiting, I was in charge of time management. My first task when I was showing, particularly at county shows, was to investigate whether the rings looked “buzzy” in order to gauge the working-in preparations. Competitors are more likely to travel in the early hours rather than stable overnight, so you must plan to arrive on the showground in plenty of time.

    As a show secretary now I often witness competitors arriving late, and sometimes they actually ask the organisers to delay their classes. It is the competitors’ responsibility to ensure they do not miss classes, especially if they follow on and are not timed.

    I was in a commentary box at Malvern last season when an exhibitor complained that he missed a championship because of poor announcements — it seems that the more show secretaries spoon-feed today’s competitors, the more dependent they become.

    Despite the efforts of showing societies to curb abuse on social media, it continues to rage. If someone feels the need to complain, then my advice is to go through the official channels already in place.

    In the judging seat

    The role of the judge is to obtain a satisfactory result. The go-round and pull-in are important elements of the class for me and an excellent first impression could theoretically cancel out a minor misdemeanour in the show when awarding the performance score.

    You can only judge what you see inside the ring; if a steward informs you a pony has been naughty behind your back, I would not act on that information.

    I always make an effort to politely interact with my co-judge during the process — then there’s more chance of them appreciating my viewpoint. I cannot remember ever requiring a referee in more than 40 years of judging.

    My parents told me that a good show animal costs the same to keep as a bad one and with a better return. I often passed this gem on to clients — advising
    them to purchase the best they could afford.

    The horse I wish I had now was my brother Nigel’s Portman Lad, a gentleman of a lightweight hunter who won at Wembley in 1974 with Vin Toulson. He gave Nigel a successful transition from ponies to horses.

    In our two seasons with “Portie” he won many county shows on the flat and over fences — often beating the great and the good. Portie was the first horse I produced and was champion with me on our one and only outing.

    My priority when sourcing ponies to produce under saddle changed significantly after the marks system was introduced 25 years ago. Before this, there was a stronger emphasis on way of going. However, it made sense to place much more importance on correct conformation to achieve consistent results, as the new conformation phase then carried 40% of the marks (nowadays 50%).

    Stuart is a successful showing breeder, producer and author, who also runs the popular North of England shows with his brother Nigel. He has won countless titles at Horse of the Year Show and Royal International. A regular H&H columnist and leading judge, Stuart has officiated at all major championships.

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