Ponies UK (PUK) is to use a “clapometer” to judge its summer championship show evening performances (15-19 August), raising fears over safety for participants. After each individual show, the audience will be invited to judge by applause and their reaction measured by a sound detector.
Sound detectors have been used to judge the Winston Churchill Supreme Championship at the Royal International Horse Show, but are new to the PUK Championships.
“It’s irresponsible putting safety on the line for entertainment,” said Nigel Hollings, adding that he would withdraw any pony entered for a class judged by a clapometer.
PUK chairman Davina Whiteman defended the initiative, saying: “There are concerns that clapping will disturb the animals, but traditionally evening performances are noisy anyway, and this way the noise will only occur at a designated time.”
The audience will only be allowed to clap once a rider’s performance is finished and his/her pony is back in line, with stewards on hand to assist.
“We want to offer a level playing field, so one animal isn’t disturbed by the crowd before its performance is completed,” said Mrs Whiteman.
Only the top four competitors in the nightly premier championships — from lead-rein to cob classes — will be judged this way.
Davina said: “Preparing a pony for an evening performance is not the same as taking it to a local show. It’s up to the competitors to decide whether they’re suitable.”
Pony producer and judge Julia Ryde-Rogers described an incident during last year’s evening performance when a pony panicked during the applause and bolted from the ring, causing its rider to fall.
“I think this could lead to trouble — it’s going to encourage people to make as much noise as possible,” she said.
“It’s not just the clapping, but the cheering and whooping. I can see there are good intentions behind it, but whether it’s going to work OK, I don’t know. It’s sad people will do anything to sabotage a show.”
However, producer Allister Hood, who has ponies entered in the championships, said: “If the pony’s got that far, every judging final has a round of applause, so they should all be good animals in the line-up. If the animal’s going to be upset it wouldn’t be entered.
“I don’t think we can judge it until it’s happened.”