I love a debate. Although, thinking about it, this wasn’t really a debate. The Showing Register had compiled a list of questions from views and comments submitted over the past few months. They had invited an excellent panel of experts to reveal there opinions and then the issue was opened to the floor. No debate was really necessary as everyone in attendance wanted the same results – although how to get there is the issue. As ever, ideas were lacking and criticism and personal anecdotes free flowing.
Gail Chapman opened the meeting – notably thanking Grandstand Media for their support (good to see they are involved in these meeting so). And commented that the main issue of riders being too big was divided into welfare outside the ring and suitability inside the ring.
Welfare of the horse and pony when riding in at Horse Shows.
Lee Hackett, Policy Director for the BHS, opened the section talking about the general public getting larger as a whole and this issue being researched. The Saddle Research trust have produced figures that riders should be maximum 15 -18% of a horse’s ideal bodyweight. The RDA has set the level at 10% – understandably lower as needing to factor in stability and effect of disability. At first, you think, great there is a simple number but then the complexity starts – “it’s an art, not a science.” It factors a horses “ideal weight” so if the horse is carrying excess weight then the rider allowance would be less. You also need to consider age, fitness, breed, type of work, rider ability, muscle composition…… Not a simple equation and no formula as yet.
Amanda Stoddart-West of the Great Yorkshire Show spoke next. They had a vet at the show and notices to say that riders considered too big would not be able to compete. The vet questioned 8 at the show – and yes they had a set of scales to weigh riders. Interestingly she said a vet’s opinion seemed more respected in regards to welfare.
Producer, Edward Young, actually got in trouble for this issue at Great Yorkshire but he seemed less concerned saying “There are bigger issues. What about too fat horses?” He also said that he doesn’t remember it being an issue historically – “Harvey Smith and Ted Edgar would be way over 15%”
Tom Best, a judge and breeder, commented that it is difficult to address without real research but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be addressed. Gut instinct is there for a reason “We know from experience what is ok and what is not.” Also commenting that if a judge is trusted to know what a good front is and good bone then they should be trusted to know if a horse is in distress. He also raised the issue of their being a difference between a child riding a much loved pony for a bit too long and a big rider purposely bullying and tiring out a small pony.
When opened to the floor, the question of native breeds was raised and whether different weights would be needed for each breed. Chris Willet suggested that it was “using a sledge hammer to crack a nut” and that there were more general welfare factors to consider.
One lady, who breeds Shetlands, was the only person I strongly disagreed with at the meeting. She commented about the repercussions. Asking how many people are small enough nowadays? And children shouldn’t be told they are too fat. And if you put someone off then you are doing a misjustice. Who was going to tell her she is too big? Tom Best was quick to comment that self interest needed to stay out of it in order to have a productive debate. Lee Hackett intelligently said “a red ribbon shouldn’t come before horse welfare.” Someone in the audience said what I was thinking “Go on a diet or don’t ride the pony.”
Debbie Spears moved on to discuss the possibility of an “Equine Support Officer” – an idea that fills me with joy although Debbie seemed concerned with the practicalities of it. Needing another volunteer is hard, shows don’t have budgets, most judges may consider themselves too close to be able to comment. She felt that education was needed and looking at a more advisory rather than punitive role. Carole Lee-Jones added that we need to look beyond weight at the overall picture. Lee Hackett commented that any person in this role would need training as well as people skills as they will have to deal with tricky situations. Edward Young raised the point that consistency was needed with what is acceptable at one show but not another.
When opened to the floor, the issue of insurance was raised in case a disgruntled competitor looked to sue. And an interesting yellow card scheme was suggested – spreading the responsibility. Nigel Hollings commented that issues outside the ring were a real problem and he commended GYS and HOYS on their actions.
Part 2 – Suitably Mounted in the show ring – Here