Turning up at Folly Fields Farm in Wicken near Milton Keynes for the British Show Horse Association Conformation Training Day, I didn’t know what to expect. There was a gathering of people, mostly women, all in tweed, keeping warm with cups of tea. I stood out instantly as the baby of the group in a leather jacket! Thankfully I saw a familiar face in Sandra Curtis who I had judged with before so joined the group.
We were told to divide ourselves into 3 groups of 5, the outdoor school was divided into three sections with an expert in each section. We would see three horses – one with each expert, then another three and then would all come together for the final 2.
Seeing Jennie Loriston-Clarke there, I presumed she was an expert but surprisingly she was on the learning side – goes to show there is always something to be learning! Section 1 was David Ingle, 2 Paul Cook and 3 Ross Hargreaves (if you don’t recognise these names google them – they are legends when it comes to showing horses!)
So what did I learn? Don’t wear a leather jacket to an outdoor training day – you will freeze! But also…
“Showing is essentially a beauty contest but it shouldn’t be at the expense of everything else.” – I liked this comment. It is so important that type, substance, quality and good core conformation are not overlooked for a pretty pony covered in baby oil.
Along the same lines he commented that things were “getting out of perspective” with show sheen and forced outlines overtaking good training and turnout.
He used the word “Charisma” a few times which is a great word for showing. People talk about presence in the ring and horses having that something that make them stand out and charisma is such a fantastic word for it. You can’t force it or train it – some horses just have something about them!
He told us a great story about a well known showman who won the Cuddy in hand showing final with a young horse and when David saw the horse a few years later he noticed a conformation issue. Not showing bad judging or crooked results but demonstrating the skill of a master showman to show strengths and hide weaknesses. You didn’t notice when he showed it!
David Ingle is also officially the only person to give me a valid argument against using a mark system! I was impressed – topic for another blog me thinks! (Can you tell I’m a fan!?)
Splints, windgalls etc – don’t just simply mark down, “look beyond at the cause.” This was really interesting. A splint caused by a conformational issue that may also cause longer term more serious complications should be marked harsher than one caused by a knock.
Fat horses – again look beyond – overfat to camouflage? On purpose or just a bit heavy?
No horse is perfect and judges are subjective on what they dislike more, every judge will have their own pet hates. My mothers reaction to this was – “This does not apply to Jack!” (Jack is her new pony and the apple of her eye. Blog about him coming soon!)
In relation to judging he talked about developing your own system to assess the whole horse quickly. This I think comes with practice but he talked through how he did it – working on one area at a time, finishing standing behind so the horse can then walk away from you so you can assess movement.
He also talked about ride judging and how if a horse rides a certain way, it could be linked to a conformation issues. And suggested walking or trotting more if aware or concerned about a weakness to give you more time to assess it.
He said as a judge you have to ask yourself – would you buy this?
Good conformation and naughty is better than the other way around – particularly in a novice class. We are “not looking for a police horse!” Loved this although part of me squirmed. It is so hard when a horse misbehaves and still wins but spectators have to understand that judging is not straight forward and combines so many elements. It is so easy to go to the “its a fix”.
While discussing one horse – a lovely fluffy cob – we found out he was a naughty chap to ride and someone laughed “Never judge a book by its cover”. But then showing is exactly that! We need to present the cover to the judges – all the many chapters are for us alone… very philosophical and mysterious of me!
Athletic – a great word that was used. This can be missed by some. A horse needs to be a show horse at its core but should also be an athlete.
I could seriously keep talking about everything I learnt for hours but here is a snippet! Thoughts……
PS Thank you to Helen and Jason Newbold for their amazing facilities, horses, time and even being on Joey-watch while I listened too. Think Helen was a Joey fan and therefore is obviously an amazing person!