Stuart Hollings: I can hold my head up high *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s showing columnist reflects on how he ran a successful show in this new era

    It may not have been a typical North of England Show (19–20 September) with all the bells and whistles, but nevertheless words cannot describe how delighted I was to be able to run a two-day show last month, particularly following the very real threat of a Merseyside lockdown just 20 hours beforehand.

    At least I can now hold my head up high knowing that I was at last able to do my bit for the showing community in these uncertain times, especially after the cancellation of both my spring and summer events.

    I’ll always remember this show being such a happy occasion, and the glorious weather also played its part in creating the relaxed ambiance, reminiscent of shows from yesteryear. I particularly enjoyed watching our eminent judges who were sometimes officiating outside of their comfort zone. Graham Dunkley, a familiar face in the pony ring, sorted the hacks, cobs and riding horses, and likewise horse judge Pauline Miller cast her experienced eye over the show hunter ponies.

    Looking back to mid-season, special mention must be made of three amazing ladies – Lynn Russell, Joanne Pybus and Loraine Homer – who were responsible for near-normal service resuming with their well-received shows. With new protocols in place, these fixtures – fondly nicknamed “Show ’n’ Go” events, presumably after the hairdressing salon ‘Blow ’n’ Go’ in the Benidorm television series – gave the rest of us the confidence to follow suit.

    As mentioned in my April column in which I compared this pandemic to the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis, the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) area network again played a significant role in keeping showing alive, albeit on a simmering heat.

    The British Show Horse Association (BSHA) also stepped up to the mark without an area structure, with several popular training clinic shows under the guidance of its new general manager Lucy Savill.

    However, showing definitely came to the boil with Scott Dixon’s UK Nationals at Arena UK. I watched the supreme championship unfold via livestreaming, which was like a game of snakes and ladders as some firm favourites toppled like dominoes in their quest to win the magnificent Italian trophy presented in memory of the late, great Rory Gilsenan.

    This inaugural event was closely followed by the highly successful and enjoyable BSPS and BSHA alternative championship shows, also held at the Grantham venue. The CHAPS UK Covid show fell in-between: which bright spark came up with that ominous title?

    Grasping opportunities

    When lockdown came into force and shows fell by the wayside, competitors had to make a difficult choice – to keep their animals ticking over in the hope that showing would recommence at a later date, or turn them away for the summer.

    I was therefore horrified to learn of the playground attitude of some exhibitors who, after choosing to take a sabbatical from showing, tried to scupper shows going ahead by alerting regional council authorities.

    The Yorkshire-based Donaldson family made a conscious decision to continue showing after their 2019 Royal International (RIHS) 148cm show pony victor Wilderness Early Bird and jockey Mia Donaldson hit this season running when notching up two rare RIHS tickets in March at Onley.

    “It was important to make the most of any opportunities on offer in this unprecedented year, especially following the BSPS decision not to extend rider age limits for 2021,’’ explained Mia’s father David. “There is only so much one can learn by riding at home and nothing can ever beat match practice. Mia has even dabbled in showjumping this year.’’

    Ref Horse & Hound; 1 October 2020