Stuart Hollings: New winter showing finals are a ‘window of opportunity’ for the sport


  • Stuart Hollings praises London International Horse Show at the ExCeL and makes the case for winter showing

    Wow! This was my immediate reaction on walking into the London ExCeL building for the first time to watch the New Horizon Plastics Heritage supreme mountain and moorland (M&M) final at the London International Horse Show (LIHS) in December.

    Everywhere was lighter and more spacious than at Olympia, where this competition was held from 1978 to 2019. Competitors were also full of praise for the excellent “all under one roof” facilities, including the lovely warm stables.

    This final stands out from the crowd with its unique four-judge system: the two performance scores are teasingly revealed after each individual show, which leads to much speculation building up to the afternoon presentations. I personally enjoy analysing the full mark sheets a few days later.

    The old chestnut that specialist breed judges are not used enough was mooted again. My response is as always: the consensus of opinion among the competitors is that they prefer to go under those who have the experience of judging all the breeds.

    Lucy Glover’s charge Castle Kestrel became the 13th Connemara to lift the coveted title on a total score of 185/200. Not only did they secure the top mark from three of the judges but also won by a nine-point margin. I’m not sure if this is a record but it’s the most convincing victory in recent years.

    Another young producer and an “Olympia” first-timer, Victoria Harker, finished runner-up aboard the sole Welsh section A representative, Dukeshill Pearly Spencer. Very much on form, 18-year-old Victoria also trained last October’s show pony of the year, Ardenhall Blenheim.

    Both Lucy and Victoria are better known for their successes in the plaited ranks so it must have been even more rewarding to beat the M&M experts in their specific field. Interestingly both riders also come from a racing background: Lucy’s father Jerry was fifth in the 1976 Grand National and Geoff Harker has been a trainer for 22 years.

    Showing all year round

    The exciting news that 20 extra showing classes will be staged at this year’s LIHS – allowing more competitors to enjoy the Christmas experience – has caused a stir. I consider this move to be a window of opportunity for the struggling post-pandemic showing industry.

    It’s also encouraging to witness the LIHS, Association of Show and Agricultural Associations (ASAO), British Show Pony Society (BSPS) and British Show Horse Association (BSHA) all working together to promote equine showing.

    The BSHA Rising Stars series and BSPS cradle and nursery stakes classes now have a major finale in the capital, alongside an inaugural BSPS Heritage lead-rein working sports pony class. The five BSPS performance finals, which incorporate freestyle displays to include required movements, will also be real crowd pleasers.

    Consequently I was surprised that my fellow columnist Katie Jerram-Hunnable was not as enthusiastic, believing that competitors and horses need a break.

    Other disciplines such as dressage and showjumping continue during the winter and the BSPS presided over an active winter circuit some years ago that was a godsend for novice ponies moving up a gear and new combinations gaining experience.

    A leading professional summed up the situation most succinctly: “We are not seaside landladies who can afford to shut up shop after a busy summer season!”

    One could also argue that having an additional major showing event on the circuit may persuade enthusiasts who chase qualifiers and points during the summer months to throttle back somewhat and view the bigger picture with a more strategic campaign in place.

    Whatever your plan, enjoy the 2023 season!

    ● Do you like the idea of winter showing? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com including your name, nearest town and county for the chance to have your views published in a future issue of Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound, on sale Thursday 23 February

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