Judging quality horses is always a privilege, but judging in Ireland adds an extra dimension. A recent trip to Balmoral show in Northern Ireland showed that the Irish still know how to breed and grow top class hunters and cobs — and how to run a successful four-day show combining horses, livestock and agriculture.
Horse classes in Ireland display enormous quality. At the same time, there’s an element of “just get on with it” that you don’t find here. After the hours we spend at home ploughing through rule books for organisations and societies, it’s surreal to find yourself judging with no rule books at all; the same applies at Royal Dublin.
There are simply general rules for showing, including one I wish we would adopt here. All four- and five-year-olds must have competed in or be entered for at least three shows beforehand; these must be detailed on the entry form and proof of participation may be asked for. What a great way of at least minimising risks to the ride-judges.
Not having set rules means judges’ preferences and dislikes have more weight, which can be tricky in some cases. For instance, in one of my in-hand classes, a horse was presented wearing pads under its shoes. This isn’t allowed under any rule books here in the UK, but even though it was not prohibited in Ireland, it wasn’t something I wanted to see. An in hand show horse should still be sound, but remedial shoeing surely indicates that it isn’t.
But who is right?
However, it did make me wonder if we perhaps have too many sets of rules. For example, when you can show an unshod ridden hunter under one society but not under another, who is right? I know there is a school of thought that believes barefoot is best, but I’ve always found that a shod horse is more secure when galloping and jumping than an unshod one.
Producing a definitive showing rule book would be a formidable task demanding huge input from all organisations. The only way I can imagine it being done is through the Showing Council, and I have no idea whether it would work, or simply degenerate into factions and squabbles.
But wouldn’t it be great if everyone in showing really was singing from the same hymn sheet, or if we could at least reduce the number of rules? We would need separate rule books for horses and ponies, and to take into account the divergence of breeds and types, there would have to be further clarifications for plaiteds and non-plaiteds. Even so, I think it could be done without weakening breed and type guidelines.
I was glad to see random dope testing being carried out at Derbyshire Festival. Some riders grumble about the inconvenience, but I wish it was done more often.
There will always be cheats, in every sport. If a hypothetical exhibitor either gets caught out or doesn’t compete to avoid getting caught out, so be it. All but an infinitesimal percentage work hard and play fair. They’re the ones who should be rewarded.
Ref Horse & Hound; 27 June 2019