Robert Walker: ‘Are we asking too much of judges?’


  • Robert Walker shares his thoughts on making things easier for show organisers and judges

    It’s been fantastic to get back out on the county circuit, and I’m pleased that some shows seem to be moving with the times a bit more by allowing competitors to enter classes on the day.

    Royal Bath & West was one such show that opened their entries up on the day for Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) qualifiers. For many years, entry deadlines for county shows have been well in advance, despite calls for more flexibility from competitors.

    In the past couple of years though, organisers and societies have become a lot more open-minded, some allowing substitutions or late entries, even if with an increased fee, which I am all for, given the extra admin. It would seem that shows are starting to consider how they can do things differently to accommodate competitors and boost entries.

    From my perspective, I often don’t know which horses will be ready for certain shows so early in the season. Often, I’ve had new horses join the team halfway through the year, and due to early closing dates they haven’t been able to contend any major shows, despite being fit and ready to go.

    Secretaries are some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable people, who often work unpaid, so it’s great to see them making steps into the future to try to get people into the ring.

    With this in mind, I always encourage competitors to go and thank the secretaries and their team at the end of a show day, and be courteous when communicating with organisers at any venue.

    Recently, at Staffordshire County – one of my favourite shows – we suffered the impact of horrendous weather on day one. The hugely popular Dancing Diggers display in the main ring ploughed up the going and it meant the show was unable to hold showing classes in there the next day.

    I was disappointed to hear grumblings from competitors who were frustrated with the change. What we must remember is that displays are such huge crowd-pleasers – spectators were five deep during the Dancing Diggers – and they are what keep these shows going.

    Our sport is so niche and it’s likely we only get a few keen enthusiasts watching us in the main ring, so we must take what we can get in these situations. The organisers did not make the change out of malice and it caused a huge amount of stress for everyone involved.

    Let’s be more understanding. Everyone is trying to do their best, even if you’re disappointed you don’t get your chance to ride in the main ring.

    It’s a big ask

    Over the past few months, a couple of show organisers have asked me to step in to judge at the last minute, as they can’t find anyone else to fill the position. I predicted this sort of thing happening about 12 months ago when the new London International (LIHS) qualifiers were added to show schedules.

    Now, a judge isn’t just required to assess one section of open horses and perhaps the odd novice class like they were back in the day. They are being asked to stay on and judge the LIHS classes too. Are we possibly asking too much from our judges? Even if organisers invite more than one judge to share the load, ensuring we have enough judges in the area is proving difficult. I wonder if it’s time for us to incorporate these new qualifiers into the open classes at shows.

    Also, as fellow H&H columnist Simon Reynolds mentioned in his column, we now have three times the number of shows during the season compared to yesteryear. When I first started showing, we’d begin our year at Newark and Notts in May, but now we’ve already been going for two months at that time.

    It’s not that we have a lack of judges, we just need an awful lot more of them to make things work!

    As we move into the summer season, it’s been lovely to see HOYS qualifiers being well supported and entry numbers have bounced back up again. Things are gearing up for the year, and I wish everyone the best in their competitions.

    ● How do you think shows could alter their schedules? Let us know by emailing 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 27 June

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