Stuart Hollings: New blood in the pony rings [H&H VIP]

  • Looking back at some old H&H Show Number issues, many top yards were definitely not shy at promoting their new charges for the coming season. But I maintain that if a show animal is good enough, it will speak for itself — even though it is the all important judge who will ultimately determine its success in the showring.

    British Show Pony Society [BSPS] competitors can expect to see more new faces judging, which is good news and will spice up the 2014 showing season.

    The most common moan is that the same high-profile names from an inner sanctum dominate the schedules, as a significant percentage of the judges’ panel is continually overlooked by show secretaries.

    The new rule restricting judges to just one Royal International [RIHS] qualifier for each section should go some way to opening up the window of opportunity for others to take centre stage.

    Also, in what I consider to be one of the most progressive moves the BSPS has made in recent years, some horse judges were invited to a seminar last September, prior to fast-tracking them on to the BSPS panel.

    Not everyone agreed with this decision, the main concern being would horse judges manage, with immediate effect, the complexities of modern-day pony judging?

    These 26 people will bring a vast wealth of knowledge/experience to the table, especially with regard to conformation and, as riders, way of going, too. Some could argue that they also have a healthy advantage in not being directly connected to the pony scene.

    All are familiar with marking systems in other sections and many already judge ponies in coloured and part-bred Arab classes — so are aware of the importance of manners and suitability in children’s competition.

    Katie Jerram and Brigit Ensten were successful pony riders in their day and Jayne Ross (née Williams) rode Cusop Pirouette to take the pony of the year accolade at Wembley in 1966.

    When judges weren’t pigeonholed

    When my brother Nigel and I competed on ponies, the judges weren’t as pigeonholed as today and officiated across the board. Respected names such as Joan Gibson, Anne Hawkins, Donald Owen, Nora Bourne and Peter Brookshaw (snr) were equally at home judging lead-rein ponies and heavyweight hunters.

    From a show secretary’s point of view, think how much easier it will now be to fill those awkward timetable gaps when inviting judges — someone who can assess both cobs and novice show ponies!

    There is an art in putting judges together for an event and poor decisions can affect the entries and therefore the financial success/failure of the show. I always endeavour to invite some newly appointed judges and, for the horse classes, an effective and sympathetic rider is a must.

    With an eye on costs, more show secretaries are looking nearer to home in their search. This works at early shows, but can be false economy later in the season when these judges have been overused in the locality and will only attract their winning competitors.

    On a more serious note, even those judges who prefer to be kept busy at shows have remarked that some secretaries expect too much from them.

    One judge told me that at a show last season she didn’t book overnight accommodation to help with show expenses, which meant a silly o’clock start to her day. She then judged for over 10hr, with additional classes and without a proper break.

    “I very nearly asked for accommodation that evening at an exclusive spa after my ordeal,” she joked.

    Shows, take heed!

    Stuart’s column was first published in Horse & Hound (6 February 2014)