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Katie Jerram: Is there trouble ahead? [H&H VIP]

As the season opens, riders will already have their sights on Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) and Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) qualifying tickets. New initiatives offer extra opportunities – although I’m going to add some well-meant warnings to my support.

If you’ve experienced the frustration of being a permanent showring bridesmaid and just missing out on HOYS qualification, the Tagg La Liga Most Consistent Award series will give you an extra chance. It calculates competitors’ best five results over the season and, using a points system to keep things fair, awards one wild-card across all the ridden horse classes and one across all the ridden pony classes.

There’s even a bit of X-Factor-type drama. If there is a tie on points,  a live draw on the HOYS website will decide which combination takes the card. I’m not too sure about this, or am I just old-fashioned? Let’s hope there won’t be pictures of an elated winner and a sobbing loser to go with it.

My main worry is that some competitors will be so desperate to get to HOYS that they will be tempted to enter every qualifier possible. Please don’t: it isn’t fair on horses and probably won’t increase their chances. Hopefully, the points system — in which five points are allocated for a win down to one for fifth place — will ensure quality wins through.

Whoever takes the cards will deserve them, but I really hope they go to amateur riders. It’s inevitable that we professionals dominate HOYS and the RIHS and we wouldn’t be good at our jobs if we didn’t, but the clinics I’ve taken over the winter have proved how keen and dedicated some amateurs are. Good luck!

Side-saddle gain — and loss

I’ve also seen an upsurge of interest in side-saddle and am told that last year’s Side Saddle Association national championships had wonderful support. This means that more breeds and types are being ridden sideways, and I’m sure the British Show Horse Association (BSHA) Ladies Side Saddle Horse of the Year qualifiers, which are open to registered hacks, cobs, riding horses and hunters, will be well supported.

However, it’s tragic that we’ve lost the HOYS ladies’ hunter class. I know the BSHA has launched its Ladies’ Hunter of the Year championship, with a final at the national hunter championships in September, and hope to support it – and, of course, we have the wonderful RIHS classes.

But why couldn’t HOYS run the traditional ladies’ hunter championship alongside one for hacks, cobs and riding horses? Spectators love to see the elegance and tradition of ladies’ hunter classes — the two could have been a real draw.

I also worry that at HOYS mixed classes could present safety issues. There will be a lot of horses in that relatively small ring, and the difficulty of mixing big-moving hunters with, in particular, hacks, must not be under-estimated. I hope that when horses are asked to gallop, they will be split into large and small categories, not into random groups.

A step too far?

Some of our most experienced and valued ladies’ hunter judges have not been placed automatically on the ladies’ hunter judging panel unless they are already on the BSHA one, but have to be assessed before being admitted to the ladies’ hunter panel. This is causing controversy.

This is the right decision in terms of younger judges who have not yet experienced judging at our biggest shows, but surely it’s unnecessary and even insulting to require experienced and respected judges to be assessed. For a start, you need assessors of the same calibre!

This isn’t sour grapes. I was allowed to join the ladies’ hunter panel many years ago and see it as an honour. I’m also a BSHA panel judge, so get automatic switchover rights.

What will happen if judges whose experience we need so much decide that they don’t want to volunteer to be assessed and would rather step down? That would be a step too far.

You have to expect teething problems with all new ideas. I’m sure this will apply to both the Tagg La Liga and the side-saddle series. Let’s hope both live up to their promise.

H&H 26 March 2015