Katie Jerram: Showing classes aren’t slimming clubs! [H&H VIP]

  • The fat debate was opened yet again in H&H’s showing special [20 March] — not that it ever really goes away. But is it fair and are there really that many overweight animals on the circuit?

    I see some that should be slimmer, but they are a minority. I think we should take a different angle and encourage exhibitors to look at their horses’ fitness levels and muscle structure as well as weight, because these determine whether or not animals can do their jobs properly.

    Building fitness, muscle tone and athletic ability takes time. There are no quick fixes: it’s a mixture of correct management, schooling and maturity.

    You can’t supply fitness through feed, though correct feeding is vital. Nor can you “turn fat into muscle”, as some people seem to believe. It’s a physical impossibility!

    Look at a horse as an individual when gauging condition. A horse who is naturally deep through the girth and behind the saddle will always look as if he has a bit of a gut, even when he registers a correct condition score. There are also horses who are natural good doers.

    Be realistic, though. If you can feel pads of fat on his shoulders, or you look down on a cresty neck rather than a correctly muscled one, your horse isn’t well covered, he’s fat.

    It’s unfair that showing is always looked on as the baddie of the disciplines. I see unfit horses, including some who are also overweight, doing dressage, eventing, showjumping and even out hunting.

    And why are judges always demonised? From what some competitors say, we’re at fault either because we put overweight horses at the top of the line, or because we “want to see them in show condition”.

    Panel judges know the dangers of equine obesity and the societies have done much to get the message across to both judges and exhibitors.

    But if you’re faced with a lovely horse who could lose a little weight in a class of slim animals with poor conformation and movement, you’re not going to give a red rosette to an animal that doesn’t deserve it.

    These are showing classes, not slimming clubs! However, I always tell a rider with an overweight horse that, although I like it, I would like it even more if it were fitter, slimmer and more toned. The better shape a horse is in, the better it will perform.

    If your horse needs to slim down, do it gradually. It worries me to hear people announce that they’ve stripped weight off an animal by virtually starving him. Starve a horse and you get physical and mental problems, because he’s designed to be a forage-based, trickle feeder. Everything from ulcers to grumpiness can and probably will follow.

    Entry closing dates are another hot issue. So many close ridiculously early — I really feel for the poor breeder who posted on Facebook that she was having to make entries for foals who weren’t even born.

    I know shows need a rough idea of numbers, but why can’t those of us with large yards commit to entries and nominate which horse we’re taking nearer the time — or even on the day?

    Many shows no longer print catalogues, so why not ditch them? County shows could substitute information booklets and/or start lists, which could be available at the ringside.

    Start lists could include a horse’s breeding details, thus helping to acknowledge the time, effort and money breeders put in. Over to you, show secretaries!

    The new Jockey Club Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) novice thoroughbred show series is a brilliant initiative — more than 20 qualifiers for the Aintree National Show have been confirmed.

    The support these horses are getting from outside and inside the racing world is fantastic. It was a great experience to ride The Queen’s Barbers Shop at Cheltenham before such a knowledgeable and appreciative crowd and he and the other ex-racers parading behaved beautifully.

    I had some lovely horses and very nice owners on my recent racehorse makeover day. If they were typical of this season’s new entrants, we’re in for a treat.

    I can’t match Allister Hood’s claim to fame, though. His RoR Suffolk clinic must have been really exciting, because a spectator went into labour and had to be rushed off to hospital.

    I’m glad to report that she gave birth to a healthy daughter a few hours later — it gives a whole new meaning to great expectations!