Stuart Hollings: Nurturing enthusiasm [H&H VIP]

  • Last month I enjoyed two back-to-back judging appointments at polar ends of the equestrian spectrum. First I was at Royal Norfolk, which kicked off with a pre-show dinner attended by HRH Prince Edward; then I attended a “showing unplugged” event, also with Royal connections, run by Queen Mary’s School near York.

    My co-judge at the latter was British Show Pony Society (BSPS) chairman Pat Pattinson and together we selected our winners for the Pony Club pony, veteran and tack and turnout classes. It was such a pleasure not to have to worry about rules and marks, and the ringside assistance ruling was definitely infringed on several occasions!

    However St Trinian’s meets Thelwell it certainly was not. While watching some of the surprisingly accomplished riders performing a freestyle show — probably for the first time and occasionally lasting for over five minutes — we judges slipped into a reflective mood and deep conversation.

    At what stage, and how, will these children — if they choose to pursue their enthusiasm for competition — decide on their chosen discipline? Will they be inspired by watching Scott Brash on the television, or reading about Charlotte Dujardin in a magazine? Will the trigger be that their cousin owns a show pony? Or maybe their branch of the Pony Club or local riding club has a strong leaning towards eventing? My favourite suggestion is when their horse of a lifetime finds them.

    And of course the million-dollar question did arise: would disciplines gain from promoting their sport at this level?

    Although younger, my brother Nigel started riding before me, and I only became interested when he returned one day with a Pony Club pamphlet. It was on a subsequent branch visit to the Leahurst veterinary clinic at the University of Liverpool that the district commissioner, Dr Sutherland, advised that I had individual riding tuition at Readwood Stables.

    My first lesson there was on a 13.2hh show pony that had competed at the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS). Also in residence at Readwood was the highly successful Good News — a stunning pattern of a large hack.

    Inevitably — and not long after — it was goodbye to Pony Club and hello to showing.

    No excuses, please

    At the time of writing I am still recuperating from my stint as show secretary of the North of England summer series, when my patience was tested on several occasions.

    Preparation is the key to success in equestrianism. So why do competitors arrive at a show to enter Horse of the Year (HOYS) classes without the appropriate entry form and, more importantly, no ID registration details?

    The excuse that their printer blew up soon begins to wear thin.

    Problems then arose when the relevant information could not be accessed via some competitors’ all singing and dancing mobiles because the signal was weak.

    The sensible ones did, however, save valuable time by following the obvious path of producing a completed form for each animal, which more often than not had been photocopied several times during the season.

    This year’s North of England rosettes had a Chinese theme to reflect the fact that 2014 is the Chinese year of the horse. Fortune cookies were also on offer to some competitors. One superstitious lady took her cookie very seriously. She believed that the proverb held within could give a clue as to how the rest of her showing season would pan out. I don’t know what she read, but we haven’t seen her since!

    This column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (7 August, 2014)