Robert Walker: ‘Remember, we all have to start somewhere’


  • Leading show horse producer Robert Walker on the importance of aiming for the top, regardless of status...

    I wouldn’t ever say I’d have been a good weatherman but it’s hard not to talk about the subject when we’ve experienced one of the hardest winters I’ve ever known. The immense amount of rain we’ve received has made people question their life choices more than once, and wading through mud on a daily basis has been seriously challenging.

    I did think I’d seen the light at the end of the tunnel, but the night before writing this we experienced 11mm of rain in Cheshire and the banks of the brook are overflowing.

    It’s testing. At this time of year the horses are fit and raring to go, but they haven’t been out on grass for a long while. I’ve been questioning if I’m a stunt rider rather than a show horse rider.

    I’ve been doing this job for a long time but I’m still required to adapt my routine and look at things from different angles each year. My older horses were scheduled to be out until the end of December, but the weather meant they had to come in during November.

    We have kept them ticking over with work and hacking, but it’s been a fine line between keeping them happy, comfortable and occupied, and not overdoing it before the start of the show season.

    “It’s an art”

    Earlier this year, Sports Horse Breeding of Great Britain announced that the four-year-old hunter classes would no longer be run with a ride judge. During Covid, we didn’t have ride judges for some time until we returned to normality, and it became apparent that riding our own show on a young horse was a great way of educating them. However, I am a traditionalist and I don’t like to see changes to the core values of our sport.

    While I can see the benefit and realise we must move with the times, I do hope that this ends here with the four-year-old classes. If it were to cross into other sections, it would be a worry for those of us who have been in this game for a while. Producing a show horse for a ride judge is an art. I take pride in the fact that when my horses first go to a show they are ready to be put under any rider, good or bad.

    “This backlash isn’t new”

    I enjoyed judging at the British Show Horse Association (BSHA) Rising Stars finals at the London International (LIHS) in December and on the day the competitors seemed to genuinely be happy and willing to take feedback.

    There has been lots of negativity regarding the series since it concluded but this isn’t anything new. There seems to always be backlash on the amateur and home-produced scene regardless of the level or scale, and it’s something I predicted would happen when classes specifically for this group of competitors were introduced over 20 years ago.

    I’ve always been against classes for amateurs as I feel putting people into classifications expands the divide. There are so many rules for amateurs and home-producers to follow, and there will always be some who sail close to the line.

    People seem to forget we all start somewhere. Placing in a good open class, against the professionals, is what everyone should aim for to begin with, before steadily changing the goal posts as you go along. The first time I qualified for Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) was on a third place at Lincolnshire, and it is still one of my greatest achievements to this day.

    The animal should be what the judge is judging. If you have something that is good enough, you can win if you endeavour to improve with training, producing and good showmanship.

    ● Are we on the path to losing ride judges? Let us know your opinion 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 4 April

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