Paul Cook: Ride to win, instead of not to lose *H&H Plus*


  • Paul Cook is the national vice-chairman of the BSPS. He is on the major judging panels and has judged at all the national championship shows. He has been at the forefront of establishing the society’s Heritage mountain and moorland sections.

    The preparation for a show such as the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) summer championships takes quite some time in normal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic. The society had to be conscious of Government guidelines in the wider community as well as those recommended by governing equestrian bodies.

    Some smaller area shows were initially held under stricter regulations to test the waters. The feedback received from show organiser and BSPS council member Joanne Pybus and others was then taken to The Showing Council, which established a blueprint for showing.

    BSPS show director Philip Hilton worked in partnership with Arena UK and the venue’s local council to work out the best way to run a safe yet prestigious championship show which was as similar as possible to those in previous years. There was much to consider, such as how the indoor school could be used, how rosettes would be presented and how the working hunter classes would be structured when we could have only one judge per class.

    During the show, we took a policy of informing and encouraging competitors to do the right thing, rather than simply “telling them off”. We wanted to keep things as normal as possible, in times which are far from the norm.

    In general, feedback was positive. Before the show we had lots of support from judges and sponsors wanting to be involved. Over the course of the weekend, despite adverse weather, spirits were high and it was heartwarming to see competitors thanking the officials who had given up their time to attend. It appeared everyone was happy to be back out with their ponies.

    Upping their game

    When judging, one aspect I particularly enjoyed about the new structure was the lack of a marks system. With no marks to award, the initial pull-in and final walk-round were reintroduced. Some classes were even split into two sections with combinations performing again in a final go-round.

    This meant riders had to up their game until the very end, and were no longer able to rely solely on a nice show to win. It was clear many children weren’t used to making their ponies produce a good walk at the end of the class.

    I was honoured to be asked to judge the novice supreme on the first day. I felt it important to ask each combination to do a proper show and give each the opportunity to perform. My supreme choice (Ballinclare) won the title on the content the rider put into her show. She went out to win, presented her horse to perfection and took some risks.

    Ultimately, if you’re riding in a supreme you need to deliver and not ride defensively in the hope your animal does nothing wrong. The marks system can accommodate this type of safe riding and I would like to see more jockeys riding to win instead of riding not to lose.

    No pressure, more fun

    While lockdown has been nothing short of traumatic, I do believe that it might have given us a new perspective. The loss of qualifiers might have been a blessing in disguise and has given us the opportunity to enjoy showing again.

    This weekend felt different in that there was no pressure to try to take home a ticket and therefore no disappointment when you don’t win. I hope that we can all bear this in mind next season.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 10 September 2020