While a recent judging trip to the National Agricultural and Exhibition Centre (NAEC) at Stoneleigh Park – home of the once famous ‘Royal Show’, brought back so many wonderful memories of competing there.

But I also felt a sense of disbelief that such a significant agricultural event should have gone to the wall.

If there was ever an incentive to keep our own Royal Highland Show prospering, a walk round the unused and unloved permanent buildings at Stoneleigh would do the trick.

That said, it’s not all doom and gloom as the grounds are being well maintained, the rings in a better state than they were when we competed and there are signs of diversification of the site with several businesses and institutions, such as The Kennel Club and National Farmers Union locating offices there.

It is a perfect central location for competition which would surely suit the major equestrian societies if ever they could agree to join forces, if nothing else for joint administration purposes. The Pony Club is already in situ and, interestingly, the National Pony Society has already taken advantage of the facility with offices within the Rank Building.

Grandstand Media, organisers of The Horse of the Year Show, has a long-term lease on the letting arrangements of Stoneleigh from the Royal Agricultural Society of England. It is keen to develop all equestrian facilities there and is starting to attract major events such as the Trailblazers Championships which caters for competitors operating at unaffiliated level with interests in dressage, show jumping, combined training, showing and working hunter.

Close on its heels this year came the British Showjumping’s National Championships which sits alongside Grandstand’s own Stoneleigh Horse Show held this year from August 8-13, when I was one of the judges.

With all the show’s classes qualifying for the Horse of the Year Show, well-filled classes were full of competitors keen to take one of the few remaining tickets for Birmingham. Numbers were good although quality not quite as high as some early and mid-season qualifiers.

In the ridden native ponies I had the task of judging performance, which is always interesting, particularly since the subject of content for individual shows has been throwing up much comment recently. I thought long and hard about what I expected of pony and rider however the basics of demonstrating paces according to the breed, free forward movement and response to the aids were all I required.

While not a dressage test, all these elements had to be assessed with some degree of showmanship thrown in for good measure. The most difficult question asked was executing canter on a right handed corner while coming out of a left-handed extension.

Several options were available to the riders but few achieved a suitable outcome. I could never have anticipated that the class with the best individual performances came from the class for Dales ponies – they were a credit to their riders and breed.

Disappointingly, the Connemaras, the breed I thought best equipped to do well (and selected across Europe for the purpose), by and large performed below my expectations. However, that said, more for their riders than the breed on this occasion.

My best performance during the day came from the Fell class, where the experience of the rider shone – it is a pity she hadn’t gone first as an example to the others. Her efforts brought her up the line to stand third and justifiably so.

She was one of many throughout all the classes who rode a stallion, a fashion which has crept into classes because it is seen to provide an advantage due to their presence and general stature.

Every one present on the day behaved perfectly, which demonstrated their good temperament and trainability, however it does throw up two worrying questions.

Why keep stallions when very few are of merit for breeding, especially when there are so few breeders nowadays – and what happens to them after their ridden career has ended?

Life after showing as a gelding is surely brighter than that of an out-of-use show stallion, which leads to the next question: why not stick to geldings as most people did in previous years?

If it is anything to go by, geldings stood champion and reserve in the major championship in which I was involved.

I am sure much the same goes for other equestrian disciplines, particularly dressage and show jumping, and only the very best achieving breeding status. With artificial insemination (AI) as an option, it is relatively easy to compete and breed with top class stallions at the same time.

Within the Thoroughbred world this is not possible, as AI is not allowed and finance is such in that world that castration of less then successful colts is inevitable at an early age.

Breeders have the responsibility to select colts with breeding merit which may well go on for a ridden career and equally have a responsibility to geld those which don’t.

During a lunch-break, I watched some show jumping which was of the highest standard. The all-weather surface at Stoneleigh looked great and tastefully split into two large rings, with their own commentary teams and officials.

Grandstand was able to supply some of the former Olympic jumps which added extra style, but so too did one of the official course builder – Scotland’s Mark McGowan, who set significant questions in his courses.

The International Stairway Final was huge and took some jumping so it was all the more interesting for me to watch Kirkcudbright rider, James Smith, compete with his horses to take the Horse of the Year Show wild card. It should be no surprise to The SF readers as his name was in the headlines in June, having taken four classes at the Royal Highland as well as the show’s leading rider award.

He did his area proud, as did others from the South-west area who scooped the £1000 national team jumping jhampionship.

It was great to witness show jumping and showing stand side by side at the same venue. However, it highlighted a concern for the sport.

Given that some of the best jumping in Britain was on offer at Stoneleigh – with top class riders competing for good prize money – there were precious few spectators,, despite free admission and a minimal £5 car park fee.

In fact, there were more people round the showing rings all weekend. This contrasts with agricultural shows and feature events like country fairs, where substantial crowds love to watch show jumping and warmly show their appreciation for it.

If I were to offer advice to show jumping competitors, cherish these events and what they have have to offer while they are there – and be careful of the demands made of show organisers.

Without popular appeal, sponsorship may prove to be harder to achieve and sports funding even harder.