Showing was traditionally the shop window for breeders of horses and ponies. They came to shows to select the horses with the best conformation, these would become the foundation of their breeding stock to enable the breeding of top horses and ponies for all disciplines.
The riding aspect of the show ring is traditionally formed around the British hunting scene. The show hunter shows qualities that were required of the horse who went hunting, good conformation, it should look like it is capable of hunting over various types of going all day. The hunter should have more substance than a hack with substantial bone and quality, it should be bold and display a steady and reliable temperament.
The show hack is the epitome of elegance. They should be comfortable to ride and well schooled. Originally you used your hack to ride around on in the park, talking to your friends, dressed in your best. The hack was a fashion statement. They should have impeccable manners, self carriage and be light and soft to ride with correct conformation emphasising quality and elegance. Their movement should be smooth and graceful.
The show riding horse falls between a hack and a hunter, showing quality, substance good bone, correct conformation, presence and true action with a long stride.
The working classes really test the horses obedience and skills of a rider – how many show jumpers can open and close a gate on horseback?! The working hunter tests the horses’ boldness over natural looking obstacles, their ability to gallop, as well as their obedience as they have to be able to stand still after their exciting jumping round.
To me, showing is an example of true ringcraft. Horses compete all together in one ring, which really tests their temperament. Riders can play to a horse’s strengths or weaknesses with experience. Turnout and care of the horse plays a vital part in preparation. Understanding of conformation, movement, and schooling for manner is essential. It teaches young riders sportsmanship from an early age, as they compete against equally talented riders and ponies. And at the end of the day, no matter how well you tried, anything can go right or wrong and the judge’s decision is final! That, and each judge often has different impressions and preferences. It integrates so many aspects of riding, testing riders’ ability to show their horse’s true potential.
Best of all, showing provides a place for the very young riders with lead rein and first ridden. Children as young as 4 may compete on-lead, even when they have barely learned to post the trot! The first ridden classes are fantastic for children just learning to ride on their own as ponies walk and trot around the judge and are never asked to canter all together (though children may canter if they would like to in their individual tests, which gives them an opportunity to safely gain confidence).
The showing community is one of the more friendly disciplines within the horse world. Many riders make friends for life here. I’ve personally seen my older pony riders and juniors giving advice and tips to younger newcomers, it really makes me proud of this discipline.
Bronwyn has been a rider, coach, and competitor for many years, as well as head trainer at the renown Waterside Stud based in Sunvalley, Gauteng and owned by Kirsty Loots. They have been breeder of pure- and part-bred Welsh ponies for children, and won many titles including the prestigious Horse Of The Year show in-hand as well as under-saddle.