Showing is currently cast under a cloud of negativity, warns well-known and respected judge Stuart Hollings, who has previously produced and showed a myriad of show ring winners and champions
FOOTBALL may not have come home last month, but showing certainly did at this year’s Royal Windsor Horse Show. The event is now the only “London show” remaining on the circuit and it always feels like walking on to a film set against the iconic castle backdrop. You could sense the joyous mood of release and excitement from exhibitors and spectators alike at every ringside.
As a bona fide “showing anorak”, I particularly enjoyed reading the show report in Horse & Hound (8 July), and the reference to Jill Day’s consistent hunter View Point going into the Windsor history books – as the first-ever lightweight to stand champion for three consecutive years – was right up my street.
There were similar freedom-day vibes alongside some special memory-making moments at the Royal International (RIHS). It was lovely to see Wilderness Early Bird – a pony I had placed to win at the RIHS in 2019 – take the Dick Saunders supreme title.
So why is there an undercurrent of negativity towards showing presently doing the rounds? There’s even talk of forming an independent ombudsman for showing!
I have said before that if a member has a genuine complaint and not one purely based on hearsay, they should go through the proper channels by writing a letter to the relevant society, which will then trigger the tried-and-tested procedures already in place. No good can come from sending anonymous letters, inappropriate texts, and posts on social media. Whatever next, public floggings in the horsebox park?
The governing bodies have been elected by you the members (not just invited to the top table) and genuinely have your best interests and that of showing at heart.
I believe that a portion of the blame lies with the fact that the popular marks system was withdrawn from the RIHS pony flat qualifiers, over which I now understand the British Show Pony Society had zero control. With no mark sheets to view, this left competitors completely in the dark regarding the judgment, which opened up various conspiracy theories in the pony ranks and questioned the integrity of the judges.
I’ve now come to the conclusion, which may not be popular, that marks should also be used in horse classes at Horse of the Year Show qualifiers, as at the Birmingham final. This may go somewhere towards making judges more accountable, when horses that appear to give judges an ill-mannered ride then shoot up the line.
Up until now, I’ve adopted the stance of Switzerland and remained neutral regarding the marks system, even after I learnt a valuable lesson – that the time you don’t have the marks system at your disposal is the day you need them, as happened to me twice when judging mini ponies at Dublin.
The first time was when the Nations Cup was taking place in the nearby main ring and to say the atmosphere was electric was an understatement – more like a Van de Graaff generator. The two halves of the 20-plus leading-rein line-up literally swapped positions in the final reckoning as safety, never mind good manners, became the issue.
On the second occasion, nearly every first ridden pony made a mistake – ranging from a wrong leg to not standing still and performing the incorrect show. Again without marks, I had no choice but to clumsily shuffle them around at intervals like musical chairs before the conformation phase.
There’s no denying that mark sheets have become a vital part of present-day showing and should not be phased out, as they often help the modern competitor to understand the complexities of the judging process and how judges reach their decisions.
- Are you a fan of the marks system? Let us know your thoughts by emailing email@example.com
This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 5 August
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