As I write this column, I’m at the Discover Ireland Dublin Horse Show admiring the turnout of the grooms going into the ring. Many grooms at some of our UK shows, including the most prestigious competitions, could take note.
Even at the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) there were grooms who could have stepped straight out of an episode of What Not To Wear. I hate to think what Trinny and Susannah would have made of the baseball caps.
Allister Hood, who claimed the RIHS supreme championship on hunter champion Hoppy Jumping, was also awarded the prize for the best turned-out groom in British Skewbald and Piebald Association (BSPA) classes. Full marks to Allister and to the BSPA for encouraging grooms to raise their standards.
Does it matter? Call me old-fashioned but yes, it does. Being well turned-out is a compliment to the show, the judges and your rider.
It adds an air of purposefulness and professionalism, whatever your status.
Scruffy grooms can be seen in the professional ranks too. It is hard to keep yourself smart around horses, especially when making sure your charges have every hair in place, but it can be done.
Fit for the job
The bouquet must go to the ride judges; those I saw did a fantastic job. The role is physically as well as mentally demanding and you need to be as fit as any competitor: I hear that David Froggatt not only achieved Superman status for coping with huge numbers on BSPA day, but impressed competitors with his sympathetic riding.
In other disciplines, rider fitness has become a science. Our eventers and showjumpers in particular have experts and resources to help them reach peak performance, as a tired rider will hinder a tired horse and heighten the risk of an accident.
The only way to get yourself riding-fit is to spend regular hours in the saddle. I sometimes hear ride judges without horses say they make up for it by going to the gym, but people, like horses, need to build discipline-specific fitness. Running on a treadmill or lifting weights will get you fit for running on a treadmill or lifting weights — perhaps others disagree!
The period after the RIHS is intense, which is why I’m enjoying my few days in Dublin. I love the Irish sport horse and Dublin is a showcase for breeders and producers. It’s great to see so many quality young animals and, as Dublin is also a place where deals are struck, it’s fascinating to follow their progress.
We mark up our catalogue religiously and have done so for many years. Tracing the progress of horses is fascinating — or have I become the horse world’s equivalent of a train spotter?
The amateur debate
When I get back, I’ll be heading to Equifest to take a training class. This has become part of my showing calendar and is really rewarding — especially when a rider from the year before shows huge improvement.
For many amateur riders, Equifest is deservedly the highlight of the showing year. Betsy Branyan, who devised the concept, and her team do a great job. Last year, there was a lot of grumbling over whether professional riders should compete and debates on whether all those entered in amateur classes had a right to hold that status.
The answer to the first is that it is up to the individual. The answer to the second is that if a rider meets an organisation’s criteria, they have just as much right to compete as any other.
The usual basic definition of an amateur — check individual rule-books for clarification — is someone who doesn’t derive income from horses. If you are paid to produce, teach, keep horses at livery or even to shoe then, in general, you would not be classed as an amateur.
If you help someone without payment, or judge, you will probably meet amateur status criteria. It’s possible for an amateur to have professional standards — and funnily enough, it’s only those who win who seem to come under fire!
First published in Horse & Hound magazine on 21 August 2014