Stuart Hollings: Diplomats, saints and masochists *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    After reading “Showing faces a volunteer crisis’’ (news, 25 May), I feel even more blessed and consider myself to be one of the luckier show organisers. At the North of England Show events, we have such a dedicated team of excellent, experienced and impeccably turned-out stewards — although we are always on the lookout for good “legger uppers’’ to assist in the ridden classes, who seem to be as scarce as new ride judges.

    The steward is not only in charge of the smooth running of the ring — which, importantly, allows a judge to focus entirely on his assessments — but he is also there to make sure that societies’ rules are observed, competitors get the same fair crack of the whip and the ringside views a well-presented spectacle. One could argue that the responsibilities of today’s stewards — particularly in the pony classes involving a marks system — are on a par with that of the judge.

    Therefore, it is the role of the chief steward to ensure that all officials — not just the judges — are treated with the same courtesy and are given refreshment breaks during show day (which is a common complaint). Above all, stewards must enjoy their experience or they simply won’t return.

    Surplus of judges?

    I’ve noticed a trend over the years in some families retiring from pony showing: the more ambitious members bypass the traditional route of joining a show committee — which would involve stewarding, putting up rings etc — to become judges themselves, even when their ponies were professionally produced.

    Could this be one reason why there is a shortage of stewards and at the same time too many judges seemingly flooding the panel? On 1 June, there were approximately 520 judges for a total of 2,700 registered ponies on the British Show Pony Society’s books.

    However, some show secretaries and competitors would agree that having so many does make for a healthier showing environment.

    Playing by the book

    One of the funniest moments I can recall when judging involved a rookie steward at Suffolk Show. I was about to commence judging the riding pony breeding section when I heard a commotion behind me, coming from the entrance. Apparently he wouldn’t let the foals accompany the broodmares into the ring as, according to his catalogue, they were being judged in the following class — which was theoretically correct. I intervened before he was seen swinging from the collecting ring tree!

    The ideal steward

    I once had the privilege of interviewing a legendary official — the late Denis Colton. He told me that a good ring steward makes a show; a bad one can ruin it for all, as no one wants to be shouted at by some badge-bedecked, bowler-hatted moron with a loud voice and a suit to match.

    “The ideal steward has the tact of a diplomat, the charity and forbearance of a saint and the ability to absorb punishment of a practising masochist. It can be great fun and you meet lovely people,” he concluded.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 6 July 2017