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  • Writer's pictureAngie Rickard

Postcard from the UK: Angie Rickard at 'Hickstead'

Aussie equine photographer at large Angie Rickard reports this week from the Royal International Horse Show at the Hickstead Equestrian Centre at Hassocks in the United Kingdom. While Angie is officially “on holiday”, she has fortunately packed her camera gear and has been sending back “postcards” to The Regional from the events she is attending.
ABOVE: The six-day event features both showing and showjumping classes. Picture: ANGIE RICKARD

THE Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead is the official horse show of the British Horse Society and is a massive event, combining showjumping and showing over six days in multiple arenas on top-quality surfaces.

The grounds themselves are a paradise … from the sealed road driveway to the lush grass main arena with its permanent jump features, and everything in between.

There are grass arenas on the flat, a gentle sloping grass arena with a sand track around the outside and beautiful trees and permanent jumps that the horses work around in their classes.

Jumping arenas have the best modern surface installed and are huge. All the arenas are connected by horse-only laneways for safety.

As for the programme, there's so much to see.

ABOVE: There were more "Pintos" than you could poke a stick at. Picture: ANGIE RICKARD

A full day of “Piebald and Skewbald” classes (we know them as Pintos in Australia) catering for plaited, traditional and hogged ponies and horses, starts the event with huge entries in each class. (The Queen is apparently to blame for making them so popular.)

Numbers were also high for the Gypsy Cob classes, with their amazing manes and tails flying in the breeze, and the Mountain and Moorland ridden classes, which included lots of breeds that we rarely see here in Australia.

There were Dartmoor, Exmoor, New Forest, Fell, Dales, plus the better-known Shetlands, Welsh, Connemara and Highlands, with each pony getting to do an individual workout in each class.

This applies to all classes at the show. There’s no choosing your top six or eight and excusing the leftovers – every horse or pony in a class gets a workout.

To obtain a placing with these numbers is certainly prestigious and it is a very different process to how things are done in Australia.

Judges ride horses over 15 hands – every horse not just the top choices – and each horse is unsaddled and judged on conformation by a second judge.

In pony classes, which are under 15 hands not 14, each is also unsaddled and led out by the rider for conformation to be judged. They are then re-saddled and riders remount after the last horse has completed its workout. (The judges don’t ride anything under 15hh.) There is no lunging before getting back on – the horses are just saddled and the rider re-mounts. Every horse stood quietly in the lineup, with no circles or moving around.

The show hunter pony classes go to 15 hands as there is no such thing as a galloway over here.

All show hunter ponies must be four years or older, with riders age restrictions on heights for all classes. Riders must not have reached their 20th birthday before January 1 in the current year. This means no adults on show hunters up to 15 hands.

The working hunter pony classes were 13, 14 and 15 hands and they had the lovely sloping arena with its beautiful trees and sand gallop track to work on, with grins from riders when their turn came to gallop around a bend and up the hill past the crowd.

The arena is about 400m in circumference so they get a decent workout even before they are judged individually by the judges.

Again, all horses have their saddles stripped off and are judged for conformation and movement as in our led classes.

ABOVE: Even the sidesaddle riders have to dismount and unsaddle for judging. Picture: ANGIE RICKARD

In six days of competition, I only saw three false tails, or what appeared to be false. Very little makeup is used on horses if any at all and the horses certainly did not reek of sprays and expensive extras. Saddles were reasonably flat and straight cut, not a deep seat with knee rolls or thigh pads anywhere. There were no huge “anatomically correct” girths anywhere, just plain and tidy.

Riders rode on long reins with light contact, I didn’t see one horse or pony over-bent with mouth open and all travelled evenly and not fighting against the rider.

The dress was simple with shirts and ties in all classes. No frills, fancy bibs with coloured extras, no diamantes or sparkly bits on rider’s boots. Huge red hair bows were very few and far between in kids classes.

Everything goes like clockwork and line-ups were calm. Classes of 20 plus were common, with placings to 8th, and they get a rosette. The winners get a simple blue sash as well, but no rugs, garlands and extra bits.

It is certainly is an eye opener to see all the breeds and showing classes up so close, the facilities and grounds are just beautiful and world-class showjumping is on every day as well throughout the venue.

Put it on your bucket list for next year!


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