Meet Your Judge: Paula McCarthy

Paula McCarthy will be judging the conformation section of the Show Hunter Pony of the Year classes, but do you really know her? Find out more about Paula and what she will be looking for…

A member of the Irish Pony Society for over 50 years, Paula originally competed as a child, progressed onto the IPS judge’s panel, which she has now been serving for over 45 years, while serving on the BSPS judges panel for over 20 years. Paula grew up in Bray Co. Wicklow but nowadays can be found hacking an array of ponies with Lucy, her beloved German Pointer, from her home on the picturesque shores of Strangford Lough in Co. Down.

Born into a non-horsey family, Paula’s parents were keen that she would have a career outside of horses, and whilst she always maintained a ‘day job’, including happy years in retailing saddlery and supermarket retail marketing, her heart stayed firmly rooted with the ponies, thoroughbreds and quality hunters that she has produced throughout her life. Paula has also qualified in energy medicine and practices successfully in the treatment of a range of equine conditions.

Paula riding Beau Supreme at Glaslough event, a pony who later featured on the Italian Pony Event Team

As a child, Paula was a keen member of the Bray Pony Club and Foxborough Riding Club and she hunted with the Bray Harriers from an early age. She would hack to meets or get a lift with friends. She rode ‘anything anyone would put her on’ with infectious humour and a mischievous smile, which are still evident today. Paula went on to hunt regularly with all of the packs in Wicklow, Wexford, Kilkenny and Waterford and has also hunted with the Genesee Valley Hunt in Upper New York State and the Cheshire Forest as a guest of her close friend at the time, Jane (Hankey) Beswick.

Paula’s first experience of the magic of the Royal Dublin Show was in the 138cm novice show pony class, where thirty-two ponies were competing – there were no classes for show hunter ponies at that time. She first won a class in the RDS at the Spring Show in 1976; after a head-to-head for first and second place, she claimed the honours in the three-year-old show pony youngstock class with Oldcourt Foxcub, who remained in her family until he died at twenty-one. Also in 1976, Paula rode Carrickhill Chiff Chaff side saddle for Fania Mahony, a founding member of the IPS, at the IPS Championships that year.

Paula explains that she developed her eye by carefully studying top ponies and horses that consistently won top shows in Ireland and England. She has since judged at HOYS in Birmingham and in New Zealand, at the Royal Queensland Show in Australia, the Royal Highland, BSPS Summer Championships and many other county shows throughout England, Scotland and Ireland. A memorable show for Paula was judging the hunters and showing horse classes at Thame Show in Oxfordshire in 1997. However, as she was petite enough to ride ponies, she mainly stayed in the pony world, schooling ponies and coaching children for the show ring. A lively, warm-hearted mentor, Paula still gives her time to educate and support young riders and could be spotted celebrating their success at the ringside of the Dublin Horse Show this summer.

During the nineties and through to the noughties, Paula mainly bought thoroughbreds, most of which had raced. She retrained them for eventing and Young Event horse classes before the RoR organisations became established. The first of these was Lady Alex (TB), whom Paula bought in 1989 at the end of her two-year-old year. She gave her a year’s break before her debut with Paula in showing, where as a 4-year-old she was placed second in the Open Hack at the RDS Spring Show. As a 5-year-old she won the Potential Event Horse class at Punchestown and continued her successful career in eventing, winning the Blarney Castle International Horse Trials in 1997 as a ten-year-old. Although Paula sold Lady Alex in 1997, she remained in contact with her owners until she died in 2015 at 28 years old. Back at Punchestown in 1994, with her younger brother Jon Byrne riding, Paula again won the Potential Event Horse class with Saluting (TB) – a half-brother to Cheltenham Champion Hurdle winner Make a Stand.

Another remarkable horse for Paula was Bobby Fennell, thrice champion and twice reserve champion riding horse at the Dublin Horse Show. Paula bought him as a three-year-old and owned him until December 2020, when he died at almost 27 years old.

Paula and four-year-old Bobby Fennell winning the Small Riding Horse class and Riding Horse Championship at Dublin Horse Show in 1998

Paula also bought and showed Elfin Imp, winning five championships before she sold him in 1987 to Jane Hankey, with whom she subsequently formed a long and productive relationship sourcing ponies for Jane in Ireland.  Jane’s daughter and son, Hayley and Hayden Hankey, rode and won championships over a number of years at the RDS on exhibits owned and produced by Paula.

What will Paula be looking for?

As a judge, Paula looks for positive attributes. A good walk always catches her attention, with a purposeful trot, well-balanced uphill canter and a smooth progression to gallop. She is impressed by a good temperament, well-schooled without appearing robotic. She looks for ponies that are true to type for each height, with correct conformation, quality and substance, straight movement and expressive paces. She is not fond of excessive make-up (on pony or rider!) or of ponies that are over-bitted.

Riders must also be confident and well-balanced, with an independent seat to enhance their ponies, without looking artificial or over-horsed. A secure partnership where the rider can relax and enjoy their ride is always preferable. After this, Paula, like all judges, goes for ponies that display the wow factor, “the one that keeps drawing your attention”. Finally, “In the second phase, you hope for clean limbs – and those that are properly prepared will please their connections, the audience, and you as the judge on the day.” 

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