Magnus Nicholson is a leading show horse producer, judge and BSHA board member, who is based in North Yorkshire. He has won titles at all major shows, including at HOYS and the RIHS.
Having been injured in a car accident last November, I have had a strange year this year. I handed my horses’ reins over to my wife, Kate, and was able to ride only towards the end of the season.
One of my highlights of 2023 was judging the ride of the heavyweight hunters at the Royal International (RIHS) final. It was great to see strong entry numbers as well as quality down the line.
The unique format of the hunter championship is always a crowd-pleaser. Each of the ride judges takes the first- and second-placed horses from the other weight classes for a spin, and this can really influence the outcome. It’s a fantastic main ring and you can really open horses up along the grandstand.
It’s been great to see societies encouraging fresh faces on to the judging panels, too; Nick Gauntlett, who judged the middleweights at the RIHS, is actively involved in eventing.
The subject of judging has been a strong topic of conversation this year, but this is nothing new. Having judged for nearly 40 years, I think the biggest change in recent times is the advances in technology, such as camera phones and social media use. Technology can be helpful and useful, but remember that people can take a bad photo, situations can be misinterpreted and there are two sides to every story.
I genuinely believe that the majority of judging is fair and above board. But there will always be a few who can spoil things, though I know that societies are working hard to deal with this.
Now is the time for change; competitors want to see judges being held accountable and transparency is paramount. The horse world is small. Many people know each other; it’s almost impossible to go to a show as a judge or as a competitor and not bump into a friend. When this happens common sense and professional etiquette must prevail.
However, judges need support, too, as well as encouragement and training from societies, so they feel confident and capable.
“A true gentleman”
A sad point of the year was when I attended the funeral of Peter Richmond, one of Yorkshire’s greatest showmen, who was also a true gentleman and a friend.
I worked for Peter in my teens and I was honoured to be asked by his family to deliver a tribute. Peter’s wife Sylvia kindly gifted me Peter’s red tailcoat, which he had inscribed in the pocket. Most people know I am rarely brought to tears, but I was certainly moved by this gesture. I wore the tailcoat with pride at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) this year.
The older I get, the more I realise how lucky I was to have that generation of older showmen who were so keen to hand down knowledge and advice. It’s something we must continue, to encourage the next generation.
A bright future
Generally, I believe that showing is in a good place and there is still enthusiasm across the different classes. This year, many young people have taken the top spots at shows and this has to be good for the future.
At HOYS I met a young lady who had won the native junior working hunter final on her first time competing there. Her supporters were delighted and I thought it was great to see such positivity.
There will always be showing in one form or another. It may be different from the past, but people still love to show off their horses. We can all be guilty of looking back to the past with rose-tinted glasses and thinking it was so much better, but there were problems then, too. They just seemed easier to deal with when we were 20 years younger!
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- This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 2 November, 2023
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