The first weekend in September is peak show season. Most judges of fruit, flowers, preserves, cookery or crafts find themselves inking that date in their diaries before any other and yesterday was no exception. I was at Moreton in Marsh yesterday, one of my favourite shows for all kinds of reasons, one of which being the delight in watching the craft section blossom as a result of some keen committee members with fresh ideas. “A pincushion in a teacup” inspired some lovely entries, just one of a few classes awaiting the judgement from me and a couple of colleagues.
We enter competitions for all kinds of reasons. Some enjoy the challenge and really (really) want to win that coveted first prize but others are just in it for the fun. The fun extends further though, to all of us who enjoy admiring the results of their hard work and who might be inspired to have a go themselves. No chance of me attempting to grow any giant vegetables here, however!
The atmosphere in the Home and Garden marquee is one of friendly competition, of gentle encouragement and fun. I really love that aspect of a show and always enjoy being part of the process.
This show is rather more than the Home and Garden tent, though. I’ve blogged about it before, about how I enjoy seeing the livestock and learning a little about them. I love to see families enjoying it together, both in the ring and from behind the fence. Nothing like getting the next generation interested!
As soon as my work is done, I potter about the cattle lines then, admiring some fine creatures such as this handsome chap.
In getting up close, I discover his name is Nightowl. Maybe he likes a good party with the girls?!
Whilst he stood in solitary splendour, a couple cosied up across the way, quietly dozing in the middle of all the hoo-hah.
Perhaps they were feeling pleased they didn’t have to bring the family with them?
It was getting near lunchtime and, since the programme appears to follow a similar pattern each year, as I made my way over to the lunch venue, I spotted the Ladies’ Sidesaddle competition underway in the main arena. This is another class I always enjoy watching and have described before and in the half hour or so it took me to work my way round to the restaurant marquee, I watched the process of judging. It was not the swiftest process.
I knew already that the judge has to ride each of the horses, putting them through their paces at a variety of speeds over a set course. I’ve chatted to an equestrian colleague at another show, expressing my relief that crafts judges don’t have to put their skills to the test in quite the same way. She agreed that the ride can prove to be tricky at times.
Whilst one judge was riding each of the ten or so horses entered in the competition, her colleague was sizing them up for form, assessing their stature and their gait. This was not a quick process…he took his time and quietly reached his decisions.
Meanwhile, the other competitors waited patiently, receiving a last-minute tweak and touch-up to their immaculate outfit, for this is one class where appearance seems to be an essential part of the competition. Each entrant had at least one groom with them and the attention appeared to be shared equally between horse and rider.
This all took time! Probably forty minutes later, it was time for the riders to “get back on board” for a final canter around the ring whilst the judges made their decision. They were helped up onto their horse, last minute adjustments were made and all was done.
The grooms were banished from the ring and one by one, they made their way out of the gate, carrying their kit baskets, step ladders and anything else they’d been using. The scene was set - maybe we were ready for the final showdown?
One by one, each entrant rode past us, appearing relaxed but surely anything but - there was a lot at stake here, for this competition is a qualifier for the Horse of the Year show and surely, everyone wanted to win!
It’s tough out there though, and as they returned to their place in the centre of the ring, five or six competitors were asked to leave - they were not in the placings. How disappointing to be sent off like that.
Meanwhile, the six winners lined up for the prizegiving - the sponsor handed out rosettes and certificates and congratulated each one in turn.
Though they didn’t waste any time in moving along the line, watching them congratulate and acknowledge six winners made me glance at the time. Just how long does this take?
There were photos to be taken too, and whilst all of this was happening, I noticed the winner getting slightly restless. The rider took her horse for a little walk, then, to keep him/her happy. I think I was as shocked as everyone else, then, when the announcement came that the winner had been disqualified for bad behaviour and that, as a result, all the places had been moved up one! (There was a gasp in the crowd standing in the enclosure alongside). Sure enough, the red rosette was given back and that pretty grey horse was ridden from the ring in disgrace. I wonder what words were said on the way?
According to the announcer “it’s essential that a lady’s mount is well-mannered”.
Meanwhile, the newly crowned winner took a victory canter around the arena.
I’ll bet there was a palpable sense of relief amongst the other prizewinners too. Who knew that equestrian judges’ decisions can turn on a sixpence like that? The stress of entering a class with such a lengthy judging process with an animal whose behaviour might not be 100% controllable must take some managing. At least entering a craft class is a little less anxiety-inducing! (Isn’t it!?)
After a delicious lunch, I watched a non-competitive event taking place in the arena. Perhaps that would be less stressful?
Or maybe not?