Ponies UK chairman under fire

  • Ponies UK’s directors have asked for chairman Davina Whiteman’s resignation at the same time as her brainchild — a “clap-o-meter”, by which audiences were invited to judge at the summer championships by clapping hardest for their winner — bombed under the weight of widespread criticism.

    In the world of showing, where the rumour mill invariably pre-empts official news, Mrs Whiteman’s predicament last week remained largely under wraps.

    H&H can reveal a P(UK) directors’ meeting was held on 22 August, after which Mrs Whiteman was asked to resign. P(UK) events manager Betsy Branyan confirmed this, but stressed Mrs Whiteman, who was in France as H&H went to press, remained the chairman and had not resigned.

    Two directors also confirmed Mrs Whiteman had been asked to stand down, but declined to comment further.

    On the issue of the clap-o-meter, Ms Branyan said P(UK) accepted the new initiative was “not popular”, drawing criticism from judges and exhibitors. Its future use is under review.

    “It didn’t work: the judges felt undermined and exhibitors were unhappy because they had paid for a judge’s opinion,” she said. “There may potentially still be a place for a clap-o-meter in costume or concours classes, but people didn’t like it being used for premier championships.”

    The clap-o-meter, which read the decibel level of applause — was used in nine premiers at the P(UK) summer championship show (15-19 August). It was supplied by Ace Communications, which provided public address systems at the Newark & Notts showground.
    Of the premiers decided by the clap-o-meter, only the top four competitors were ultimately judged according to a decibel reading of the crowd’s reaction during evening shows.

    One competitor, Tonie Finch, of Essex, who contacted H&H, was devastated after a “human error” in reading the clap-o-meter demoted her from reserve champion to second reserve (see letters page, H&H 31 October).

    In response, Ms Branyan said the unfortunate error had nothing to do with the accuracy of the clap-o-meter, adding that Mrs Finch was allowed to keep the same prize money and sash.
    Mrs Finch, who started showing six months ago, coming from a dressage background, said she would never again enter a class judged by a clap-o-meter.

    “Everyone at the show called it ‘the crap-o-meter’,” she said. “I felt it was a really unfair and biased way to judge a class — basically, whoever has the most friends in the crowd, who can scream and shout the loudest.”

    Producer Nigel Hollings — also aware of the “crap-o-meter” tag — said: “It was always doomed to fail because of safety reasons and people cottoning on they can bring a rent-a-crowd.”

    Ms Branyan said the clap-o-meter, conceived by Davina Whiteman, was “to stop chit-chat at the beginning of the season about how honest the judges are”, and to encourage greater audience participation.

    Pony producer/judge Julia Ryde-Rogers, who entered in-hand classes not judged by the clap-o-meter, said: “Had I been in a ridden class with a young nervous animal, I would have thought twice about entering if a clap-o-meter was involved.”

    Ros Hargreaves, a judge for more than 20 years, agreed that the clap-o-meter undermined judges and posed a potential health and safety hazard.

    Both women were shocked to hear of P(UK) directors’ calls for Davina Whiteman to resign.

    “I’ve known Davina my whole life and my father knew her before me, and had a great deal of respect for her,” said Ms Ryde-Rogers. “People who haven’t been showing for very long may not fully appreciate the depth of her knowledge and experience.”

    Miss Hargreaves said: “Davina has been a very forward-thinking person in the development of the showing world and instigating new classes.”

    Nigel Hollings, who was trained by Mrs Whiteman in the 1970s said: “On a personal level, I’m very sorry for Davina, but we are living in a commercial world in showing and these things happen.”

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