Stuart Hollings: Varying opinions are no bad thing [H&H VIP]

  • It seems like only yesterday that I was pressed into service at the last minute to replace Kevin Walker and judge the Blue Chip Native BSPS Heritage Supreme Championship at Olympia, so invigorating was the experience.

    This appointment was reminiscent of the time I judged the in-hand final at Horse of the Year Show in 2001 with Stella Harries. With so many types and breeds to sort, one had to treat the class as a high profile supreme championship.

    However, in December, there was no conferring among judges and the obligatory marks system was utilised. The judging process was like completing a three-dimensional jigsaw — not only did I have to place each breed group in order of merit, but also assess individually whether the Shetland, for instance, was better than my second-placed Connemara or the fifth Welsh section D.

    Next time I judge a hack class it should be child’s play!

    The 2014 final was the fourth under the British Show Pony Society umbrella. The format is unique for two reasons: first, there are four judges with equally weighted marks which leaves the competition more open, and no one can quibble that their pony has not been thoroughly assessed.

    In theory, there is a risk that with an increased number of opinions one may end up with a compromise result — and a winner that no judge anticipated.

    This was not so last year, as the champion Moelview Prince Consort was placed in the top three by all four judges (one first, two seconds and a third) and runner-up Pumphill Bennett featured in the top four each time (two firsts, one third and a fourth), proving that the system worked.

    Secondly, anything that involves spectators more and dispels the criticism that a showing class is akin to watching paint dry receives a big tick from me. With spectators’ pens and catalogues at the ready, the announced performance scores are duly recorded after each individual show.

    This, in turn, creates a cliffhanger effect — armed with only half the information before the prize giving (as the conformation marks are not disclosed), observers and competitors enjoy speculating on the outcome.

    I’m saddened when heritage judges are subjected to unjust criticism, and are accused of being too performance-related at the expense of conformation and breed type. The fact that Rushfield Bailey took the Olympia crown in 2011 on the strength of being 15 marks ahead in the conformation phase, surely puts that theory to bed?

    At Olympia this time, someone commented that the reason seven small breed representatives finished in the top 10 was because they were more like cute show ponies — utter balderdash!

    The consensus of opinion was that this section was indubitably streets ahead, whereas the year before, large breeds had occupied the top four slots.

    I thought that the letter (15 January) accusing one of the two conformation judges of being wrong, simply because there was a disparity of 16 marks with one pony — was totally unreasonable.

    The marks system is there as an aide-mémoire for judges, who then adopt their own method of scoring. I only had two ponies over 40/50 whereas my co-judge had 12, and his lowest mark was three below mine at 20.

    Some conformation marks were lost with bad presentation and a few did not dazzle on the day. It is a showing class after all, exemplified by Sam Roberts’ overall winning performance.

    It’s a fact that judges’ opinions do vary and for the sake of showing — long may that continue!

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 2 April 2015