Showing is a popular equestrian discipline that is accessible to all. Whilst competing at top level is a serious business that requires a horse of superior quality, plus a lot of time, effort, and expense, the local level shows that are held regularly by riding clubs throughout the country are far less demanding, and are designed to encourage the average horse owner to have a go. The amount of different classes to choose from will vary depending on the size of the show in question. Those at the less serious end of the spectrum will include the likes of 'bonny pony' and 'handsome horse', which call for nothing more complex than a steed and a smile. Similarly, 'best turned out' is great for those who do not yet have the confidence to take part in classes that call for a higher standard of riding, but who still enjoy the preparation that goes into attending a show. However, a shiny, plaited, trimmed, and oiled beast partnered by a spotless rider or handler with sparkling tack will be essential for a rosette in this class, and the ability to do suitable quarter marks will make your chances even greater.
The majority of shows have 'in-hand' classes in which correctly dressed handlers exhibit their horses and ponies in walk and trot. 'Best conditioned' is one such class (although only found at local level competitions) and as the name suggests, the red rosette will go to the horse or pony that is carrying the right amount of weight, has a shiny coat, healthy hooves, and a bright eye - in other words, all those taking part should be a picture of health. Other in-hand classes include veteran, coloureds, mountain and moorland, hunters, and those aimed at specific breeds. Most shows also offer ridden sections for these groups.
Ponies eligible for mountain and moorland classes include the Connemara, Dales, Fell, Highland, Welsh Sections A, B, C, and D, the Dartmoor, Exmoor, New Forest, and Shetland. Regardless of whether this class is being run as in-hand or ridden, the judge will be looking for the most 'true to type' of these native breeds. So what does 'true to type' mean? Well, the pony should display the characteristics inherent to his or her particular breed. The Connemara, for example, should stand between 13hh to 14.2hh, have a deep, compact body carried by short legs, and cover the ground well with minimal knee action. The Dales, on the other hand, should be straight and high-moving. Examples of this powerful breed should have a broad chest, neat head, muscular neck, and flowing mane, tail, and fetlocks. Fell ponies are similar to look at and should demonstrate good knee and hock action but not exceed 14hh.
These classes are split into sections governed by the height of the pony and the age of the rider. Usually of much finer substance than his native counterparts, the ridden show pony is an animal of high quality, fine breeding, and excellent conformation and presence. He must demonstrate free movement and elegance, but manners are also paramount as his role is to carry a child rider with grace and diligence. Lead rein classes exist for riders under the age of seven, during which a handler must walk alongside the pony holding a lead rein that is attached to the noseband.
For the purpose of showing, the riding horse must have excellent conformation with particular emphasis on the quality of the limbs, which must be hard, flat, and free from blemishes and defects. His neck should be of a good length whilst gently narrowing towards a quality head. It is important for the riding horse to have a sloping shoulder as this helps towards a comfortable ride, which is an essential element when it comes to being judged in this particular sphere. Obedience, self-carriage, and calmness are must-haves, although to do well at the higher levels a riding horse needs sparkle and must not be a plod! Lighter breeds such as the Thoroughbred or part-bred Arab are the ideal type of horse for these classes, which are frequently split into 'small' (14.2hh to 15.2hh) and 'large' (exceeding 15.2hh).
Sometimes referred to as ridden hunter, show hunter classes are held from riding club level through to the major championship shows. Originally geared towards horses that could give their owners a good day's hunting, these classes are aimed at animals of a heavier build than the riding horse, and are split into the three categories of lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight, dependant on the size of bone just below the knee, and not the amount of flab on the horse's body! Lightweight show hunters, which usually stand somewhere around 16.1hh to 16.2hh, should have approximately 8.5 inches of bone, whilst middleweights need 8.75 to 9 inches and will stand at around 16.3hh. The mighty heavyweights of 17hh and above need to have 9 to 10 inches of bone, and are a joy to behold in the ring.Despite their substance, good show hunters are never common to look at - presence and quality of breeding are vital attributes. As well as having clean limbs and good conformation, these horses must work with a long, low stride that covers plenty of ground, and be extremely responsive to the aids.In order to do well in working hunter classes, horses need to have all the attributes of the show hunter, plus the ability to jump a round of rustic fences in a calm and balanced manner. Working hunter pony classes follow the same format but are usually categorised by height rather than weight.
Remember that your horse or pony does not have to meet all of these guidelines of conformation or way of going in order to take part in these classes at local level shows. The finer details only come into play once you start moving up the ladder of success, and the best way to get there is to go out and get the experience, and most of all have fun!