Stuart Hollings: It’s alarming to be told riders starve themselves before a show *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Last season there were raging debates about overweight riders on ponies. This half term, it’s been underage/underweight riders showing horses — whatever next!

    In a recent letter from the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) regarding the first topic, its judges were reminded that the research into the weight ratio of riders to animals is still a work in progress. Until the results are published, they must use their professional judgement to determine where to place a pony which is overweight or how many marks to deduct when a competitor is unsuitably mounted.

    More importantly, BSPS judges must be careful of any comments made to these riders, preferably witnessed by a steward, as some of them are image-conscious teenagers.

    Does size matter?

    Being told that riders occasionally starve themselves days before a show for fear that judges may put them down has to be one of the most alarming stories I’ve heard in my 50 years of showing. It has now become a welfare issue involving the jockeys as well as the ponies.

    Will we see weight definitions for pony classes in future schedules similar to the wording for cobs — “capable of carrying”, for example? Or maybe an imposed minimum rider weight in hunter classes?

    This hot potato was triggered at my North of England Spring show (report, H&H 20 April) when 12-year-old Sam Walker rode a novice hunter in the championship. First, let me state that this matter is not about him nor stifling any talent, but the bigger picture. I am frustrated that some — believing that we are living in “a nanny state” — still don’t view this as a potential health and safety nightmare. They are being naive as all we seem to read about nowadays are accidents on horses and subsequent litigation.

    Major shows are much buzzier places and, dare I say, more dangerous, even with strict risk measures in place, to the point that experts predict the end of ride judging in the not too distant future. When Sport Horse Breeding (SHB (GB)) became embroiled in the “Bonnet Drama” three years ago, the strength of their case for safer headgear in the ring was that it had a duty of care to its membership.

    Come into line

    Interestingly, Anne Hood informed me that her son Oliver had to wait until his 16th birthday in 2003 before he could ride hunters under SHB (GB) rules, debuting with the small hunter Dr Doolittle. With this in mind, I would urge SHB (GB) to come into line with the British Show Horse Association which has a minimum rider age (14 years) and reinstate something similar.

    Moving on, the highlight of this season for me so far was being able to watch the supreme championship at Royal Windsor — from the comfort of my armchair, glass of wine in hand, 222 miles away via live streaming.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 8 June 2017