Katie Jerram-Hunnable: Time for a ‘three for experience’ rule? *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Dublin is a highlight of my showing year. It’s a showcase for breeding stock and young horses, with ridden classes for four- to eight-year-olds, and organisers know how to provide a great experience for everyone.

    This year, they strongly recommended that ridden horses were competed at three affiliated shows before coming to Dublin, so they had a quieter introduction to serious showing. The atmosphere at Dublin is electric — and it’s a big ask for a horse who is young or inexperienced, or both.

    This show is the one at which every Irish rider, producer and breeder wants to compete, and judging there is equally irresistible. It’s also a shop window, with many horses successfully finding new homes.

    There are shows on the English showing circuit that everyone wants to ride at, too, such as Royal Windsor, Great Yorkshire and the Royal Highland to name but three, as well as the Royal International and Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) for those privileged to qualify. The atmosphere can be tense, and many classes are much bigger than a lot of first-time riders expect.

    In theory, you could qualify a young horse at its first affiliated show and take it straight to HOYS. Some horses can cope but others unfortunately can’t and, if a rider doesn’t want to miss the experience, it might be a step too far at that stage. It’s important to take the long view and focus on a horse’s whole career ahead, not just on one day.

    That’s why I’d like to see a similar “three for experience” recommendation or rule for designated shows here. It would help boost numbers at county shows, and horses as well as some riders would gain invaluable experience and confidence. And let’s not forget the ride judges, who are sometimes presented with green, unpredictable horses.

    This isn’t a judge’s job

    It takes a calm, confident and sympathetic rider to get the best from a young horse. No matter how many times we try to get the message across that horses must be accustomed to different riders before they go in the ring, you find competitors who tell the judge that he or she is the first person other than the exhibitor to sit on their horse.

    Even worse, they say they’ve entered so the ride judge can “give the horse a school”, and don’t seem to realise that this isn’t a judge’s job.

    On the subject of getting experience, people say they’re having problems getting staff. The interest is there, but the majority of applicants have unrealistic expectations.

    They expect to join a yard and go straight into the ring. But what happens in competition is based on knowledge of schooling, soundness, conformation, turnout and all the other pieces that make up the finished picture. It takes time and work to put all that together.

    Many aspiring to work on a professional yard have to learn how to work effectively as member of a team. They must also build the skills of communicating with and learning from other professionals, such as vets and farriers, and talking to owners.

    If you have the ability, you might get the chance to shine in the ring — but be prepared to serve your apprenticeship time first.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 13 September 2018