A much-trumpeted new class for children at the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) has been greeted with dismay by some competitors.
The junior mountain and moorland ridden pony of the year championship is open to children aged between 10 and 14 competing on small breeds — Welsh section A, section B, Dartmoor, Exmoor or Shetland.
The reason given for the new class is that “many of the small breed M&M classes are dominated by senior adult competitors, which is potentially stifling young riders from progressing”.
But showing competitors are unimpressed by this addition to the already-packed HOYS showing schedule, saying the new class is “ill thought-out” and simply there to raise “even more revenue for HOYS”. They are also angry that some qualifiers for the open small breeds classes have been lost.
India Latter, who has had a superb season with the Welsh section A Powys Sprite, said: “In theory it’s a good idea, but it seems to be so limited. What is most disappointing is that the open classes are losing a number of qualifiers to this new section, which is going to make the job of qualifying a small breed to a person like me, a full-time working amateur, a much tougher task.
“My nearest qualifier — which is still two hours way — has now lost ‘my’ classes to the juniors. This show is run on a weekday in school term-time, meaning children will have to have a day off school to attend the junior qualifier anyway.”
Sam Roberts, who produces M&M ponies, concurred: “I think most of the M&M enthusiasts are delighted that the popularity of the classes has been recognised, but why should the open qualifiers be cut for this new class? HOYS didn’t cut the show pony classes when they brought in the part-bred championship [in 2014].”
She also queried the wisdom of making riders who qualify for the first ridden M&M class and the new junior section choose which one they compete in, as they are not allowed to compete in both, although the qualification stays with the pony.
“If it is to encourage juniors to make the transition [from FR], why make them choose if they qualify in both?” she said. “Surely that’s silly if you want to encourage them out of first ridden and into juniors?”
Other exhibitors wondered why stallions are excluded, as in open classes they can be partnered by children aged 12 and over, and why there was no equivalent class for the larger M&M breeds.
“The transition from first ridden into small breed classes is far less daunting than a 13- or 14-year-old having to ride in an open Welsh section D class, so why are the large breeds not even being considered?” asked Becki Penny. “If you look at the Royal International M&M young rider qualifiers, the small breeds section more often than not has the fewest entries, so how many people will actually benefit from this new class?”
However, Jacqueline Howard was enthusiastic about the new championship, saying: “I think it is a good move by HOYS. For many years, I have felt sorry for young children on small breeds in open classes. When my own daughter was that age, it was a rarity to see an adult competing on a small breeds pony and the children had far more of a chance, but that was pre-HOYS M&M classes. Now that there is a mad scramble for HOYS tickets, people will ride in as many classes as they can and this has seen more and more adults on small ponies.
“I am not against adults riding small breeds provided the picture is right — there are some wonderful adult and small breeds combinations out there and I applaud them, but many of those small adult riders are also professional producers. What chance does a 10-year-old child have against them? If a young teenager is capable of riding a large breed pony, this new class is not for them for, as I read it, it is a transitional class for smaller children from first riddens to opens.”
A suggestion that found favour with many was that a separate championship were held at HOYS for the top two junior riders in each open flat M&M section to encourage younger competitors.