‘High-pro­file han­dlers felt mugged’

Stu­art Hollings queries the as­sess­ment of lead-rein ponies with­out riders

Horse & Hound - - Showing - H&H Stu­art Hollings is a well-known and re­spected judge in the UK and abroad. He pre­vi­ously pro­duced and showed a myr­iad of show-ring win­ners.

I HAVE been called many things but never a pathfinder, un­til the Bri­tish Show Pony So­ci­ety (BSPS) cham­pi­onships three weeks ago when I was given the task of ex­per­i­ment­ing with a new method of as­sess­ing the con­for­ma­tion sec­tions of the Blue Riband fi­nal for mini show ponies.

This was in­tro­duced with the best of in­ten­tions to raise the pro­file of in-hand pre­sen­ta­tion and make chil­dren, par­tic­u­larly in the first rid­den class, more aware of the im­por­tance of this phase. And of course, man­ners in-hand were tested on an­other level.

Both di­vi­sions were judged as a con­ven­tional in-hand class, with ponies walk­ing around the ring to­gether and trot­ting past the judge in­di­vid­u­ally prior to be­ing lined up. Then fol­lowed the in­di­vid­ual in-hand show, which is the norm. How­ever, the ma­jor dif­fer­ence lay with the lead-rein ponies, as each leader pre­sented their charge with­out the sad­dle and, wait for it, the most im­por­tant com­po­nent in chil­dren’s rid­den classes — the child. I was in­formed that some high-pro­file han­dlers felt ridicu­lous, as though they had been mugged en route to the ring, as if “the sad­dle had been stolen and child kid­napped”!

I was con­cerned that han­dlers would be­come uber com­pet­i­tive and those with past in-hand show­ing cre­den­tials may fire off all cylin­ders in an ef­fort to im­press, pro­duc­ing an ex­tended trot wor­thy of Char­lotte Du­jardin rather than main­tain­ing the re­quired, stead­ier lead-rein pace to ac­com­mo­date young jock­eys. Thank­fully that did not hap­pen.

PROS AND CONS

I DON’T like to see a lead-rein pony be­ing pre­sented like an in-hand one any­way. There is a no­table dif­fer­ence, with the leader be­ing very much hand­son in­stead of in the back­ground at the end of the rein, like a safety cord. How­ever, I did wel­come a chance to see th­ese ponies stripped bare.

Some would ar­gue that this is the only way to judge con­for­ma­tion, where 50% of the marks are at stake, as it can be a tad awk­ward see­ing through tack, such as larger/smaller sad­dles and big thick num­nahs, which are pur­posely used as tricks of the trade. There were fewer hill and vale top lines on dis­play, which I at­tribute to the fact that there are many younger and blood ponies com­pet­ing in th­ese classes nowa­days.

Be­fore the first rid­den ponies en­tered I did warn my stew­ards to have plenty of nets to catch loose equines and stretch­ers for the jock­eys, but I was pleas­antly sur­prised and re­lieved that the ma­jor­ity fared well. I pre­sume this is as a re­sult of prac­tis­ing more be­fore­hand, which can only be a pos­i­tive step.

On re­flec­tion, this new method of judg­ing the con­for­ma­tion phase has legs with fur­ther tri­alling — and in all rid­den classes, not just first rid­den, when the timetable per­mits. It was, though, a thumbs-down from me in the lead-rein class as the pic­ture looked strangely in­com­plete with­out a child in the mix.

Is this the way for­ward?

The BSPS ea­gerly awaits feed­back.

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