Alex Robinson on HOYS: ‘Your time in the ring is over in a second’


  • H&H’s showing editor Alex Robinson on how she’s revised her attitude to the sport after qualifying her pony for HOYS for the first time

    WHAT a show season it’s been and, like many, I’m enjoying a well-earned break from the show ring after a manic term both in and out of the saddle.

    It was wonderful to be back at the most anticipated shows, including the Royal International (RIHS), where I was on the ground reporting, and Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), held in October. As well as watching the famous faces deservingly lift some of the highest titles at HOYS, it was refreshing to see some new stars, including a few home-producers, have their moments in the spotlight.

    All credit to Grandstand Media who ran a slick, entertaining and memorable event and put on a fantastic showcase for all our horses, ponies and hard-working riders.

    I was lucky enough to qualify my own pony for HOYS this year and while it was an opportunity I will never forget, in many ways I am not in a hurry to go back as a competitor. It’s always reiterated that the day you qualify is the best moment of the journey and I can wholeheartedly say that this was the same in my experience.

    Riding at HOYS after seeking a ticket for so long was an amazing experience and I enjoyed my time in the ring, but it is over in a second. For me, what makes the show so special is spending time with friends, family and fellow competitors in a post-season celebration. But once you’re in that ring your fate is in the hands of the judges on the day. This year, I’ve had other successes and experiences that were just as rewarding as my trip to HOYS – and a good bit cheaper.

    While I’m delighted finally to be able to say “been there, done that, got the T-shirt”, it’s just another show in the year and we shouldn’t get down on ourselves or our animals if we missed out on a placing.

    Judges in focus

    I WAS slightly disappointed still to see some judges not quite using a broad range of marks, as has been a running theme all season.

    Perhaps the judges don’t want to cause any upset or ruin someone’s experience by awarding them a particularly low mark, but with the majority of the top few ponies all achieving very close or even the same marks, can our winner really be the “pony of the year” if it wins by one mark?

    Our judges are under immense pressure when standing in the middle of the ring under the eyes of the spectators and connections, at either a final or qualifier, but they need to have confidence in their decisions and use their marks to judge the ponies presented to them on the day.

    If five of the best animals in the country are forward for a class, they should still be marked according to what the judge likes on the day, rather than all being awarded the same mark. Our judges are asked to attend these prestigious shows as they have experience and they should not be afraid to stamp their decision with certainty.

    Noise concerns

    MY only quibble about HOYS is the atmosphere ponies in the TopSpec ring are expected to perform in. Unfortunately, this year seemed to be worse than ever. The issue of audience participation has also been raised by other H&H columnists this year.

    Clapping, cheering and whooping after individual shows was commonplace and as expected, ponies – including mine – became unsettled when stood before the judge prior to their show, and their chance of gaining a high performance mark was over before it had even begun.

    As the commentators found their feet during the week, they seemed to encourage more and more crowd participation, especially during the prize-givings, and it wasn’t nice to watch animals become unnerved by the atmosphere.

    Perhaps we could encourage the audience to be quiet after each individual performance and save the clapping and cheering for the final presentation or lap of honour. From a competitor perspective, it would almost put me off bringing a pony who is noise sensitive to the show.

    ● Do you think audience participation should be monitored at showing shows? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com

    • This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound 23 December issue

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