The show season is underway and I am already seeing an increasingly worrying trend of animals that are overbent.
This is due to either very tight curb chains or poor schooling. Either way, it is unattractive and, more importantly, a sign of tension, as the animal is evading the bit and hand.
It also overstretches the neck and back muscles — ultimately a welfare issue. Hyperflexion is deemed unacceptable under FEI rules, which is why it is vital that showing judges penalise animals which are seen to be overbent.
Softness and being on the bridle come with correct schooling and good hands and, just as in the dressage world, should be rewarded.
Rushing the novice
At the start of a new season, it’s interesting to see who has bought which pony and who has moved into which class.
I particularly enjoy seeing new novice ponies coming out, although it seems increasingly popular for these animals to stay in novice classes for only a few months before contesting opens.
At one time, we thought nothing of running a pony as a novice for two or three years and only contesting opens when we believed it was fit to win. While I have had several four-year-olds who have been sufficiently well-developed in their minds and bodies to win opens, I believe that these are the minority.
Most animals need time to mature both physically and mentally. They need to be given ring experience, so they can fulfil their true potential and go on to have long careers.
However, I appreciate one of the difficulties is that there are fewer novice classes than there once were. It appears they are simply not on trend, with competitors opting for qualifying classes instead.
Last year, I wrote of my disappointment at the poor support for Royal Windsor’s three novice classes. It’s a cliché, but if we don’t support these classes then they will be cut and all our novice opportunities will be lost.
Judges have a responsibility in novice classes to judge them as exactly that, and look for the potential of these animals.
We took several novices to a recent winter show and, in one class, I was delighted with how a four-year-old went on its first time in the ring.
Afterwards, my young jockey said: “The judge said he was just a bit novicey — but Julie, I thought it was a novice class.”
If this young competitor understands the concept of what a novice class is about, surely the judge should, too?
Notice future star quality
Judges should also remember that novice classes are for novice ponies to get into the ring and gain experience. They are not put on for established combinations just to win a rosette.
I would far rather have a very green, beautiful animal with presence and movement stand at the top of the line over a mediocre, well-behaved exhibit.
The mediocre animal will always be just that — but with time and correct schooling, the beautiful animal will possibly be a superstar.
Ref Horse & Hound; 28 March 2019