Stuart Hollings baulks at the thought of ‘strip and search’ [H&H VIP]

  • It would seem an appropriate time, after my North of England Spring Show, to ask the question: are governing bodies demanding too much from show organisers, and their invaluable volunteers, to the point that some secretaries are contemplating the unaffiliated option?

    I’m going to have to become the human equivalent of a Swiss army knife at this rate in my role as show secretary after receiving a rather pompous letter from Sport Horse Breeding of Great Britain [SHB(GB)].

    I was reminded that, as a secretary of an affiliated show, I have an obligation and responsibility to make every effort to ensure that all competitors adhere to the rules of the society.

    Apparently in the latest twist of this season’s “bonnet drama” — as one owner described the new hat rule saga — several competitors were allegedly not wearing regulation hats. Some horses were also competing without back shoes.

    Everyone knows that I am a stickler when it comes to rules and we did, in fact, carry out discreet checks from the ringside to make sure that hunter competitors were wearing chinstraps. We did not, however, as was merely suggested in a pre-show correspondence, allow our stewards to carry out a “strip and search” exercise in the ring during the conformation phase of each class.

    The organising team felt, rightly or wrongly, that a more hands-on approach would have created a hostile atmosphere. After all, some competitors were begrudgingly wearing chinstraps to begin with and it would have been tantamount to accusing them of cheating.

    The main ring was also considered not the place to do so, in front of an audience who had come to admire the horses competing and not witness an additional sideshow.

    I understand that, in other disciplines, hats are checked in a more dignified manner by experts in a backstage environment. Sometimes this only occurs once in a season, which seems a more professional approach.

    The responsibilities of stewards, compared with the good old days, have increased immeasurably. Those dealing with marks must have the brain of an arithmetician. A full understanding of the complex qualification procedures when handing out cards/rosettes is essential.

    Stewards must also be athletic enough to cope with legging up ride judges, of all shapes and sizes, some of whom lack Tigger’s ability to spring!

    Now it appears stewards must also be hat aficionados, with eyes in the back of their head to spot horses without shoes and riders sporting earrings and body piercings. Any show secretary will tell you how difficult it is to recruit volunteers with basic skills, let alone such expertise.

    And what would happen if a steward made a wrong call with hats, either way — who would be responsible, the governing body, the steward or the show itself? The role of the steward is notably different from that of the stipendiary steward, who is normally a trained representative of the relevant society and has the remit to disqualify competitors in the ring.

    What part, you may ask, does the judge play in all this confusion? I’ve always understood that he is the person in charge of the ring, albeit there to focus on the assessment of the animals in front of him.

    But at the end of the day, if any rule has been broken, it is the competitor who should be accountable and not the many people who work so hard to provide enjoyable competition.

    PS. Is it not time societies provided show secretaries with an emergency helpline number at weekends and bank holidays, when the majority of shows are held?