Sam Roberts: A springboard to the future *H&H Plus*


  • The native pony producer on why showing is a key equestrian sport

    I’ve probably had the most unusual year in my career. We get into a routine of competing at the same shows and we ride the same wave season in, season out. I consider myself lucky that I have a job which allows me to be outside and I’ve been able to enjoy my ponies even though they couldn’t compete to the standard and at the pace I’m used to.

    The shows we’ve attended have been fabulous and I’ve been blessed with a string of loyal, supportive owners. The young horses have been able to gain experience and strength in ways we normally wouldn’t have time for, and I believe they’ll be better ponies for this moving forward.

    We’ve had to be grateful for what we have and this season has made me realise what’s important and what really isn’t. For the first time in my professional career there has been no pressure of qualifiers. We can get stuck in a wheel of constant competition and while I love it so much, it’s been nice to take a break.

    The native scene doesn’t stop until Olympia in late December and then we’re usually straight back out in January taking the babies to early winter shows. This will be the first time in some 16 years that I’m not preparing for the Christmas final.

    It’s not Christmas without Olympia, and my winter will be strangely relaxed without the stress of keeping ponies fit. It’s my favourite show of the year; as well as the showcase of our natives, I enjoy the freedom of the individual show as you can really perform and show off.

    Playing on a level field

    I was pleased to see the British Show Horse Association (BSHA) introduce tougher policies when it comes to doping earlier this year. It’s something I feel passionately about and any positive tests reflect badly on showing in the public eye.

    At the National Pony Society (NPS) summer championships in 2017, three ponies – including one of my own – were randomly selected for a dope test. While mine tested negative, the other two provided a positive result.

    I appreciate testing a very expensive process but I find it sad to think that some people haven’t earned their rosettes through hard work and graft.

    It’s a very small minority who don’t play by the rules, but I’m pleased that steps to make the sport more fair are being put in place. I just hope it can become more consistent.

    But showing, while not a huge equestrian discipline in comparison to some of the others, must get credit for the foundations it has given many top riders who have gone on to achieve on the global stage. So many top riders, including Olympians, European medallists and Grand National winners, started their riding careers in the show ring.

    The obvious examples are dressage star Charlotte Dujardin – who I used to compete against in 128cm show pony classes – and leading eventer Laura Collett, the recent Pau winner, who took the Horse of the Year Show supreme championship with Welsh section A Penwayn Ryan in 2003.

    But there are many others, including National Hunt and Flat jockeys as well as showjumpers, who have typically started in working hunter classes and moved up the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) ranks before branching off.

    While they don’t necessarily stay in showing, these riders have been given a springboard and a great foundation for their future careers.

    To the outside eye, it might appear that showing is just about trotting in circles on pretty ponies, but it provides young jockeys with discipline, ringcraft and the ability to hold their nerve. Obviously they have been successful due to their incredible abilities, but showing is often a rider’s first taste of competitive riding and many of the skills are transferable.

    What experiences gave you the foundation for a lifetime in equestrianism? Write to hhletters@futurenet.com

    Ref Horse & Hound; 5 November 2020