Alex Robinson: ‘What actually constitutes an amateur in the show ring?’


  • H&H’s showing editor Alex Robinson reflects on London International’s new showing classes, and amateur rulings

    The 2023 season seems to have gone by in a flash, and we’ll soon be on with early winter shows in preparation for the summer. However, looking at hairy, muddy and generally unkempt ponies at home isn’t currently filling me with much enthusiasm for anything competitive in the near future.

    Those who competed at the London International Horse Show will be starting to wind down. Ensuring animals are kept fit and in consistent work while looking ring-ready at this time of year is an unenviable task, especially with natives, and it is a huge achievement just to compete in the mountain and moorland final.

    What a major result for the Dales breed, with two impressive young stallions taking champion and reserve.

    The atmosphere in London was epic, as usual, with a touch of glitter being added thanks to the addition of new showing classes for horse and pony competitors. I don’t think anyone knew how the schedule of classes would unfold in real time, but the general consensus seemed to be positive, with competitors grateful for the opportunity to ride at such a prestigious show. The performance focus was also well received.

    While the entry numbers in many of the qualifiers have been slightly disappointing at some shows, the quality in the finals was brilliant right up and down the line-ups, and I think more people will be aiming for a spot at the show next year.

    Introducing change is never easy, so I applaud the two societies, the British Show Horse Association (BSHA) and the British Show Pony Society for thinking outside the box and offering these opportunities.

    The best we can be

    It does seem that the time has come for more concrete classification of what constitutes an amateur or a home-produced competitor to be used by each of the main showing societies. Currently, each society has different rules on what deems someone a true amateur in showing, and confusion on each organisation’s policies has caused heartbreak in some instances – for example, at the Royal International when the amateur coloured champion had her championship removed as she was found to have breached rules.

    There was also some chatter outside the ring in London at the amateur status of some of the competitors in the BSHA finals. It’s worth noting that a year ago, these championships were just an idea, so teething problems with rules and format were not unexpected.

    The definition of what makes someone an amateur varies between individuals. Some believe you can hold true amateur status if you don’t work or take financial gain from the discipline of showing, and others believe that an amateur shouldn’t even work within the equestrian industry at all. And then there are the opinions in between, which is why we need a standard definition to be introduced across societies.

    While I’m all for new opportunities for amateur and home-produced riders, I feel it is important that we maintain a certain standard of competition and always push to be the best we can be. When I first went to Horse of the Year Show in 2021, the day I qualified was a highlight of my life, but it took 20-plus years of trying!

    If you feel there is a genuine breach of amateur rules, then please report it to the relevant society and speak up, but take time to assess if the gripe might be because the person in the top spot is where you would like to be.

    ● Do you think that amateur rulings need to be firmed up across societies? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your thoughts published in a future edition of Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, in shops from Friday 29 December, 2023

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