The ongoing horse show controversy.
Showing is a very small fragment in the equine industry. However, it is also one of the most popular disciplines within the sport. With several prestigious shows a year, it is an extremely important factor in the industry. Although showing is a large part of the equine industry it also brings a lot of controversies. Other disciplines such as show jumping and cross country are marked fairly on how many fences the rider clears, however showing is down to the judge’s opinion meaning many riders argue it may be unfair and biased. The size and scale of each show vary depending on if it is a local level show or a county level show.
Local level shows are more popular with amateurs and home produced horses and riders because of the friendly laid back atmosphere. The classes are often easier and do not require the judge to ride or see the horse trotted up without tack. This means no groom is usually needed during the class and many competitors travel and attend alone. The cost to enter a local level show is usually around ten pounds a class. Judges are not as strict on attire and tack at local level shows, although correct attire is encouraged and may influence the judge’s final decision.
Moving up to county level showing can be daunting as the class sizes increase significantly and classes are mainly made up of producers who have a high level of ring knowledge and have often been competing for a long time. Entry prices significantly increase with many being over fifty pounds per class. Judging at county level shows is to a higher standard and judges expect riders to wear the correct attire, have well turned out horses and be able to ride a good show. Judges often ride the competitor’s horse during county level shows meaning the horse must be well behaved and accustomed to different riders.
Some riders argue that both local and county level showing is biased and unfair. Tracey Radcliffe, an ex-competitor, argues that local level judges often place friends and family higher. She states that because of the “small scale of local level shows” judges are well known and often friends with some competitors. She has seen many local level judges “talking and leaving with the winner after the class” and placing friends who are in the wrong class despite the rules. She has also competed at county level shows where she “pays extortionate prices” and often sees producers being picked over amateurs just because of their popularity even if the rider has not produced an adequate show. Since this, she has moved onto other disciplines such as dressage and showjumping as she feels they are judged “fairly and are more rewarding.”
Emily Hanson, 18, from Halifax, has ridden both with producers and without. She states that since stabling her horses at a producers yard she has found it easier to qualify for county level shows and it has helped her to overcome “bad habits.” She receives two lessons a week and is regularly assessed in order to improve her riding. The producers, Kirsty and Alex Ahern, are happy to “jump on and help to give advice” to overcome any possible struggles. Since joining the Ahern’s team she has also gained knowledge on “ring craft” and how to be “successful in the ring.”
At county level shows Emily mainly competes against other producers. Even though there are “some home produced” riders there’s “definitely more producers.” The Royal International Horse Show is a prestigious show that takes place once a year and is extremely hard to qualify for. Producers may have an upper hand due to their knowledge and experience, to try to encourage more amateur riders there are “Pretty Polly” classes which are limited to home produced riders only.
Tabitha Gill, 14, from Todmorden, competes her pony Jackson regularly at both county and local level shows. Starting off as an amateur she has made her way up to county level shows and competes regularly throughout the season. She finds some limitations when competing against producers because of their skill but overcomes this by practising at least “five times a week.” The two things she found hardest when moving up to county level showing was the “level of competition and the class sizes.” Classes can last for over an hour which means horses need to be fit, patient and have plenty of experience. Local level shows are a better environment for younger inexperienced horses because of the laid back attitude.
Judging at shows with a variety of different horses could be seen as difficult and judges will often have to put their opinion and thoughts first. This could be seen unfair to many and some riders may have an advantage. However, showing has been a successful sector in the industry for many years and continues to play a very strong role in the equine industry.