With the Royal International Horse Show commencing this week we wanted to find out what the judges are really looking for. We’ve been chatting to top showing judge and former champion competitor Tina Hazlem, who is looking forward to judging at The Horse of the Year Show later this year, to get some tips on how you can impress the judges.
Q1 How did you get involved in horses and what led you into judging?
My mum rode competitively as a child so my grandad was keen to buy me a pony which he did when I was 8. I progressed from there, mainly show jumping and eventing, and funnily enough never got into showing until my early twenties.
I was then lucky enough to get the ride on a friend’s amazing horse when he was going away to train as a farrier (coincidentally we are both judging at the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) this year, I am judging Working Hunter Ponies’ (WHP) whilst he is judging best shod Hunter!). A friend who was a knowledgeable showing person said he would make a fabulous Working Hunter and I should give it a try. He went on to win nearly every County Show Championship in the south of England including Royal Windsor, South of England, Kent County, the Royal and was always placed at the Royal International and HOYS.
That led me to applying to become a judge for the Hunter Improvement Society which is now the Sports Horse Breeding Society and so my judging career started out with Show Hunters being a ride and conformation judge. We lived across the road from Richard & Marjory Ramsey and I remember Marjory saying “Goodness me Tina, why do you want to judge? You make no money and you gain no friends!” Over 30 years later I am still judging and now only on the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) WHP panel feeling in my 40s that riding large classes of Hunters was no longer the way forward (judging a WH class of 40+ entries in searing heat in Northern Ireland may have cemented that decision!).
Q2 What are you looking for in correct conformation across the different classes or are the basic principles the same?
For me good balanced conformation is the same across all the classes. A defined front, middle and hind quarters, good straight limbs and balanced correct shaped feet. I could go on forever about conformation but perhaps that’s a different blog! Then it is all down to ‘type’, i.e. hunters, hacks, cobs, riding horses, show ponies and of course M&M’s (Mountain and Moorland).
Horses across the board should be comfortable to ride and should have good manners. Things to take into consideration in each class: you should expect to be able to ride a hunter comfortably for several hours without being worn out by kicking continuously but on the other hand you don’t want your arms to be 6 inches longer at the end of the day either. A ground covering gallop is a must combined with the temperament that allows the horse to stand still after it has galloped.
- Hacks must have perfect manners and be beautifully schooled with an elegant walk and trot and the most balanced, comfortable canter so that you can just sit and pose. Hacks do not gallop and often have Arab/pony breeding in them.
- Cobs are workman like, often of Irish blood with deep bodies, powerful hind quarters, short strong limbs with plenty of bone and an attractive head. Personally I am drawn to a Cob with lots of character again comfortable to ride with good manners.
- Riding horses come somewhere between a Hack and a Hunter, often thoroughbred, more forward going than a Hack and with more bone and substance. Again beautifully schooled and with manners and are required to gallop.
For me when judging I would be fine with a Show Hunter/Working Hunter showing some character as in a squeal when popping into canter, a little bit of a feisty gallop (as long as I could stop) or even a little spook as long as it was a beautifully comfortable ride with a fabulous conformation. Ladies hunters (side saddle), hacks and riding horses need to have manners to burn so no leeway for them.
Judges have different opinions on conformation, type and manners and what they like in a ride which is obviously a good thing but when it comes to judging M&M’s it is important for all judges to follow the breed specific standard as we need to reward the ponies that are true to type in order to preserve the breed in future years.
Q3 There is a lot of debate about show horses carrying too much weight, what is your opinion on this?
There has been a lot done in the relative showing societies to educate judges and competitors about horses being overweight and over the last few years I really do think it is has improved. I for one am not averse to telling someone that their horse/pony is overweight which is why it is down the line. You would be surprised at the comments I receive! Education for all is the way forward.
Q4 What gives the horse or pony that ‘wow factor’?
I personally think that horses are born with that special presence that makes them stand out in a crowd. If you go into a field of foals or young horses it is easy to pick them out. Of course not all with this star appeal will have the conformation to make them champions and often that presence and ‘look at me’ attitude is not the easiest to train. So for me that star appeal hits me the minute they enter the ring then often I will be disappointed when it misbehaves or I find some sort of conformation fault and have to mark it down.
Q5 What are your pet hates when it comes to horses, ponies and riders that you are judging?
Because I come from an event/show jumping competition background I really dislike an unfit horse/pony. When they start huffing and puffing and they are still in trot it is a clear sign that they are unfit, not regularly worked or are seriously overweight.
Nowadays I mostly judge WHP classes and am amazed at how many children I see jumping in straight cut show saddles, this just encourages them to ride too long and have no control of their lower leg position whatsoever making them unbalanced and hanging on to their ponies’ mouths.
And lastly tails. Too long and shaven at the top are a real pet hate of mine.
Q6 How can you advise people with their ring craft?
As a newbie or amateur, watch the professionals and learn! The reason they win so much is because they are good at it! School your horse/pony beautifully, if it is not going perfectly at home then it isn’t going to at the show. Never follow that horse with star appeal into the ring as it may make yours look a little ordinary and in the same vein if you are riding a bay, grey or chestnut. Try not to get into a group of the same colour as in a large class it can be difficult to remember one from another (I must say bays are the worst).
And finally, think that you are the winner as you enter the ring. Give yourself space to be seen, don’t be a shrinking violet and ride beautifully with an air of elegance. Even if you are riding a stunning horse or pony it is the overall picture that gets you an all-important good pull in position.
Be polite, smile and mostly, enjoy yourself!