Katie Jerram-Hunnable: ‘London should be a stepping stone, not the only goal’


  • Katie Jerram-Hunnable on entries, ambition – and a lack of legger-uppers among stewards

    How fantastic that my first column of the year will be published during 2024 Royal Windsor Horse Show (1–5 May). It’s an exciting show, being the first time we see the season’s novices together in the amazing setting.

    There has been some discussion recently about young showing riders and I’d like to offer my perspective. The decline in the number of entries in classes for children over the years is unquestionable. However, you only have to compare a British Show Pony Society schedule from yesteryear with one from today to see what the cause is.

    When I was first showing, there weren’t half as many classes available. There was no section for show hunter ponies, only show ponies and working hunter ponies, and only one lead-rein class at a single show. The decline in entries is because schedules have become diluted as there are so many classes and sections we can choose from.

    The other aspect is the lives of children these days. Every young person in education is under pressure, and parents are also juggling many plates at once. Rarely is a child able to leave school at 3.30pm to come home and ride their ponies. Plus, when a child is growing up they have to make a decision of which direction they want to go in.

    Perhaps they do want to pursue equestrian interests, but they might want to direct their attention to education, or another activity or sport. There are so many options available for them. Where they want to channel their energy and focus should be up to them, and it would be unfair for a parent to influence them too much to ride if it’s not for them.

    Dream bigger

    The London International (LIHS) classes have taken up a huge part of county show schedules, and it’s great to see many local people supporting the fixtures. For a long time we’ve been at risk of losing equine sections and LIHS saw a window to help fix this. As a horse competitor, though, I have been disappointed to see other horse classes continually being poorly supported at county shows, and I encourage LIHS competitors to look at the bigger picture when it comes to competing.

    The LIHS qualifiers do not require a ride judge and while they are a great stepping stone, competitors should have ambitions to join the main societies and compete at the bigger shows, as there are many opportunities, with classes at Royal Windsor, Horse of the Year Show, the Royal International and the national championships.

    The LIHS is a fantastic show and the opportunity to ride there should be grasped with both hands, but we need to encourage riders to use it as a transition.

    I would like to see council members attend these shows to speak to LIHS competitors to encourage them to join our main societies. Ultimately, everyone should have the aim of improving and moving up the ranks, and the best way to learn is to compete against those who have been in the sport for a long time.

    Seeking stewards

    A knock-on effect of not requiring ride judges for many classes is the lack of new stewards coming through the ranks, especially those who are able to leg up a ride judge. It can be hard for shows to find stewards for horse classes as it is and there don’t seem to be enough opportunities for young people to come through. Stewards are so important and we rely on them 100%.

    We often complain as judges or competitors about how tiring a show day is, but stewards can work far longer days, often for nothing, and they don’t get the praise they deserve. Both stewarding and judging are expensive in time and finances. Young people might be particularly put off pursuing stewarding as it will probably cost them a day off work and travel expenses.

    Societies must understand this, and steward training should be provided to encourage young people to give back to the sport.

    “Legger-uppers” are invaluable, though many stewards don’t know how to leg up correctly, they aren’t strong enough or they don’t wish to leg someone up onto a naughty horse. It’s frowned upon to use a stool, for health and safety reasons. But I wonder, should we be lacking in steward power, a mounting block in the middle of the ring could be a solution, as they do in other countries.

    It’s definitely something that needs looking at in the near future as we don’t want to risk losing ride judges.

    ● Have you noticed a decline in good stewards at shows recently? Write in to let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming issue of the magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 2 May

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