Showing always has its highs and lows, but this season the sport I and so many others love has gone from wonderful moments to the absolute depths.
For me, the greatest achievements have been outside the ring. We’ve seen Rory Gilsenan and Lynn Russell, two long-established professionals, battle cancer. Rory has been inspiring everyone with his determination and Lynn is doing the same by raising a huge amount for Breast Cancer Care.
I loved seeing Allister Hood take the Royal International (RIHS) supreme ridden horse title on Lady Caroline Tyrrell’s lightweight cob, Our Cashel Blue. His show was superb and, poignantly, this horse has also been treated for cancer.
The lows have come from vitriol and bullying on social media plus news of one of the first positive dope tests for bromide, an anti-convulsant medication that also has a sedative effect. I don’t know if showing is worse than other equestrian disciplines in these areas, or if they are universal problems, but we must fight both.
There will always be keyboard warriors who post ill-informed or nasty comments on social media. Most societies say they will not tolerate offensive or bullying online behaviour. I know the British Show Horse Association (BSHA) acts quickly on cases and I presume others do the same.
It’s sad that we have to hope societies — and those who run online forums — will be even more vigilant next season, but it’s essential.
If you want to complain, the best way to do it is direct to the relevant organisation or society. The right time and place may be at its annual meeting. We can’t all attend every meeting, but if something matters that much to you, make the effort.
The BSHA’s tribunal decision on the bromide doping case resulted in a three-month suspension and a £500 fine (plus £2,000 court costs) for the horse’s producer.
BSHA chairman Nigel Hollings said he was disappointed with the low level of the penalty. So am I.
Horse welfare and clean sport are vital issues and sanctions should have an impact. A three-month ban out of season is a toothless bite and I believe any bans should extend across all disciplines, not just showing.
On an optimistic note, I’m enjoying my chef d’equipe role for the National Pony Society (NPS) tri-nations challenge, between teams of young riders aged 15-24 years from Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. The challenge covers riding, conformation assessment and other areas. It hopefully helps to shape the riders, mentors and judges of the future.
Team members competing in the Australian leg next year have to fund their own costs. Inevitably, this may preclude some who might otherwise apply for the scheme, so another item on my 2020 wish list would be for offers to establish a scholarship fund.
I’m looking forward to working with young horses over the winter, ready for their 2020 debuts. Let’s hope for a happy, positive and kind season.
Ref Horse & Hound; 5 December 2019