Wide fences, galloping natives and average marks: all you need to know about the 2022 BSPS judge’s conference.

BSPS Chair, Paul Cook led the 2022 BSPS judge’s conference at the Leicester Marriott Hotel on February 5th for the last time before handing over to the incoming chair, Joanne Pybus.

  1. Mountain and Moorland Fence Widths

It was confirmed that the BSPS will be revoking its decision to increase the width of spreads in mountain and moorland working hunter pony classes.

Paul Cook, explained that the original change had been made following conversations with course builders, judges and competitors, a point put to members just a few weeks earlier at the online members conference. However, considering the continued opposition from the membership and widespread concern over how larger, heavier native breeds would cope with the new widths, it was decided that the ruling should be revoked.  “It’s important that we [the BSPS] listen to our members,” Paul Cook told judges, who were then urged to refer to the 2021 Rule Book for guidance on heights and widths in the mountain and moorland working hunter classes for the 2022 season. 

2. Mountain and moorlands at speed

Attention was drawn to a few notable rule changes. Judges were reminded that mountain and moorland competitors would no longer gallop as a class in BSPS Heritage classes due to the potentially dangerous nature of galloping large classes including children and adults, stallions, mares and geldings together.

3. To mark or not to mark?

Paul Cook quoted Horse and Hound’s Alex Robinson in opening a discussion about the use of marks and encouraged judges to use a full range of marks. It was suggested that judges could consider 25 as an average mark as this would equate to 50%.

All BSPS classes at the RIHS will no longer have marks. In light of this, judges discussed how best to ensure that they judged effectively and efficiently within an allotted time frame, especially when co-judging or tackling a large class. Expect to see judges using an aide memoir if they wish, but don’t ask them to show you any notes: notes should be strictly confidential. And if judges don’t agree? It was clear that whilst the use of a referee is allowed, his or her necessity would be disappointing, demonstrating a lack of mutual respect.

4. Working hunter opportunities for young ponies

BSPS Championships director, Philip Hilton, led an interesting discussion around the allocation of marks in working hunter pony classes. Also discussed was the new Winter Worker Stakes. Philip Hilton explained that it was imperative the BSPS had a system to “bring young ponies through” without pressure, and that these classes were about building confidence in ponies and their riders.

5. Welfare: hairy ponies, fat ponies and lame ponies

With increasing emphasis on welfare in showing, whiskers have become a hot topic of contention after the Great Yorkshire Show made a stance banning the trimming of whiskers on all animals. At the BSPS conference, judges were also asked not to penalise ponies in non-native, plaited classes if competitors had opted not to clip off a pony’s whiskers. 

Eyes were directed at critical headlines regarding showing and fat equines. The ensuing discussion was interesting and questions around the tables varied. Are fat horses fit for purpose? Can it be the best exhibit if it’s far too fat? Is it worse to ride a fat horse than it is to watch a fat pony?

Liverpool Univerity’s Tamzin Furtardo’s independent body scoring of horses at the 2021 RIHS made for interesting listening. RIHS showing director, David Ingle said that it showed that, as a sport, “we’re not hiding from it” and “are willing to learn”.

Most judges believed fat was a difficult subject to approach with competitors. Nevertheless, Brian Williams said that judges “owe it to competitors” to speak up as they have paid for a judge’s opinion.   

Most judges also agreed that overweight ponies were an unpleasant spectacle. BSPS judge Briget Enston was emphatic: “horses that are unfit or too fat are the worst to ride”.

Jane Nixon said that judges “have to make a stand” and the general consensus was that overweight animals should be placed lower in the ring. 

Lameness also came to the fore. Paul Cook said: “It’s one of the most contentious situations for judges and it provokes the biggest amount of complaints from competitors.” So how should judges deal with a pony that appears ‘unlevel on occasions’ when there is no vet present?

Opinions ranged but Richard Ramsay’s comments stood out. He deemed it a “welfare issue” and whilst he acknowledged that “very difficult” to broach the subject, “we should not let ponies hobble round the ring. If I was ride judging and a horse was unlevel I would take it straight back into line.”

Philip Hilton said: “A pony is either lame or it is not. If a pony is lame it should be sent out of the ring.”

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