Sarah Chapman: ‘Showing is subjective – competitors need to accept that’


  • Sarah Chapman, founder of The Showing Register (TSR), on judging at Great Yorkshire and running TSR’s summer show

    I WAS honoured to judge both coloured ridden and small hunter classes at this year’s Great Yorkshire Show. The numbers forward in the coloured classes were immense; in one class we had 48 ponies presented for judging. It proved that people are willing to spend their fuel money to compete at a prestigious show.

    The organisation was excellent, aided by a team of great stewards who kept things running as efficiently as possible. Each exhibit was checked by a steward on entering the ring, to ensure judges didn’t have to get involved in the checks for whiskers, weights of horses and ponies, and the suitability of riders for their animals.

    If a horse was deemed overweight, my co-judges and I reflected this in the marks.

    Riders appeared to follow the rules and consequently we had no problems while judging these specific classes.

    In the coloured section I set a show which I deemed to be “flowing”. I asked exhibits to extend during the middle of their performance to test the transitions within and between paces. I was able to see which animals were balanced, and which were anticipating. It was a test for some and it made for an interesting watch. I ensured I used a full range of marks, too.

    On the go-round each combination was asked to gallop, and while it was nice to see riders enjoying themselves in front of a cheering crowd, some over-rode the extension. The gallop isn’t about going flat out. The animal should stay in the contact and should move off smoothly in a controlled way, building up the pace and coming back to the rider while remaining between the hand and the leg.

    Our coloured champion (Starlight, pictured top) was a lovely mare. She was a real goer who strutted her stuff throughout the day.

    In the small hunters, I was delighted with the rides my top three gave. There are a range of types to assess in this class, so it’s difficult to maintain consistency in the line-up, but our top few had enough limb and were quality animals.

    Positive attitudes

    OVER the weekend (16–17 July) we held The Showing Register (TSR) summer show, which was a great success. There was difficulty in the build-up to the show due to the weather forecast and the increased negativity surrounding showing, specifically Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) qualifiers.

    Given the heat, we put measures in place to ensure competitors could attend with confidence. Welfare was our main priority, so we had a British Horse Society welfare officer on site and ensured our first aid team was visible. We monitored temperatures throughout the day, water was placed by each ring and gazebos were put up so judges and stewards could seek shade. Everyone came with a positive attitude and we witnessed no sweaty horses or overworking.

    If classes had more than eight competitors, after the go-round they left the ring and everyone returned individually to perform shows and trot-ups. It gave everyone the opportunity to rehydrate if needed. The feedback was positive, and the general consensus was that it was fairer as grooms weren’t required to go into the ring. Animals also performed fresher. There was a buzz during the placings, too, as there was no initial pull-in to follow. In all, it worked well.

    Our TSR amateur rider and handler of the year finals were fantastic. The aim of these championships is to encourage people to improve their riding ability and their animal’s way of going. Some of these competitors, who had been talent spotted during the season, had never been to such a large show. It’s a way for them to step into affiliated showing with confidence.

    Walk in their shoes

    MOVING forward, and as a judge and show organiser, I feel it is important that competitors accept a judge’s opinion on a specific day. Showing is subjective and without an opinion we wouldn’t have a sport. Some areas could be made fairer, but it’s going to be difficult to put a rule in place for everything.

    When I’m judging I give everyone feedback on their placing if I’m asked. But a different judge may well disagree with my opinion. Unless you’re standing in the middle of the ring it’s unfair to be disrespectful of a judge’s decision.

    If you feel yourself constantly questioning judges, then I ask you to put yourself forward to become a judge

    ● How have you found riding in the heat? Write to us at hhletters@futurenet.com

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 21 July

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