Katie Jerram-Hunnable speaks candidly about her early judging experiences and offers some helpful advice to the next generation
I began my judging career when I was 20 years old. I started on the panel for the Hunter Improvement Society (HIS), which is the former name of the society we now know as Sports Horse Breeding of Great Britain (SHB (GB)).
I began as a ride judge for the HIS, and I was young and eager to get out there. I then tried to get onto the British Show Horse Association (BSHA) panel, but I failed twice. It was initially thought that I was too quiet and that I wouldn’t be able to stand up for myself if I was confronted in the ring.
At the time, I found that hard to understand, as while I am generally quiet in disposition, I have a strong personality and I will always stand my ground and be there for societies, competitors and fellow judges.
One of my most prestigious early judging appointments was at South of England, aged 25. I had been invited to judge the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) hunter qualifiers for Wembley and I was so excited and honoured to have been offered the opportunity. It was the first time I was to be on my own in the middle of a big ring.
There were strong entry numbers and the horses were amazing to ride, but when it came to judging the conformation phase I was verbally attacked and intimidated by some of the leading names in showing. I stood by my results and maintained my convictions, though I was close to tears as I left the ring.
I nearly thought about resigning, but I had a chat with myself and held my head up high; I wasn’t about to be bullied out of the sport I love so much. I judged the horses in front of me on the day and I could go to bed that night with the knowledge that I had judged fairly and stuck to my guns.
All judges are likely to face a situation as such during their careers, but I hope our younger generation will be able to stand their ground and not let themselves be swayed. All you can do is assess the horses in front of you fairly, and be committed to your decisions.
“Where are the in-hand entries?”
It’s worrying to see the decline of in-hand classes over the last few years. It’s strange, though, that light horse in-hand entries are so low at county shows during the season, when the prestige of the HOYS in-hand supreme final is still so evident. It’s the championship everyone wants to qualify for, and the grandstand is packed with spectators at the final.
The SHB (GB) council raised the topic at a recent meeting. We need to understand why people aren’t coming out with their youngstock. There are classes for every type of horse, and in-hand showing provides a brilliant education for youngsters – I would always rather buy a two or three-year-old that has done a few in-hand shows – but where are the entries?
British breeding is arguably the best in the world, and I know that we have the quality, but breeders do not seem to be using these opportunities.
I judged some in-hand breeding classes at Kent County earlier this year and I was disappointed that only one mare and foal came forward. The mare automatically qualified for the HOYS in-hand supreme qualifier. Thankfully, she was good enough to go through.
In years gone by, breeders would have used the county circuit as a shop window for their youngsters, but this no longer seems to be the case. Yes, it might be more difficult to take a young horse or a mare and foal to a show, but people did it back in the day.
Now, we can get around much easier with better roads and improved transport, and health and safety is better than ever, so we do need to look at it and find the reason for the lack of numbers. The future of British breeding depends on it.
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- This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 16 November, 2023
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