A recent visit to Waxwing organised by Oatridge College turned out to be a different one this year – instead of third year students about to embark on a career with horses, I found myself amidst a group of American exchange students, who turned out to be equally interested and interesting.

Lecturer in equine and animal care, Gillian Turnbull, had them well-warned about mobile phones and photographs, so there was no need to for me to cast an early shadow on proceedings and the weather improved during the afternoon – so much so, that no one was soaked to the skin, as has been so often the case over the past month.

It never fails to amaze me how total strangers can be brought so easily together by a common interest. Having come from all corners of the States, with none of them previously knowing one another, I became yet another new acquaintance, albeit much older.

Their equestrian interests and experience proved to be quite diverse, ranging from future vets and nutritional advisers, to potential stud managers – some of them simply wanted to work with horses.

Talking of which, I hadn’t previously appreciated that children in the States largely ride horses and the extensive use of ponies, which we experience, is relatively uncommon, although not unique.

Of course, we take our native ponies for granted. Literally, there is one to suit all ages and sizes, although history tells us that other than the Welsh Section B, none of them have the word ‘riding’ in their breed definition and, as such, weren’t bred to do so.

Times have changed and in order to survive many modern breeders have selected bloodlines to suit the ridden market although this tends to attract the wrath of the traditionalists, many of whom seem locked in a world which is notional rather than real.

‘True to type’, ‘the old type’ and ‘traditional’ are terms regularly attributed to the type of pony (or horse in the case of the Clydesdale) which should be bred, however century-old photographs fail to substantiate this.

There is a reality that all breeds evolve largely due to demand, so our current position reflects a moment in time of an evolutionary process – what’s wrong with that?

I’d suggest to the ‘traditionalists’ that they embrace the changes taking place right now and enjoy the moment as there is no certainty that it will continue far into the foreseeable future with more of our breeds finding themselves on the endangered list.

This view may appear to be somewhat dramatic, however one only has to look at the entries at shows nationwide to witness a sharp drop in interest over a 10-year period. This applies from the most prestigious large county shows to the smallest at a local level.

Results reveal that many classes have few, if any, entries and any with an entry of five or more is considered to be big! Needless to say, the Facebookers fail to mention this when posting photographs of their prizewinners and rosettes – although I suspect that their so-called ‘friends’ have twigged to this and post their inane comments and platitudes as part of this particular social media game.

It speaks volumes for the popularity of the Royal Highland Show that it is managing to keep numbers and standards up, although within the showing sections this is largely dependent on the allocation of qualifiers for the Horse of the Year Show.

Heaven only knows what would happen should these be withdrawn for any reason or worse still, if the institution that is HOYS should collapse.

Admittedly, this isn’t the whole story as heavy horse driving at Ingliston is arguably the best in Britain without qualifiers and there is no doubt that show jumpers would come in even greater numbers if the standard was dropped to include a lower level of competition.

Unquestionably the wonderful all-weather surface attracts much popularity as does its its hard-working board member, Anne Logan, along with her devoted team of experienced helpers and generous sponsors, make this section really tick.

It was in the working hunter pony ring that I have recently encountered a competition which is new to me, although I knew it had been going for some time. It was called the ‘Tiny tots training stakes’ and was aimed at very young riders who are almost at the stage of embarking upon competition by themselves, but just lacking the experience and confidence to take that step.

As a result, a reasonable entry of ‘little’ people came with their little ponies, some with a leader who jumped as well, some with a person who just jumped as well but didn’t lead, some with a person running alongside the jumps and some with a person in the middle of the ring issuing reassuring instructions. I enjoyed judging this class and it gave me food for thought.

Whoever thought of this competition had a stroke of genius. It was brilliant and such a useful introduction for youngsters starting out.

In fact, having judged ‘workers’ before and since this season, I have to wonder why shows don’t run these classes across the board instead of the traditional ones, which seem to be attracting fewer entries. I suspect many potential exhibitors shy away due to a lack of confidence in their ability to participate in them.

My experience as a judge would suggest that older children, if not adults, would benefit from someone, maybe parent, friend or trainer, in the ring to help out in some way to get round. If it eases the introduction into the ‘real world’, what would be wrong with that?

In much the same way, at a local level, I favour the classification by height of fence rather than age or rider, height of pony or breed in the case of the natives. It seems to be successful in both show jumping and eventing, so why not extend it to working ponies?

Many would say that this is yet another means to find the lowest common denominator (that ‘thing’ in arithmetic which only people of my age seem to know about). Regarded by many as the way to lower the standard in order to include the masses, this may be the case – although it needn’t exclude excellence of competition some of the time and it might just breathe some life into the low numbers currently appearing at shows.

Looking out of the proverbial box is critical to the future success, if not existence of shows. The statistics for this year’s Royal Highland, show entries in the native working hunter pony classes to be among the best in Britain this year, with a course which won’t suit the faint-hearted. There is no prospect of training stakes appearing on this schedule in the future.

As The SF goes to press, caravans will already have been set up on site at Ingliston and horse boxes packed in readiness for a short stay, which for many, will replace that week in the sun such are the costs involved. The exhibits will have been well prepared and polished within an inch of their lives in an effort to impress the judges.

Weather willing (the forecast doesn’t look too bad at the time of writing this) it will be yet another bumper year with successes celebrated and disappointments attributed to poor judgement or simply ‘hard lines’.

Whatever the outcome, it would be nice to think that the show itself will inspire exhibitors to get out to their local shows and have a go. Amazingly, winning has a good feeling at whatever level it is experienced.