Stuart Hollings: A sunny season despite ‘bonnet drama’ and bitting concerns [H&H VIP]

  • Pharrell Williams’ top-selling single Happy dominated the airwaves in 2014 and summed up the general ambience of the showing season.

    Competition was strong in the show ring, with better entries at many events compared to last season.

    The weather also played a role and, apart from a wet patch that affected Devon County and two Yorkshire qualifiers, sunshine prevailed most of the time.

    The much reported “Bonnet drama” — whether or not crash caps should be compulsory — came to a head at the beginning of the year which resulted in Sport Horse Breeding (SHB(GB)) losing its administration of Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) qualifiers for ridden hunter classes to the British Show Horse Association (BSHA). This will continue to be the case in 2015.

    Whatever your view, the pictures from their championship shows in this publication said it all: top hats were out in force with the BSHA at Addington and were again a pleasure to see at HOYS. The principal argument wasn’t a case of vanity versus safety but about allowing the membership their right to uphold tradition. It’s ironic that some competitors who favoured crash caps have reverted back to their Pateys and vice versa. Rightly or wrongly — at least it is their choice.

    Championship shows make ideal venues to stage discussion groups with members and one such gathering took place at the BSHA championships to review amateur status. SHB(GB) held an open meeting last week in Gloucester — on reflection, better late than never.

    The BSHA national championships with its new four-day format was undoubtedly the hit of the season and ended on a high note with an exciting last Cuddy qualifying round judged by John Peacock.

    Mention must also be made of the excellent team of rosette ladies, who ran a slick operation during the evening performances. Sashes were put on winners within minutes of results being announced, allowing sponsors more time to enjoy presenting trophies and having photographs taken with the great and the good.

    Over the top

    British Show Pony Society judges have been alerted to concerns that some ponies are being shown in severe bits. They were requested to take this matter into consideration when judging — particularly ponies ridden by young and inexperienced children.

    Whereas some knowledgeable trainers prefer to see a pony well bitted and going correctly, the purists question whether said pony is fit for purpose when requiring such “ironmongery” to go about its job. It was interesting to hear that the show pony judges at HOYS were disappointed by the number of over-bent ponies in front of them due to over-bitting and over-riding.

    This subject is a minefield. It’s pointless having sketches of disallowed bits in a rulebook as they can easily be modified to look completely different.

    As if they don’t have enough responsibilities in the ring already, I believe it is the judges’ call.

    However, to assist them in this task, should the directive which prevents officials from looking in a pony’s mouth now be relaxed, as in the old days? Having said that, how many judges and competitors fully understand the mechanics of a bit? Wouldn’t this make an ideal topic at a future conference?

    A judge’s pride

    Nothing beats that feeling of a job well done and judges are particularly proud when their winner also delights the ringside on its lap of honour. So imagine my horror at Royal Norfolk this time when Skyfall played his part in the proceedings — only to be announced as my “YAK breeding champion”! I was not happy.