Simon Reynolds: ‘I find sub-standard animals masquerading as top show horses particularly annoying’ *H&H VIP*

  • I found the recent H&H article on comparing types of show animals (showing special, 17 March), “Then and now”, extremely interesting. Tim Wiggett in particular did a great comparative assessment of the two animals he was given in each category. Some must have been difficult to critique, as we had first-season animals compared to multiple Horse of the Year Show winners — once-in-a-lifetime horses — which was a little unfair. However, it was interesting to see if and how types have changed.

    Three lightweight cobs of yesteryear that I will never forget, and the sort that I aspire to find today, are Just William, Maddison and Benedict, plus three heavyweight cobs in Becconsall Blue Max, Superted and Grandstand. They epitomised quality but were proper cobs. Traditionally heavier types and cobs were a necessity for work such as farming and transport, but nowadays cobs are so popular as a versatile leisure animal, more to be ridden than driven, and the type and structure of these animals is very different.

    I’m not saying cobs shouldn’t be proper cobs — sturdy weight carriers with good bone — but a show animal should have quality with good low-to-the-ground movement. I hate to see a cob that you need a chainsaw to take its ergots off and a dock like an oak tree. I think the influence of the Irish draught is great, because you get quality combined with substance, which to me is crucial. Yes, they should still be mannerly, but that’s not to say they can’t be showy with it. Personally, I wouldn’t show an agricultural type of cob. To me that’s not a show animal.

    I often get asked for a cob that can show, hunt, jump and do a dressage test — and why not? It’s not about sacrificing type, but about modifying. I’m a stickler for tradition but I’m not averse to moving with the times. If we can do something better, we should.

    With hunters, it’s down to breeding, which has been well discussed. For many breeders, it’s not financially viable to breed one type of horse. They have to be a jack of all trades to appeal to a wider market.

    My particular annoyance is sub-standard animals masquerading as top show horses, with a camouflage of make-up, show shine, quarter marks and false topline. If a horse has poor conformation or is in the wrong category, it should be penalised.

    A competitor’s ‘minefield’

    The age-old questions hanging over showing appear to remain. Are entries down because of early closing dates? Is the rising cost of showing pushing people out? When the first-placed prize money is substantially less than the entry fee, what makes people bother? There are some very well-run shows that go out of their way to make things easier for competitors, allowing entries on the day, releasing pre-entry numbers and using social media to update any information, but other shows really need to get their acts together. In a digital, technical age, I still don’t understand why last-minute changes can’t be made, such as nomination or substitute late entries.

    Some shows are even closing early without the judges being confirmed, or broodmare and foal classes closing before the mare has even foaled. Surely this is a step too far? There are major qualifiers clashing with other qualifiers. It’s a minefield for competitors.

    I also believe that if there is a change of judge, the entries should be reopened, a chance of a substitute horse entry, or the option of a refund.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 5 May