While it’s good to see healthy numbers at some of our most popular shows, organisers need to give competitors room to move and a reasonably level ring in which to perform. This was a real problem for competitors in the riding horse, re-trained racehorse and ridden Arabian classes at Royal Norfolk (24-26 June, not pictured above).
It’s frustrating when horses can’t move at their best. Even more important, it’s dangerous when there’s no room for judges and stewards to get out of the way if anything goes wrong. I hope they’ll take a look at ring allocation next year.
In contrast, the new all-weather strip at Hickstead is fantastic. It’s a pleasure to ride on and allows you to really show off your horse.
Great Yorkshire provided a talking point when Rob Walker was placed second in his class on Pride Of Place, but then took the novice hunter championship. I’ve heard a few people ask how that can happen. The answer is simple — a championship is a separate class and should be judged as such.
It can take a brave judge to turn things round, but horses aren’t machines and a winning horse can lose a bit of sparkle when asked to go again. Novices in particular can become tired and as a judge, you have to try and forget what you saw first time round and make your decision according to the moment.
There is also a valuable lesson here for some riders, particularly amateurs. I sometimes see second-placed competitors going into a championship looking as if they are there to make up the numbers. Instead, they should be thinking that they have everything to play for: look confident, ride positively and dare the judge to overlook you. It won’t always work, but you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
There is an art to riding in a championship, whether you’re trying to make an extra impression on someone who has already assessed your horse or coming in front of a new judge.
It’s no good playing safe — you have to use every bit of showmanship you can muster.
Leave the flying changes to the dressage riders. It’s an unspoken rule that judges want to see a perfect simple change through walk, whether you’re in a championship or performing an individual show. It’s always a ‘fingers crossed’ moment with workers, who have to perform flying changes to give a smooth jumping round. Even when you work hard to teach them the difference between the aids, they often find it easy to put one in.
When you’ve pulled out all the stops and the steward is calling you in, don’t collapse in a heap because it’s all over. It isn’t — if a judge is making a final deliberation, those last few seconds can make the difference.
Bear it graciously
The have been a few instances lately of judges pulling up horses because they believe they are lame. It’s so easy for a horse to step on a stone and take a lame step or two and there are also occasions when a judge thinks a horse isn’t right but is proved to be wrong.
As a rider, you have to bear it graciously. A judge has seconds to decide and the only way to cope if a judge questions your horse’s soundness is to retire and, if necessary, get your vet to check your horse when you get home. Unless your horse is so lame he needs immediate attention — in which case you don’t need a judge to point it out — you don’t need to panic and call on the showground vet.
Nor is it worth arguing. If a judge doesn’t like your horse’s way of going, you won’t be placed even if your animal is the soundest thing on four legs. On the day, it’s the judge’s decision and if you have a bad day, there’s always another show and another judge.
We need to keep our cool, even when temperatures soar, but should make sure our horses don’t have to. Walking round horsebox parks, it’s evident that some people don’t realise that leaving horses standing on their vehicles without enough ventilation and attention subjects them to overheating.
You wouldn’t leave your dog in your car, so don’t leave your horse in what can be an oven on four wheels, even when the ramp is down.
First published in Horse & Hound magazine on 31 July 2014