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Showing 101 with Tarryn Stebbing

We enlisted the help of National Candidate Showing Judge Tarryn Stebbing to get an overview of the whats, wheres, hows and whys of showing to give you a quick introduction to this fascinating discipline.

HQ: Can you start at the beginning for us and talk us through the main showing classes?

Tarryn: Of course. The first thing to know is that our showing in South Africa is heavily based on the British Showing system and as such the classes have their origins in the British traditions.

In terms of classes, the best place to start is with the three ‘show’ classes: Show Hack, Show Riding and Show Hunter.

  • Show Hack originated in Britain from the tradition of the gentleman of the aristocracy riding through the parks on beautiful horses to impress the ladies. The horses in this class tend to be a little smaller, have a lighter frame, a refined head, lighter bone and good movement. They make an easy and elegant ride. In the test, you will demonstrate walk, trot, a lengthen trot, canter, lengthen canter and a halt.
  • Show Riding focuses a lot on the horse’s manners and schooling. The horse is quite similar to the Show Hack horse but with a little more bone, and a less-refined head is acceptable. In this class, you will demonstrate your horse’s schooling, and a lot of the skill comes in playing to your horse’s strengths and highlighting these while minimising the attention on their faults. For example, if your horse has a poor walk, you will need to show some walk, but you could decide to only show three steps so as to spend more time highlighting a stronger gait.
  • Show Hunter again has its origins in Britain and is built around the fact that many amateurs and non-riders used to go on a ‘hunt’ as a weekend activity. As these hunt riders were often inexperienced, the horses needed to be safe and have excellent manners so that literally anybody could sit on the horse and enjoy their ride. A good Show Hunter has solid bone and is comfortable to ride, well-mannered and ultimately safe. The other important element of this class is a good gallop, demonstrating that the horse can open his gait and flatten his frame. You want to see the horse sink towards the ground and really open up. After the gallop, the horse is halted in front of the judge to allow the judge to assess the soundness of breathing.

Next, we have the working classes: Working Riding and Working Hunter.

  • Working Riding employs the use of ‘objects of a practical nature’ to demonstrate the obedience, temperament and rideability of the horse. This class derives from the need to work horses on the farm and jump little hedges, open gates and walk over bridges. Working Riding thus tests the horse’s ability to meet these challenges without getting spooky.
  • Working Hunter involves jumping a course and a good gallop. Interestingly the style of jumping is quite different to standard showjumping in that the horse needs to be at a hunter pace, and accuracy on the part of the rider is a little less important. As these horses need to be safe, seeing that a horse can make a plan in the case of rider error is a positive attribute rather than a negative. For this reason, stand-offs are accepted, provided the horse shows he is bold and safe. You will lose marks for refusals, errors and failures, but it is worth noting that you can still win the class even with the odd error, unlike in showjumping.

These then are the five basic ridden showing classes, and they are then divided into three levels:

  • Newcomers – this level is open to children, juniors and adults, and all compete against each other. These classes provide a great opportunity to familiarise yourself with the requirements of the classes.
  • Novice
  • Open – Once you have reached this level, it is tricky to go back, so spend your time getting the experience in Newcomers and Novice before moving up.

Outside of this, there are then also Breed Classes and in-hand classes.

HQ: So what makes an ideal show horse?

Tarryn: One thing that is really important to emphasise is that all horses can show. There is a class for every horse, and I believe the experience of showing is so valuable that everyone should enter their horse into a few showing shows.

In terms of ideals, these vary according to class and breed. You want a horse to be as conformationally correct as possible, but again, this should not put you off competing your horse in the show ring. Quality paces are also important, and horses that are true to type will do better than those who are not. Soundness is obviously vital.

HQ: So what would you say are the advantages of showing for the horse?

Tarryn: My list could get very long for this! First and foremost, every horse that is sound can, and in my opinion, should do some showing. All of my young horses start with showing, as it is much more relaxed and less rigid that dressage or showjumping as a starting point. You don’t need to ‘halt at C’ or put three strides in between this fence and that and can instead decide how best to play to your horse’s strengths and only do as much as you are able to on the day. The other major advantage, particularly for young horses who are just starting out in competition, is that they are not alone in the arena. This security in numbers helps youngsters feel a little more confident in the first shows. Of course, the other advantage is simply being at a show venue and getting this exposure, but in a more forgiving and comfortable environment. Finally, show horses are generally kept in great condition, and this is always something that is worth prioritising.

HQ: And in terms of the rider – what advantages do you see there?

Tarryn: I believe that for riders showing has a lot to teach us. Showing is a lot about ‘showmanship’ and the ability to best show off the horse you ride on the day. There is also a class for every rider, so if you’re not a jumper, there’s still plenty you can do! Showing also teaches you refinement and finesse in your riding and highlights your horse’s weaknesses and strengths so that you know what you need to work on. It’s also a great lesson in losing gracefully, and whilst humbling, this can make you more robust in the future. Finally, in most disciplines, I believe good turnout is an advantage. A well-presented horse just creates a better impression, and learning to turn out to accentuate the best features of your horse, as you need to in showing, can only be beneficial. Oh, and I must also say that showing really does have the best prizes!