Half-way through the season, it is obvious that competitor numbers are down, in some cases quite dramatically – a trend, from which no sector of equestrianism would appear to be immune.

That is certainly my own experience of both agricultural and horse shows, although it is encouraging to see the general public's interest in the former has rekindled after such a long wait, with good numbers coming through the gate.

Sadly, most equestrian sport, other than racing, doesn't have a public following, so vacant ringsides remain the same for most events other than big ones such as the Royal Highland Show and Blair Horse Trials, where there are lots of other things going on to attract an audience.

The rhythm of attending horse and pony events seems to have been interrupted, initially by Covid and now by the current economic climate. With both factors well out of everyone's control, it's hard to know what can be done about it so, for the meantime, I suggest we accept it and play the waiting game to see if things pick up next year – or perhaps the year after, who knows?

It's hard for organisers not to feel both deflated and in many ways let down by a lack of entries so now's the time more than ever that we support them in whatever way we can and keep the moans and groans down to a minimum.

In the last to weeks, I have attended two events, including Doune and Dunblane Show, which I first attended in 1970 as an exhibitor, but was returning as a judge.

I have to congratulate the Young Farmers in the area for going ahead with a show in a bid to save it from potential permanent demise from the calendar. However, from a personal point of view, it was very disappointing that only two entries were forward in the eight scheduled classes for plaited ponies.

By contrast, with local classes enjoying fairly good support, this would appear to be the way ahead for the agricultural shows with the 'show' pony likely to disappear from our rings. Sadly, I fear that the same could be said for our 'show' horses, which are again obvious by their absence.

Support for our native ponies would appear to be holding up, as witnessed at the Highland Pony Breed Show, at Strathallan Castle, which I attended last weekend as a visitor. Reasonable entries with a good number failing to turn up on the day again reflected a current trend, however it served its purpose for the breed and everyone seemed to enjoy the day out in such beautiful surroundings in glorious sunshine.

Such is the popularity of the Highland that I wasn't surprised to find myself standing next to a couple, who were obviously not local but from Belgium. Guido Van Dyck is the Belgian Highland Pony Society president since 1993, when he imported the first registered Highlands to Belgium to start a daughter stud book there.

He had made the trip to Scotland this year for a special presentation in recognition of his work on behalf of the breed whose numbers in Belgium had risen to more than 300 over the intervening years.

We found ourselves sharing our various pony interests and I was reassured to learn that the Highland breed wasn't undergoing change in Belgium to compete alongside competition sport ponies, but kept purely for 'recreation', according to Guido. This would not reflect the practice in many other of our native breeds on continental Europe, whose enthusiasts seem determined to alter their established stud book descriptions to suit the competition market.

As it happens, we met while watching the breed in hand classes where the judge, Dochy Ormiston, made a firm statement through his judging that it was the strongly-built Highland pony, with traditional traits, that would win the prizes.

It's a long time since I have seen a judge ignore the side profile in trot, settling for a view at walk round the ring before individually assessing both walk and trot away and towards. There was no hint that he was remotely interested in the modern trend towards the free-moving performance Highland pony and was sticking to his roots based on the trekking pony for which his pioneering grand father, Ewan Ormiston, from Newtonmore, was famous.

With an additional vested interest in the working ponies used on the Highland estates, including Balmoral, it would be a brave person to challenge him on his priorities, which are based on practicality and traditional use.

I have to admit that he didn't appear to have a great choice at hand in the classes, however I was particularly interested to observe that as a collective, his contenders for the championship were largely great walkers with good limbs and feet.

It was encouraging to note that few forward were obese, as we have sometimes seen in the past, and any that were too fat were quickly dismissed out of the tickets.

Based on his in hand selections, I'm not sure what he would have thought of the winners in the ridden classes which remain popular and dominated in the supreme this year by Stirlingshire breeder, Anne Mitchell, whose Dunedin ponies claimed the top two places.

Although quite different in type, both ponies went really well, although the eventual winner, Dunedin Fenella, turned the tables on her class vanquisher, Dunedian Mascot, in an interesting turn of fate of judging in the supreme. Obviously, the conformation judge's view prevailed in the HOYS class determined on points, however the performance judge had the last word as it was down to her to select the supreme.

This type of result is always controversial and to some extent puts breed type and correct conformation and movement at risk of being side-lined. In this case it also highlights an inequality as the ride judge had actually ridden some of the winners forward for the supreme but neither the eventual supreme nor the reserve, which were judged from the ground.

In fairness to all competitors concerned, an independent judge should have been invited to judge the supreme.

While Dochy Ormiston is a name famously associated with HM The Queen's very successful Highland cattle fold, it is his wife, Sylvia, who is in charge of the ponies at Balmoral and current president of the Highland Pony Society.

Far from being a figurehead for the society, she is an obvious worker, enacting roles within the secretarial tent as well as hospitality on the day. I liked the way she brought a big bowl of strawberries out to share with ringsiders in the afternoon.

She is the only person, other than a vet, whom I have heard defend the necessity of flu vaccination certificates for exhibits on the basis that we must 'protect the national herd' from the disease. This won't be a view held by all of her fellow council members, who have been vociferous in their opposition to the rule, however the 116 entries in the catalogue in hand section suggested exhibitors were prepared to go along with the rule.

With only 79 in hand ponies entered under a similar ruling on flu vaccination at this year's Royal Highland, the reasons for low numbers there surely have to be found elsewhere.

Admittedly, there is always the choice of judges – a reason at no point put forward to me, but one that had been was the requirement for all in hand Highland pony entries to remain stabled on site for the duration of the show.

Therein lies a real problem which many feel has to be addressed by the organisers, not only on behalf of Highland pony exhibitors, but also across the three equine breeds which the 'Highland' calls, 'heavy breeds'. (Why this antiquated term persists is beyond me and one surely ready for change to 'Scottish breeds' if it is to hold any significance in today's world.)

I have to wonder how well the RHASS director responsible for the 'heavy breeds' truly represents the views of his exhibitors across three distinctive breeds and to what extend the board is prepared to respond to their requests.

Contrary to popular belief, muck removal, inadequate and dirty toilets, as well as showers and a supply of hot water, are not this year's problem but were regularly agenda items placed before the show's follow-up meetings during the 10 years I attended prior to my stepping down six years ago.

Having spent huge sums of money up-grading the show ground for the general public, members and potential hirers as well as the recent focus on global access via digital platforms, I would suggest to RHASS directors and their executive that it is now time to focus their efforts on the livestock exhibitors and their entries.

Ignoring their requests comes with a financial health warning, as without exhibitors there is less to attract the paying public and greater resultant pressures on finances. If it's an action plan that is required, rest assured that there are many interested exhibitors, experienced in this field, who can help hatch one.