Robert Walker: ‘Hunting teaches horses to be true workmen’


  • Robert Walker on why winter for show horses isn’t the same as it used to be

    DURING my twenties, winter was a very different experience as a horseman. After Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), a show horse would usually be thrown out in the field until the end of January, and they’d be able to cope well with the snow and ice as long as they had plenty of shelter and forage.

    Today, the impact of global warming has meant winter is just downpour after downpour, and the unpredictable weather means we can no longer just turn our horses away.

    The young horses are inside more and you’re often risking your life riding in gale-force winds just to give them a bit of exercise. Keeping the horses happy requires more work from the staff, so a nice, long break seems to be a thing of the past.

    With this in mind, we really embrace trail hunting during the winter, and the horses who have enjoyed just a few outings have come on leaps and bounds.

    Hunting really strips the process back. When we take our horses to a show they travel with leg bandages and boots, a tail bandage and tail guard, a silk hood and a rug. When they’re heading out to hunt they’re sent off with a rug over their tack and a tail bandage, if they’re lucky. They’re true workmen for a while.

    For those baby horses who might be backwards thinking, hunting broadens their horizons and it teaches them the fundamentals of life, which is forwards, left, right, start and stop; if a horse can stand still on the hunt field then he’ll be able to stand still in a show ring.

    Leading from the front

    THIS time of year is also hard for the team, and keeping morale up on the yard is something I have to consider each year. There are some days when I sit in the house before heading out and think, “I really don’t want to do this,” but I remember that the staff look at me to lead. I pick myself up and try to be as positive as possible.

    If one of my team members is looking to progress in their role, I use the winter as a time to help them do this. Even if it’s just teaching them how to clip a horse properly, it all goes a long way in making sure they feel valued.

    My head girl is a bit of an adrenaline junkie and she has been hunting the youngsters. She is so keen she returned to the hunt field just seven days after an operation! The show season is long and laborious at times so making the off-season months more enjoyable and allowing the grooms to be involved in a horse’s journey is highly rewarding for them.

    Opportunities for all

    LOOKING forward to the forthcoming season, we welcome change as two new chairpersons are coming into two of the main societies – the British Show Horse Association (BSHA) and the British Show Pony Society (BSPS).

    Through my involvement with the Cheshire Hunt I know what a thankless task giving up your free time can be. There will always be critics out there, but what the majority maybe don’t know is that most society officials are doing it free of charge. While our new chairpersons are in office, let’s get behind them and push the momentum of showing forward.

    One initiative the BSHA has introduced is the accredited trainers scheme, of which I am honoured to be a part. The concept allows trainers to put riders through to a new series of classes solely for amateurs. It will go some way in providing opportunities to grassroots members.

    Anything new and innovative which brings fresh people into the sport should always be encouraged.

    ● What new initiatives would you like to see showing introduce? Write to use at hhletters@futurenet.com

    • This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 27 January

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