Stuart Hollings: surely we don’t need to experience further upheaval? *H&H Plus*


  • Stuart Hollings discusses how a lack of a marks system will affect qualifiers

    Last season the rumour mill from certain quarters hinted that there would be major changes in showing for 2021, which made me nervous. Surely we need to embrace a period of stability en route to recovery following the grimmest of years, rather than experience further upheaval?

    A bolt from the blue landed in early December when the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) notified its members and judges that marks will not be used in flat classes at Royal International (RIHS) qualifiers or the Hickstead final in 2021.

    Vice chairman Paul Cook stated: “As part of the requirements to allow shows to continue under Covid-19 restrictions, we limited the amount of classes that needed to be marked, to minimise risk. The RIHS have determined that this has positive benefits and reverting to a more traditional way of judging could now take place.

    “It does not stop judges taking notes as an aide memoire or devising their own unpublished system which will be debated at the BSPS judges’ conference next month. Many of the area shows now only have one judge for the RIHS classes so decisions in the majority of cases rest with you as the judge in any event.”

    This directive not only fuels uncertainty of a return to normality in the first half of the season despite an ambitious vaccination deployment, but also raises more questions than answers from a show organiser’s point of view.

    At RIHS qualifiers, will it remain compulsory for all ponies to be viewed for conformation without the saddle, which would require two judges to save time? With this in mind, would it be necessary to strip the whole class or just a selection as in pre-mark system days, when using one judge?

    Presumably there will be no restriction on entry numbers to allow for more open competition and also to offset the costs of running a qualifying round at this level, including awarding prize money?

    The BSPS and the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) rulebooks state the protocol in the event of a tie with marks, for both the plaited and mountain and moorland classes. It will be interesting to observe what happens when two judges reach stalemate without them.

    More transparency

    In 1995 the marks system was introduced to allow for greater transparency in the judging process. It became a milestone in the history of the BSPS and in my opinion has changed the face of showing in the way ponies were sourced, presented and judged.

    A significant number of competitors will be disappointed that the popular mark sheets won’t be available to view after the RIHS classes and see this as a retrograde step.

    From experience, I know that new regulations – temporary or otherwise –
    rarely revert to the original version in the rule book.

    There is concern in the ranks that this is the death knell of the marks era.

    Having said that, HOYS remains committed to the present marking system and consequently the 2021 showing season looks set to be one of two halves.


    A recent H&H online article entitled ‘‘Irritating things non-horsey people say’’ made me smile when referring to the magazine’s connection with the Notting Hill film.

    Americans in particular always ask me when abroad: “So you work for Horse & Hound magazine, the one in Notting Hill?” Or declare: “I didn’t know it was a real publication.” Followed by: “Do you see much of Hugh Grant?”

    Even author Felix Francis – when signing my copy of his crime thriller Crisis – enquired, tongue in cheek, whether he should scribble: “To Hugh Grant”!

    Ref: 21 January 2021

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