Stuart Hollings: Should jumping be king for working hunters? [H&H VIP]

  • It appears the working hunter pony/working hunter (WHP/WH) community remains divided on whether their classes should be treated as a performance class where jumping is king or judged as a showing class with a jumping element.

    I’m unashamedly a supporter of the latter view and was slightly deflated when a pony won a recent Horse of the Year Show qualifier, after I only gave it 5/20 for conformation.

    When I competed in WHP classes, there weren’t any show hunter pony (SHP) classes and so working hunter ponies were generally a better stamp than we see today. In the working hunter classes, more often than not, the champion flat hunter would also feature in the placings, if not head the line-up, which would rarely happen nowadays at top level.

    This is because the courses are far more technical, usually built by a professional course-builder, and now require an athlete over fences.

    Judges, thankfully, are no longer expected to arrive early at a show to build a course from a pile of straw bales and rustic poles left in the middle of the ring, before starting judging, which was commonplace in the early days.

    However, there is greater pressure on today’s course-builder to produce a balanced number of clears in relation to the standard of the competition and numbers forward — and if there are too many, woe betide! Moans on social media then appear — “the proper jumping ponies do not get the credit when so many go clear” and “the course today didn’t sort the men from the boys” — do they want the SAS to build it?

    You can also hear a definite rumble in the jungle when those with a fence down beat a clear round, with “I’m getting annoyed with the workers being a beauty contest” being the most common complaint. In my opinion, this is nonsense as the marking system weighs heavily in favour of jumping.

    I would like to see more WHP classes judged in a similar way to working hunters, which used to be the case in my pony days, with one judge. This would make the class more of a showcase with the second phase held after the jumping has taken place.

    More importantly, judges would be able to see the ponies go in company and not have to wait until the championship. The normal second phase can sometimes appear like a conveyor belt process, screening one product at a time.

    The only downside would be the time factor. Having said that, valuable time is often wasted when competitors with a cricket score of jumping penalties routinely come forward to the showing phase, when they would be better calling it a day.

    In the WH class, only clears and those with one fence down normally go through to phase II at the judges’ discretion — which does prevent this. What are your views?

    Preventing endless waiting

    I believe mark sheets should be released for perusal after each class so competitors do not have to wait endless hours until the whole section has finished.

    Stewards could make a note of the scores of the first and second prize-winners if ever the judges needed to refer to them in the championship – but let’s face it, how many do?

    It would also stop competitors pestering show secretaries after the show for the information, when they are already under pressure to complete post-show paperwork.

    This column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (28 August, 2014)