Stuart Hollings: the ‘lesser spotted’ plain snaffle [H&H VIP]

  • I always consider the busy Cheshire, Lincoln and Royal Highland week to be the half-way point in the showing season, so you could look on this comment as a sort of half-term report.

    My concern over show jockeys riding defensively has already been quoted in these pages. Many experts believe this kind of riding stems from the marking system and some judges too heavily penalising slightly imperfect individual performances. There is no excuse, however, in a championship scenario when everything is to play for, as more judges now look on this as a separate class with no marks and no preconceived conclusions.

    I first noticed this lack of showmanship when judging the second section of the working hunter pony classes at Royal Windsor. Some riders must have put all their energy and spirit into the jumping round and then became too carefree in the “easier” showing phase.

    Astonishingly, a few older jockeys entered the ring with no game plan and made up their individual show as they went along — ignoring the judge’s request for a set show.

    This was a big mistake! Points mean prizes, particularly in working hunter pony classes, and bonus marks can be gained with slick presentation and by “selling” your pony to the judge instead of just going through the motions. If you cannot rise to the occasion at somewhere as magnificent as Windsor, then perhaps showing isn’t your game.

    I was also amazed by the different types of bits in use — what has happened to the “lesser spotted” plain snaffle? Ironically, the few ponies that were not over-bitted appeared to go exceptionally well.

    Ponies and planes

    Lincolnshire Show is one of my favourites, and I thoroughly enjoyed sorting the show hunter ponies on my judging debut there. However, the show committee has a major dilemma on its hands. There have been many news items in this magazine on the dangers of low-flying aircraft and I can only conclude that the organisers have not read them.

    Aircraft displays and competing livestock do not go together, as witnessed at this event for the second year running. On one hand, the low-banking Dakota and Red Arrows formations may have entertained the paying public, but on the other, frightened children and riderless ponies galloping round the ring was not pleasant to watch.

    Interestingly, Health & Safety Rule 27 (c) in the schedule states that “if an exhibitor has a nervous, highly strung animal, he should consider whether it is prudent for him to risk bringing the animal to a busy agricultural show”. Do aircraft displays truly belong at an agricultural event?

    There were a lot of unhappy competitors, who felt they had wasted their entry fee as well as the expense of getting there. In the future, some may decide to vote with their feet and conclude that the show is not for them — which would be a great pity.

    Cards to treasure

    Many a tack room in the past was adorned with colourful prize cards that were presented with the rosettes at most shows, but these have now gone out of fashion — or, more than likely, have become too expensive to mass produce.

    It was good to see them make a welcome return, albeit just in the championships, at the Derbyshire Festival Show. My brother Nigel, who was judging there, advised riders to treasure them and to put the cards under the saddle flap instead of the stirrup leather, to lessen the risk of damage.

    This column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (10 July, 2014)