Stuart Hollings: How many handlers does it take to show a shire? [H&H VIP]

  • I ticked another box when paying a first-time visit to the National Shire Horse Show in March, and came away both fascinated and alarmed.

    It seemed odd watching the shire horses enter the ring on the left rein with the leaders on the inside — the complete opposite to light horse classes. I’m told that this ensures the handler does not miss his “pull-in”, albeit at the expense of the judges’ view of the horse.

    On several occasions there were displays of outside assistance actually inside the ring, which was unacceptable in front of the truly international crowd. It reminded me of the joke with the light bulbs – how many handlers does it take to show a shire? One assistant was even brushing the feathers while the judges were studying the horse. This would not be allowed in my area of showing and the governing body needs to stamp out this particular infringement.

    Being discouraged from touching the animals must be the most ill-considered directive for light horse judges in recent years — apparently due to health and safety. Consequently it was great to see how the shire judges were very much hands-on when checking limbs and feather quality. In fact, one expert emphasised how important it is to feel what is under all the hair.

    So why is this practice frowned upon by other showing societies? Some could argue that it is essential in traditional and native classes. Sometimes a judge needs to investigate a bump to determine how serious the blemish is, and provided you pretend to check other horses in the class to throw spectators off the scent, what is the problem?

    I was once at the ringside watching a judge as he went over every pony with his hands, like a medical examination. He impressed the lady next to me who declared to her friend that “he would make the perfect lover”.

    Making a connection

    It’s incredible how and when you meet people with showing connections. When judging overseas in 2002, someone called out my name at Jo’burg airport — it was Lucy Edsell (née Payne), who rode the 1965 show pony of the year, Shandon.

    Last month, while judging cobs at Suffolk show, an official party came into my ring and President Elect John Wall recalled his boyhood memory of accompanying his father, trainer Ron Wall, to the London docks with one of Albert Deptford’s show ponies. This was the legendary 1963 Wembley champion Pollyanna, who had been sold for a record sum to America and left England on a ship three days before Christmas that year.

    Nearer to home, I reported on the BSHA Northern Spring show in April and I interviewed the breeder of the reserve hunter Primitive Dancer, Judi Burdett, who mentioned in passing that she also bred hack legend, Pearly King. It just so happens that she lives four miles from me and we go to the same dental practice and, more importantly, patronise the same fish and chip shop. Where I come from, that’s like being related.

    Recently I discovered another Lancashire breeder who has remained under the radar – Gill Jolleys, who bred successful intermediates and full siblings Acheval Boutique Amadeus and DP UK Nightdancer.

    H&H 18 June, 15