Alex Robinson: ‘We’ve all seen it happen and it makes for a sour competition’ *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s showing editor Alex Robinson on being an amateur show rider

    As we head into the new year I’m trying my best, like many, to prepare for the upcoming show season. As both a journalist and a competitor, I’m hopeful that 2021 in the show ring will have some resemblance to previous years, though I’m aware there will be significant differences.

    Riding in front of or spectating from busy grandstands, post-show debriefs with judges and prize-winners as well as wandering around packed county shows will probably be things of the past.

    Conformation is key

    Looking at how the pony scene has adapted due to Covid, at the bigger championships we had to adjust to having our pony’s conformation assessed with a saddle on. It certainly saved time and ensured that a single judge could assess both performance and aesthetics safely in the current situation, though I welcome the return of two separate sections of the class when the time comes.

    When you’re sat on a quality animal, it’s one of my favourite parts of the class. A saddle can hide a multitude of sins and seeing a pony stripped is vital for ensuring breed type and standards are adhered to.

    Nevertheless, the supreme line-ups witnessed at the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) summer and Heritage championship shows were exemplary, and it was wonderful to see so many versatile, quality ponies in the spotlight.

    Riding without a mark scheme was also refreshing and I enjoyed the change after years of performing a set display as requested in qualifiers. There was ample opportunity to show off your pony’s paces and type and demonstrate what they could do. In one of the classes, the judge simply requested us to “impress him”, which reiterated the basic principle that this is a showing class and we are there to put on a show.

    However, I do believe when the class numbers start moving into the double figures, a mark scheme will be needed. Judges can’t be expected to remember each mishap every pony makes. In my opinion, glaring errors – such as wrong legs, incorrect bend and bad behaviour – shouldn’t win a Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) qualifier. We’ve all seen it happen and it makes for a sour competition.

    Of course, the judge’s decision should always be final and a pony can make a mistake and still win if it’s given a high conformation mark, but we need that transparency and justification written out on a sheet in front of us.

    Perhaps there is space for the novice and restricted pony classes to remain mark-free in the future and reintroduce the system for the bigger qualifiers? Whatever is decided, I’m sure those society officials with experience and knowledge will take us down the right path, as they did last year.

    Home-producers shine

    One of my highlights of 2020 was acting as co-judge during the novice supreme at the British Show Horse Association (BSHA) autumn gala show. It was an honour to be asked and I will never forget the experience. The quality was outstanding and there were some truly wonderful horses who I would have loved to take home.

    I classify myself as an amateur rider and I do, sadly, sometimes notice the divide between the home-producers and the pros. But watching the amateurs crowned at this fixture confirmed how we can compete at the top if we are determined. It’s an overused phrase we’re probably sick of hearing, but hard work really does pay off.

    We might see ourselves as at a disadvantage at times because horses are not our full-time occupation, but we can dedicate all of our available time to focus on one or two specific animals. We must make this an opportunity to present the best package we have when showing starts up again.

    Watch, listen and learn from the best. Soon, people will stop asking you why you’re doing it but will start to ask how.

    ● What do you think about the opportunities for amateur show riders and their horses and ponies? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com

    Ref: 14 January 2021

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