Stuart Hollings: New amateur rulings in showing are ‘bureaucratic buffoonery’


  • Stuart Hollings, a well-known and respected judge in the UK and abroad, discusses riders making choices and the marking system

    I’M not alone in thinking that some of the new showing rules printed in the 2022 handbooks have caused a fluttering in the dovecotes, particularly those involving the amateur sector, which can at best be described as bureaucratic buffoonery.

    Anyone who has operated as a professional showing producer, rider or groom will now always be deemed a professional. Someone joked this was akin to being given a life sentence or acquiring a criminal record!

    I can appreciate that it would be inappropriate if a major player in the show ring over many years became an amateur on retirement. But it does seem harsh – if I’m reading this correctly – to include, say, a young person who picks up a spare ride, possibly in a championship, or helps a yard at a show and consequently still becomes exempt from amateur status 20 years down the line with their own family, even when they are no longer involved in the equine industry.

    Since when has judging been considered a profession? Yet a new ruling from the horse societies, which may come into effect in 2023, means that some judges will be forced into making a decision whether to continue officiating or lose their amateur credentials.

    An ambiguous general rule, which was first flagged up at the British Show Pony Society’s (BSPS) members’ conference in January, states that if you are on the organising committee of a show holding Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) qualifiers for the British Show Horse Association (BSHA) or Sports Horse Breeding (SHB) GB you and your immediate family cannot compete in those classes. I hope this does not trigger a wave of resignations as a consequence.

    Speed and transparency

    WELL, it’s official and just as I predicted 12 months ago in Horse & Hound, the axe has fallen on the marking system for RIHS flat pony classes, without any request for feedback from the most important participants, the judges, stewards and members.

    Introduced in 1995 to promote transparency, marks have not only helped competitors comprehend their own results and the subjective final placings by viewing the sheets afterwards, but also speeded up the judging process, allowing more classes into the modern-day timetable.

    Imagine how much longer the judging of the BSPS LeMieux Heritage ridden final at the London International Horse Show in December with four judges would have taken, without the tried-and-tested marks system!

    “We wait with anticipation”

    I HAVE only ever had one column returned for a possible re-write by the editor at the time. I’d written that the new hats with chinstraps spoilt the overall picture in the show ring, when on reflection the safety implications were obviously far more important. I’m also more aware of how the general public’s perception of animal welfare has changed over time, circus acts and zoo management being typical examples.

    What concerns me, though, over the Great Yorkshire Show going rogue and introducing a rule barring exhibits with trimmed whiskers, is the lack of clarity and the repercussions.

    Is lengthy stubble acceptable or do the whiskers need to be au naturel? Who is going to police this operation? Will it be stewards in the collecting area or judges in the ring acting against their own societies’ rules? Will this give other shows the green light to follow suit?

    However, the biggest talking points are: what will be next on the welfare agenda – perhaps a restriction on distance ponies can travel to shows – and who will be in charge of showing in the future? The governing bodies that represent the membership are seemingly losing their control.

    We wait with anticipation to see what the showing year has in store!

    • Are you an amateur who will be affected by the new rules? Write to us at hhletters@futurenet.com to let us know your thoughts

    This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 24 February

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