The showing world was dealt a blow last week when Irishman Hugh McCusker announced he was withdrawing his support of the hunter weight classes at the Horse of the Year Show, due to rescheduling of the final judging.
A sponsor at HOYS for nine years, McCusker was disappointed that the traditional final judging of the top nine in each section had been squeezed out of its usual prime afternoon slot in the International Arena. He described the change as “a disgrace”.
Showman David Tatlow, who has won 37 HOYS titles, was equally saddened: “Around 80% of the grass roots competitors in the hunter world are trying to make that magic last nine, and now the opportunity has been withdrawn.”
The final places in the three hunter weight classes were announced straight after judging of each class on Wednesday morning (12 October), with only the top two from each section going forward — a coveted honour — to the championship in the evening. Despite the early hour (judging began at 7am), there was still a big crowd.
McCusker, a senior master of the Co Tyrone, said he felt that the abandonment of the afternoon slot signalled “yet another nail in the coffin of hunting”.
“It’s a disgrace that we weren’t consulted,” he said. “The hunter weight classes have always attracted a large entry and major crowds to the final judging, and it’s unfair that owners and competitors who have paid to qualify have been denied a final swansong.”
In response, HOYS organiser Grandstand Media Ltd issued a statement confirming that the withdrawal of the final judging for the hunter classes had been decided prior to publication of the show’s timetable.
According to the statement, this was done “in order to offer additional opportunities for show jumping riders to benefit from competing following the change in international qualification rules by the FEI”.
Grandstand director Mark Wein added: “Contrary to opinion, this has not disadvantaged the hunter weight competitors. Even with the withdrawal of the final judging, our hunter classes still have more than 41/2hr of ring time, including an evening championship.
“Horse of the Year Show is naturally disappointed by the loss of P McCusker & Sons as class sponsor, and would like to take this opportunity to thank the company for its support over the years.”