Stuart Hollings: Let’s ditch the obstacles *H&H VIP*

  • I never tire of visiting Dublin Horse Show. This time I judged lead-rein show hunter ponies, a cleverly worded class of  “first-ridden ponies” (show pony and show hunter ponies together) and the International Connemara Performance Hunter Championship (ref Showing Life, 14 July) alongside American eventing legend Denny Emmerson.

    I discovered on my return that the outstanding lead-rein victor was none other than 19-year-old “senior ambassador”  Treowen Ranger, mentioned in my April column — now doing a sterling job across the water.
    It was a refreshing change to judge this class not using marks and, more importantly, without an obstacle course.
    A month earlier I had to contend with both at the Royal Highland show, where the rather boring obstacles played a more significant role than one would have expected.

    I’ve now come to the conclusion that these are more at home in a handy pony ring and not a showing flat class. Funnily enough, the qualifier at my North of England summer event took place in the working hunter pony (WHP) arena, which saved time building a course as said obstacles were already there in position — and that is where this type of class belongs.

    Ironically, a lead-rein of WHP class is being reinstated at the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) championships this week, following requests from members. Hopefully this will be a success and then perhaps ‘“the powers that be” will retitle the lead rein of hunter type class to lead rein of “show” hunter type — to be judged like the show pony equivalent — and ditch the obstacles altogether.

    Connemara drama

    The highlight of my week at Dublin was without a doubt judging the “Connies” on the last day — when the show was at its best with an extra buzz around the ring — as three teams of four riders from Ireland, Great Britain and France did battle.

    I only had a total of 30 marks for conformation (10 each for body, limbs and movement) at my disposal compared to my co-judges’ 270, so was naturally delighted with the outcome. Let’s say I was allowed back home, may return to Ireland one day, but should strike off France as a holiday destination for a while!

    Despite the GB squad being on fire — producing three clears and one knock-down (incurring four penalties, not 10) — they won by only 13.5 points. This was because there were many other elements to the competition. Each rider had to complete a mini-dressage phase, worth 80 points, prior to jumping and the Irish team were 7.5 marks ahead at this early stage. There were 16 stunning fences worth 10 points each; with a further 10 for fluency, technique and harmony of rider with pony. No one could ever deny that they weren’t judged.

    I agree with fellow H&H columnist Julie Templeton (ref 4 August) — judges are there not only to achieve a result, but also to put the best animal at the top of the line, and the go-round is an integral part of the class, not just a “warm-up”.

    However, something I learnt from my Dublin experience — don’t overcomplicate our showing marks sheets by adding more criteria.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 25 August 2016