Stuart Hollings: Show off your pony, not yourself *H&H VIP*

  • As we embark on another busy season, every showing rider should remember that their animals are totally reliant on them for the best chance of succeeding in the show ring — so no pressure there!

    There is a vast difference between riding competently and taking the performance to another level in front of a showing judge. Ringcraft and showmanship are the key elements to success in this game, particularly when you’re not aboard the best in the class but must persuade the judge otherwise.

    I remember once speaking to Peter Brookshaw senior after he had judged the show ponies in Peterborough’s main ring. He was so disappointed that the older jockeys missed the chance to “sell” their ponies to him as a true show rider should.

    It was interesting to note that a number of experienced “plaited showing” riders finished in the final Olympia line-up last December when many competitors there specialise in mountain and moorland production.

    However, there is a fine line between showmanship and showing off yourself, as overshadowing your mount can be counterproductive. I was told an animal at last year’s Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), ridden by a seemingly self-important-looking competitor, lost the deciding vote for a placing after finishing on joint marks because the rider was concentrating on himself while the animal was resting a leg when the judges were making the comparison.

    Craft works

    When interviewing pony competitors, it’s heartening to discover that many do have lessons from trainers to improve their craft. On the other hand, I cannot see the point of riders being drilled in show ring technique without fully understanding the reasons behind said instruction. This cultivates showing jockeys who cannot think for themselves.

    How often do we witness riders looking to the line-up for approval when standing their animals up for the conformation judge, or team members strategically placed at the ring side to offer audible advice — risking contravening rules on outside assistance?

    I read with interest the article on event rider Alex Bragg (5 January), who stated that “riders at some competitions can’t move without reassurance, and if you look at guys who are the most successful, they remain a little independent’’.

    Hayley Hankey once rode a novice pony for us and demonstrated that top jockeys think on their feet. When I entered the ring to strip the pony after they had performed a cracking but unscripted show, she explained that they would have risked coming into contact with a moving trailer carrying straw bales had she kept to the plan.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 23 February 2017