Stuart Hollings: Thanks for the memories *H&H Plus*

  • A spring clean has H&H’s showing columnist looking back to the show scene of old...

    Have we caught a glimpse of the future during the coronavirus crisis? Several showing bodies have conducted their regular gatherings by conference calls, leading one council member to joke that this was probably the nearest experience to appearing on her favourite programme, Celebrity Squares.

    Royal Windsor’s virtual showing kept the spirit of competition alive on a truly international level with over 4,000 entries from around the world. Congratulations to the supreme champion, Emma James’ versatile and photogenic Connemara Glenmore Gwennic.

    Given the popularity of the judging formats on television shows Strictly Come Dancing and Masterchef, it came as no surprise that showing enthusiasts particularly enjoyed the Windsor judges’ comments. Will this sort of feedback – similar to judging critiques in the dog showing world – become more commonplace when showing resumes?

    A wave of nostalgia has also swept over the showing community during lockdown as people have discovered old photographs while spring cleaning – in my case, some previously unseen family snaps. I’ve also seen pictures of our winning ponies posted by their respective jockeys on Facebook.

    In the absence of reports, I have enjoyed reading H&H’s “Legends of the sport” series. That classic photo of David Tatlow on three-time hack of the year Lady Teller was reminiscent of the days when true to-type hacks were shown with more artistry, and the hack canter, seldom seen today, was executed with aplomb.

    A golden age

    I feel blessed to have competed in what was considered a golden age of showing. The judges were held in high esteem and the smaller band of professionals were far more revered, especially by “old school” owners like my father, George. Above all, the champion show animals were the true celebrities on the circuit.

    My brother, Nigel, was a guest speaker on the Live Zone stage at last year’s Horse of the Year Show (HOYS). Sam Gerrard May asked him if showing was more enjoyable in his day as a child rider. He responded by relating a story which was news even to me.

    “About 40 minutes after winning the show pony championship at HOYS back in 1972 on my parents’ Snailwell Charles, I was kicking a football around with my friend Chris Bell, who had finished eighth in the 13.2hh class on Oakley Zella,’’ Nigel said.

    The two boys sneaked into the adjacent Wembley football stadium and relived the 1966 World Cup on the hallowed turf, by re-enacting Geoff Hurst’s iconic “they think it’s all over – it is now” moment, as both scored a goal in the historic net. That was until a security guard chased them out!

    Nigel added: “Back then, we were more ambitious to win but in a seemingly less intense environment. There were no post-mortems after the showing classes and certainly no judges’ and competitors’ assassinations on social media.’’

    There is still uncertainty at the time of writing whether any form of showing will continue this season. Whenever competition does recommence, it will be our chance to ensure the camaraderie shown during the pandemic does not waver and a stronger element of fun returns to this discipline, which has given us all so many treasured memories. I firmly believe that sometimes it pays to look back, in order to move forwards.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 4 June 2020