Stuart Hollings: Be careful what you wish for *H&H VIP*

  • Last month I came across Master Horseman, the 1980 biography of the late showman Jack Gittins. Jack won many major awards, including six supreme hunter championships at Dublin with Mighty Atom, Mighty Fine and Work Of Art, to name but three. A fascinating read, which set the scene for my third trip to Dublin Horse Show shortly afterwards.

    Every time you walk into the Ballsbridge showground, you can sense the history — and expect to see the cast from Downton Abbey. I recommend that every showing enthusiast should pay a visit at least once in their lifetime.

    On the whole, two judges sort each section “the old fashioned way” — without marks.

    It was a delight to watch them side by side — especially in the conformation phase — discussing each horse in detail and forming a result. I was reminded of the pony judging at the Royal International at Wembley when the two judges seemed joined at the hip throughout, and one felt that the classes had been thoroughly assessed.

    Nowadays, with the marks system, one judge scuttles off into a designated area to assess conformation, while the other has no indication of what is happening, which can often throw up a result whereby neither judge is happy.

    If there are disagreements at Dublin, a referee/reserve judge is waiting in the wings. This year the role was filled by English judge and former Olympic event rider Chris Hunnable, whose services were not required all week.

    For some, it sounds like the ideal job — being paid for doing nothing. But this is not the case, according to referee judges I have spoken to over the years.

    They have to be on standby from 8am-8pm every day, and theoretically be a fount of all knowledge regarding rules for the individual classes, from memorising dressage tests to being up to scratch with the various marking systems.

    It was Chris’ sixth judging appointment at Dublin, but his first as a referee. “I love this show with its unique atmosphere as everyone has a common bond — the horse,” Chris said. “It was more tiring, however, waiting at the ringside than riding in the ring, which I prefer.”

    A military operation

    One lead-rein mother recently questioned why mini classes are usually held first thing in the morning, adding: “Do organisers realise the military operation involved when preparing an exuberant pony and half-asleep jockey for such early starts?”

    Be careful what you wish for. At Dublin, the lead-rein ponies went in the ring at about 5pm and were subjected to the loud cheers coming from the Puissance competition in the main ring.

    To quote the judge Clare McCullagh: “Manners were key in the decision-making.”

    When is a ‘gallop’ an ‘extension’?

    A typical example of bad communication between judges and stewards is when the former has asked for “a gallop” in the championship and the steward has ordered “an extension from the next corner” instead.

    There is a distinct difference and championships have been unfairly lost as a consequence.

    This seems unlikely at Dublin where galloping is automatically the order of the day. I doubt whether even the youngest jockeys competing there would comprehend the term “push on” — which is to their credit.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 27 August 2015