On my first judging trip to South Africa, I was made aware of an old African proverb which struck a chord with me: not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse.
And just to prove that you’re never too old to learn, I took the opportunity of returning to school last month by visiting the impressive, state-of-the-art HQ of Daniel Thwaites for a lesson on the Shire breed.
The legendary brewery was founded in 1807 and relocated from its Blackburn town centre base to Mellor Brook last autumn. It is now situated a couple of miles from my home.
Head horseman Richard Green — who had just returned from judging at the Royal Highland Show — summed up what he looks for in a Shire horse.
He said: “The bigger the better — power and strength with quality — and a good action both in front and also behind.’’
Whereas I like an animal with a leg at each corner, the heavy horse aficionados want to see the hocks closer together and even touching on the move. Continuing with my education, it was particularly interesting to analyse two slightly different horses, both majestic in stamp and, of course, black, which is a Thwaites trademark. Ribble was a more quality, flashy, modern type compared to Gunner, a traditional shire with more bone.
This consequently led me to the million-dollar question currently brewing in the heavy horse world given the popularity of their ridden classes, which now have Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) status. It also reminded me of a similar debate in mountain and moorland circles a few years ago when those saddle classes superseded all expectations in the show ring. The question is, do you think there is a danger of losing the breed standard to performance?
Richard told me: “I know some competitors want to see more marks for the ride phase. Providing the score ratio remains 50/50 and judges from the heavy horse panels — Clydesdale, Suffolk, Percheron and Shire — are involved in the judging process, I am confident that type will prevail.’’
Escaping the showing bubble
My tip to any showing equestrian — but especially young people who are making the transition into horse classes, those wishing to progress within the equestrian industry or who have ambitions to become a judge — is to escape the showing bubble from time to time by exploring other disciplines and thereby increasing your knowledge.
I always remember a piece of sound advice Joanna MacIness gave me when we were discussing the importance of correct conformation during my riding pony breeding probationary year. She said, as a prime example, I could do no better than look at jumping photographs to realise how much pressure is placed on limbs at take-off and landing.
Olympic medallist Laura Tomlinson hit the nail on the head in a recent H&H column entitled, “Dressage can learn from polo”. She advocated, “We must try not to be snobby and always keep our minds open to learning from other sports.”
Ref Horse & Hound; 25 July 2019