Stuart Hollings: Competitors are not always on their best form at a show [H&H VIP]

  • There is an old show business saying: “Never work with children and animals”. And yet in equestrian circles many judges give up their valuable time to do just that, relishing every minute.

    Ponies occasionally have an off day in the manners department and generally the children are a delight. However, it is the bad behaviour of a handful of competitive parents that appears to be giving cause for concern. What sort of message do these inexcusable altercations send out to the younger generation?

    I’ve always maintained that some competitors are not always on their best form on a showground — some are quite unrecognisable in a less stressful environment.

    Ask anyone who has been competing on the circuit for many years and they will hark back to the good old days when taking part was more sporting and enjoyable. The landscape of competition in every equestrian discipline has changed at all levels and not always for the better, as cost and pressure to succeed soar.

    We do live in a questioning society and the backlash against a judge’s decision has become more aggressive, particularly via social media. Consequently, many showing societies have adopted strict social media policies to counteract these acrimonious postings. One showing expert believes this may be the cause of more confrontations at shows.

    Another suggested that the introduction of the marking system in pony classes could also be to blame. Rather than making judging more accountable, has it just given competitors too much ammunition when they scrutinise the scores? It’s interesting that there seems to be less animosity in horse classes, which are judged without marks. The judge’s opinion is more private and his decision more readily accepted.

    Exhibitors need to understand that judging is subjective and results are based on that person’s opinion on the day. Also, assessing the animals from the middle of the ring is vastly different than from the ringside.

    My biggest worry is that we do lose some of our wonderful and dedicated judges/stewards prematurely — those who choose to bow out following outbursts from irate exhibitors, rather than face the protracted complaints process of producing proof and involving witnesses.

    Even though governing bodies consider this negative conduct towards judges to be totally unacceptable, and realise that it is their responsibility to ensure a safe environment for both their judges and members, societies are thwarted in their remit to clean up the sport when berated officials are not prepared to put a complaint in writing.

    Tough guys

    Douglas Hinckley of WH Management Group, which supplies 45,000 man hours to events, told me recently that the security industry has noticed a sharp increase in both verbal and physical abuse towards officials in the equestrian industry, especially in the past year.

    Following a major show in July 2014, five of his men — tough, streetwise ex-soldiers — tended their resignations, as they could no longer put up with the personal and directed abuse that they receive on a regular basis.

    On another occasion, a competitor spat in the face of one of his staff because she was not allowed to park in an area that was already full.

    On a lighter note, when two judges completed their championship at Horse of the Year Show last season, one joked to the other: ‘If anyone attacks you over our placings, just blame your co-judge, because that’s what I’ll be doing to you if anyone confronts me!’

    Ref: H&H 2 March, 2015