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Stuart Hollings: ‘Exhibiting has been caught in a rut for some time’

  • Why have robotic performances become the norm, asks well-known and respected judge Stuart Hollings, who produced and showed a myriad of show ring winners and champions

    ONE of the highlights of the show season so far has been the announcement of the Robert Oliver showman’s award, which will be presented at the British Show Pony Society’s (BSPS) summer championships, following the selection of six riders who will have been talent spotted during the summer for displaying showmanship and presence in the ring.

    This is a most fitting tribute to Robert, who died last year, as he was considered to be the greatest showing rider of the modern era. He inspired a generation of young people, particularly during his presidency of the BSPS.

    When approached by Horse & Hound in 2017 for the “Inspirations” series, my brother Nigel without a moment’s hesitation chose Robert. He was the consummate showman, who above all adopted his elegant style to suit the horse he was competing, whether a hack, cob or hunter. Some of today’s pros should take a leaf from his book; they frequently present hacks like hunters and vice versa.

    Robert Oliver riding Loughkeen Dancing Lord at HOYS.

    Showing has been stuck in a rut for a while, with too many riders playing safe with robotic performances, and sometimes losing classes after producing below par in-hand shows.

    Take a risk

    I HAVE never forgotten a conversation with Davina Whiteman at Horse of the Year (HOYS), when she described one show pony class as akin to watching clockwork mice.

    Similarly, Peter Brookshaw Senior told me after judging at the East of England show how dismayed he felt that only a few understood the role of a show rider was to convince him their pony was the best in the class. Today more than ever with fewer superstars around, a competent jockey with a soupçon of flair can easily vanquish a less confident rider with the better pony.

    I was always told that it is preferable to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all, and with this in mind two standout showing occasions have remained with me that demonstrated a sense of theatre.

    During the judging of the Winston Churchill supreme when the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) was held at Wembley, Caroline Nelson – knowing her horse had good brakes – galloped winning Arab stallion Clarion towards the judges before coming to a dramatic halt with the sand surface going everywhere and resembling a scene from Lawrence of Arabia!

    Fast forward to a Blue Riband final at the BSPS championships years later when I instructed our intermediate rider to emulate Caroline’s quirky ending, as I had endured watching canter serpentines all morning – the latest craze – which were poorly executed when ridden one-handed. She aimed her gallop at one of the judges, Robert Walker, who told me afterwards that he didn’t think she was going to stop but nevertheless awarded his top score for ingenuity.

    Pure genius

    HOWEVER, the best example of competitors thinking outside the box happened when two top showmen stepped up to the mark in a supreme championship during the British Show Horse Association championships at Addington.

    John Keen finished his polished, traditional hack display – seldom seen nowadays – by producing a flower for the actress Susan George who was judging that evening. Quick as a flash, Robert Walker borrowed a tenner from the steward Nick Thompson and subsequently gave the purse to said judge when ending his individual show on Broadstone Doulton, the eventual victor.

    To this day, Nick still complains that he never got his £10 note back.

    Fingers crossed, we shall witness some wow-factor displays in the £1,000 finals at next month’s North of England summer show and beyond.

    ● What wow-factor displays have you witnessed in the show ring recently? Write to us at

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 26 May

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