Rebecca Penny: ‘Conflicting rules cause confusion’


  • Rebecca Penny on ways to set new rules and a lack of clarity

    ONE of the most contentious topics discussed at the recent virtual British Show Pony Society (BSPS) members’ conference (19 January) was the suggestion of increased spread widths in mountain and moorland (M&M) working hunter pony classes.

    When the BSPS announced the rule change, there was a huge response from competitors, especially from those wishing to contest these classes on the heavier large breeds, such as the Highland, Fell and Dales, and also the smaller Exmoor and Shetland. There was so much opposition that at their judges’ conference on 5 February, the BSPS announced they’d be returning to the working hunter widths stated in the 2021 rule book.

    Even with my limited working hunter knowledge, I can see why increasing the fence width was a real cause for concern. And while there are always going to be notable exceptions within each breed, generally speaking it would be naive of anyone to expect a Highland to be able to jump with the same athletic capability as a Connemara – likewise, a Shetland compared to a Welsh section A or B.

    Working hunter classes, whether novice, restricted or open, should allow all 12 of our native breeds to jump within their capabilities on a level playing field. It should not turn into a showjumping competition or be geared towards a few of the more refined breeds with more natural scope.

    It was great that the BSPS listened to members’ concerns over the issue and did seek advice from individual breed societies. They have the greatest understanding of a breed’s heritage and are primarily responsible for safeguarding the breeds by ensuring they are well represented.

    Similarly, the National Pony Society recently withdrew their proposed rule to make body protectors mandatory in working hunter pony classes as the membership, which is made up of many adults who ride natives, were against it. How positive it is that our societies are not only taking note of our opinions, but taking necessary action, too.

    Perhaps going forward, to simplify the process and avoid so much back and forth, the societies could propose a rule then consult the members for feedback, before making official changes to the rule book. At the moment, it seems they’re doing it the wrong way around; the rule is introduced, the members raise strong arguments against the proposed change and then amendments are needed.

    It all takes time and I’m sure it uses up valuable resources. Maybe the proposals could be presented towards the end of the current season, in order to provoke a collaborative discussion from the members over the quieter months, so we go into a new showing term with clear, concise rulings.

    On the subject of working together, I’m sure I’m not the only person currently confused over the whole ‘“whiskers or no whiskers” trimming regulations that have surfaced recently.

    A number of new rule books have landed on my doorstep with 2022 membership packs and while some have stated that plaited horses or ponies should not be penalised for being trimmed, others have followed the FEI guidance and condemned whisker trimming.

    Whether I agree with it or not, turnout and “cosmetics” are such a huge part of showing, and it will certainly take a little bit of getting used to if I need to leave some animals more au naturel than usual.

    But as exhibitors, how are we supposed to work with conflicting society and individual show rules on this issue? And what actually constitutes as trimming – do whiskers include the hairs around the eyes and ears or simply the muzzle area?

    Nobody who has enforced this rule has actually given any real clarification. But we need some form of guidance that runs right across the board.

    ● Is the revoke of the M&M WHP rule correct? Write to us at hhletters@futurenet.com to share your views

    • This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 10 February

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