Competitors, judges and organisers rallied together at the UK Ponies and Horses Spring Classic show to ensure that all ponies in the RIHS mountain and moorland working hunter pony qualifying classes were able to jump before the dying light stopped play.

UK Ponies and Horses chairperson, Julie Templeton, explained that the committee responded to calls from last season’s competitors to include training stakes classes in their schedule in the run-up to the show. “Having based our timing calculations on our previous entries from previous shows, we had the day planned with the aim of finishing jumping at approximately 4pm, which was about the same time as our supreme championships,” said Julie. However, the show was inundated with working hunter pony pre-entries, particularly for those training stakes classes, and to add to their predicament, they also had more competitors wishing to enter on the day. Despite initially announcing that they would take no more entries on the day for the classes, “the committee felt that we couldn’t turn people away after they had travelled to the show”. This meant that the RIHS mountain and moorland working hunter pony classes started later than their scheduled 1pm, which is the time stipulated by the NPS rules regarding these classes to avoid repeating an incident whereby the last qualifying classes of the day were cancelled due to the light.

What ensued was a mammoth effort by organisers, judges and competitors to ensure that didn’t happen despite starting later than expected. Julie said, “We took the decision to move several of our committee and stewards down to the workers ring to put measures in place to ensure that everyone could jump. It really was a sterling effort by everyone concerned, particularly our judges, Paul Cook and Gillian Cowell, and course builder, Stephen Craddock, and we were delighted with the cooperation and support of the competitors”.

To run the classes as efficiently as possible, judges and stewards kept competitors moving swiftly through the ring to get everyone jumped and the final class’ shows and conformation sections were judged indoors, as was the championship.

“When we came to the last class, we were losing light and we asked competitors directly if they wished to continue with the class and the majority wanted to go ahead. David Ingle, RIHS show director was in attendance and Paul Cook BSPS Chairman was a judge, so we really did have a lot of experience around the ring to ensure that we were jumping as safely as possible. Our course builder amended the course, and we did complete the class. It is interesting to note that our first, second and third placed ponies in that last class all came from the last five ponies to jump,” said Julie.

Course builder Stephen Craddock echoed her sentiments: “The show had fantastic entries; it was a really, really well supported show so to a certain extent, they were victims of their own success. I sympathise with organisers who responded to competitors requests for more classes. Unfortunately, they were inundated with entries on the day meaning it ran later than anticipated. With forward-thinking judges, willing competitors a strong committee, they pulled it off and manged to get everyone round within the time constraints”.

Competitors responded positively to the efforts made. Vicki Casey, who rode her own Frederiksminde Volcano to the section tricolour said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the show and the way everyone pulled together to crack on was brilliant”.

Anna Chaplin, whose partner Ross Keys won the final class of the day riding Dycott Welsh King before going on to stand reserve champion agreed. Anna said: “The judges [Paul Cook and Gillian Cowell] were amazing. They were sensible in how they got everything done and remained in good spirits, being chirpy with competitors throughout. They worked their socks off to get the job done and we couldn’t have asked more of them. It’s easy to forget that they had homes to get to, too.

  “There was great camaraderie amongst the competitors. To be honest, even when the class before was jumping, we didn’t think it would be possible for us to compete, but when you look at what else is going on in the world, it didn’t feel so bad. We chilled out for the afternoon and even had a two-course roast dinner in the cafe!”

Whilst the show was successful in getting the job done, it does highlight broader questions about the timetabling of working hunter pony qualifiers and the necessity of running other classes before qualifying classes begin.

Julie stated, “The quantity of entries were not only unexpected, but unprecedented, and we fully intend to look at our timetabling for future shows so that if this situation ever occurred again we would have measures in place to manage this.” But just how might they do that?

With the cost of travel, for working hunter afficionado and Native Pony columnist Amy Smith, the prospect of cancelled qualifying classes in favour of novice or training classes is unthinkable, especially considering the rising costs of living.

Assuming it’s impossible to run training classes in a different ring, one easy solution is to cap the number of entries allowed into the preceding classes. This could be done on a first come first serve basis. However, this doesn’t allow for absolute fairness as it inevitably leaves some who may have wanted that extra round disadvantaged and without a warm-up. Incidentally, also enjoying an apparent advantage are native ponies who also compete in plaited sections. These ponies and their riders could find themselves jumping two courses in one day. The first could be seen as a practice round whichever way the sections are timetabled.

Mountain and moorland working hunter pony competitor Jodie Haywood argues that qualifying hopefuls shouldn’t need to jump a practice round in training classes such as the NPS’ training stakes and the BSPS’ Winter Worker series. Jodie said: “I think that qualifiers should run before any novice or training stakes classes; if the ponies need a practice round, then I don’t feel they’re ready to be jumping qualifiers. From a selfish point of view, it would currently suit me better to have training/novice classes before the qualifiers as I have two novice ponies who aren’t up to jumping a qualifier straight off just yet. But I’ve made the decision to run them both as novices for the season and hopefully step up a level next year”.  Amy Smith agrees and argues that open competitors should reserve training stakes rounds for rebuilding confidence “if things go wrong”.

Amy’s fellow Native Pony columnist, Janine Peterson, tends to agree with Amy, that with the tougher tracks first it “enables any damage to be repaired” in later classes. Besides, she adds, “the first couple of fences are usually very inviting to get you into the swing of things. As a rider, if you are jumping babies around novices then have a qualifier they can look much more challenging because you’ve been in ‘baby nanny mode’ but if qualifiers run first, you start your day on your more experienced ride with a positive outlook”. 

Of course, rider outlook is an important consideration. The training stakes classes can be as much about confidence building for the rider as they are about practice for the pony or for the combination. As a latecomer to the working hunter pony scene, Maggie Simons says: “In principle I agree with Amy and Jodie’s point of view. However, as a ‘not-so-confident’ jockey, I do find the practice fence scenario quite stressful and intimidating so I like to have a few fences to get myself in the swing before starting a big round. NPS Area 12 last year ran a clear round with 5 or 6 fences before the RIHS qualifier, with novice classes and so on run later in the day. For me, that was helpful without feeling like it was totally fraudulent of me entering the qualifier”.

Lara Joslin agrees: “Often working in arenas are very busy and lots of competitors are stressed. My cob hates horses coming towards him, so I find it better to find a corner elsewhere as I’d rather keep him happy. But that does mean I don’t manage to jump the practice fence as many times as I’d like, so when there is a training stakes or clear round, I often take that opportunity to do it and have a few quiet jumps to myself. It’s far less stressful!”

Is the option of a ‘clear round’, therefore, the answer? It could be set as a tough but short track. Then, with no prospect of a rosette or qualification and a challenging course in sight, novice or less confident competitors who truly need the ‘training’ won’t be tempted to enter. The training classes these competitors need could be run elsewhere.

With venue hire, course builders, insurance and affiliation costs to consider, it makes financial sense for shows to run attractive options for competitors where they will be most lucrative if at all possible. The clear round would allow shows to profit from the extra entry fees that training classes attract without the associated problems witnessed by UK P&H.

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