Stuart Hollings: ‘The HOYS supreme in-hand final keeps showing alive’

  • H&H showing columnists Stuart Hollings discusses the future of the HOYS supreme in-hand final

    AFTER being affectionately known as The Cuddy for the past 18 years, I’m delighted that the supreme in-hand championship at next week’s Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) continues to flourish with a new sponsor in Darren Price and his family, who have signed up for three years.

    Just as HOYS plays a most significant role in keeping showing alive, so too does this prestigious in-hand competition that began way back in 1965 with nine qualifying rounds.

    Without it, I fear that many relevant classes, particularly on the county show circuit, could be phased out completely which would be a major blow to all those involved.

    This year, the qualifying routes were opened up. In addition to the customary 20 direct qualifiers to the NEC, there was also another competition within the competition, as 20 more specific breed/type shows ran qualifying rounds for a semi-final held earlier this month at Stoneleigh Horse Show, where the top two gained access to HOYS.

    These two animals were a Highland stallion that stood third at the final in 2018 and 2019 and a riding pony who will be making her HOYS debut. She was my 2021 Great Yorkshire pony breeding champion.

    Of the 22 animals in the catalogue, seven are in the horse division, and eight of the 15 ponies represent native breeds.

    It is encouraging to see several home-bred equines through to the final. After all, this competition is not just a showcase for the proud owners and professional handlers, but also celebrates the breeders.

    With this in mind, the competition returned to its roots with more emphasis on breeding when I judged the in-hand final at HOYS with Stella Harries in 2001, and was aptly named the Breeders Challenge. The classes were split by age, with 16 in the youngstock section and nine broodmares/stallions.

    While many are happy with the present-day height format, mountain and moorland (M&M) enthusiasts believe that dividing the classes into plaited and non-plaited sections would make the judges’ task easier.

    Given these various permutations and the fact that unlike other showing sections, this variety of in-hand finalists is less easy to predict – albeit making for a more exciting competition – should the organisers consider delaying that decision until after the last qualifier to provide a more satisfactory balance?

    This year’s judges at Birmingham are bloodstock agent Charlie Gordon-Watson, who has purchased 63 Group One winners to date, and Ro Rennocks of the Rendene Stud, which she started in 1973 breeding Welsh section B and riding ponies.

    Charlie comes with an all-round equestrian background; he won the lead-rein class at Royal Windsor on the home-bred Blagdon Cuckoo, evented at Pony Club level, showjumped, rode a winner at Cheltenham, played polo at Cirencester and was joint-master of the Cottesmore for eight seasons.

    His sister, Mary, was world and European champion as well as an Olympic gold medallist aboard the family’s eventer Cornishman V. Their mother, Thalia, won the supreme M&M in-hand championship at Ponies of Britain show in 1963 with her Connemara Silver Lining and bred the legendary show pony Prosperity Of Catherston.

    Ro and her husband Ren have qualified 21 ponies for the in-hand supreme over 30 years, winning the overall crown in 1990 with Rosevean Honeysuckle and again in 2004 with Kingvean Gypsy Star. They also bred Rendene Royal Charm, the 2014 champion. They first qualified for the Lloyds final at Essex County show in 1985. I remember that day well, because I was the judge!

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 30 September

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