Justine Armstrong-Small: It was a good year for hunter classes *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    This year’s HOYS working hunter course, with its theme of stately homes, was a pleasant surprise. Over the past few years, we’ve come to expect spooky fences and a busy arena, but David Cole’s track was designed to encourage power jumping — just as it should.

    A worker is meant to keep travelling, not be forever hooking back and turning.The track was full-on from the start, opening over a box hedge parallel. There was plenty of room between fences, coupled with a variety of obstacles, which invited flowing rounds.

    The organisers hoped for around 10 clears from the 37 starters and achieved just that. No one rode through the finish leaving an arena littered with debris, but 11 of us fell victim to the same set of rustic planks.

    The man-of-the-match award went to showjumper Derek Morton, who jumped clear and finished second on Steph Scott’s Opis Day. Derek was kitted out by fellow competitors and in the ring within minutes when Steph went clear on her eventual third-placed nominated ride and needed a substitute jockey. How about that for the art of catch riding?

    It was a good year for the hunter weight classes, too, with some quality line-ups. Ride judge Robin Sharp gave all the horses a good gallop, which spectators always love to watch, before asking them to stand. This is how it should be; hunters aren’t meant to go like hacks but do need to be able to stand when asked.

    In the lightweight class, for which 20 competitors came forward, Robin Sharp and conformation judge Alan Edmunds followed the classic format, pulling in a provisional line-up after the go-round. In the 28-strong middleweights, they split them randomly, sending out each half in turn.

    This may have been because of time limitations, but I think the go-round is an important part of the class and an initial pull-in gives the judges a benchmark to work from.

    SEIB racehorse to riding horse classes have become incredibly popular with competitors and spectators. It was great to see them back in the international arena this year, as this provided a much calmer environment and the bigger arena encourages these thoroughbreds to settle and cover the ground.

    I was thrilled for Rebecca Court, who finished Beware Chalk Pit’s showing career on a high, with both judges making him their winner. The quality of these classes has improved every year, and this year’s winner was a worthy contender in a strong overall supreme.

    Coping with the atmosphere is part of the challenge. The TopSpec arena is still buzzy, but at least everyone has got used to the pillar in the middle.

    Well done to Oliver Hood, who took on the ultimate pressure when he stepped in to ride Diamonds Are Forever — riding horse champion with Ollie’s father, Allister — and clinched the show’s top honour. You chose the right one!

    Ref Horse & Hound; 12 October 2017