The judging of foals and young ponies
The judging of foals and young ponies demands from the judge an extremely critical and correct eye for quality – this applies of course to all the other classes concerned – but the most difficult task for a judge is a quick and accurate diagnosis of the foals and young ponies shown. The different stages in the development of young pony present complications in the analysis of the quality of a pony.
Should a judge be able to judge a 6 week old foal in the same ring as a foal that is 6 months old? Unfortunately one sees more often than not, the older foal in a class is put before the youngest although the difference in quality is apparent. The explanation of the judge is often the older foal is better developed.
With such an argument for the reasoning behind the judging one cannot be satisfied should the younger foal have the better potential to develop in time. The same applies with one and two year old ponies, that are often thrown into the ring to be judged together and when three year olds should be judged in the same ring with much older ponies and cobs. The argument that one then hears is often, "There are different types here to be seen; the motherly type has been put before the sporty type" this expression illustrates the problems in such classes. To put the young mare in such a class forward in the ranking demands an exact knowledge of the development phases of all breeds, ages and types.
It should be clear to us all, that a three year old mare cannot be presented with motherly characteristics in comparison with a brood mare that has already had several foals and is as such also a lot older and more mature. All of these factors must be taken into consideration when judging.
In particular in the foal classes, an extremely competent judge is called for. To recognise the quality of a foal is not something that you can learn from text books, it is a gift that you are born with – this gift is then through experience and knowledge extended to become a virtue amongst judges of a superior class!
One should also keep in mind that even the best judge can make a mistake and a foal that has been praised above all others may not always develop as expected. A breeder can often give a better judgement over a particular foal when he knows the history and the parents of the foal in greater detail than a judge who sees only the animals presented before him for 5 minutes! A breeder with a good eye and knowledge of the father and mother and the family tree in general can often predict the development of a foal better with this knowledge to hand.
A foal looks naturally as though it has legs that are too long and occasionally the joints appear a little too straight at the beginning etc. The withers appear too flat and maybe don't project enough from the back bone enough and through the shortening of the sinews/bands the foal can appear to be overbuilt when really it is just a picture of a foal with bad confirmation. The width is to be judged from the rear; the width of the hips is to be analysed from behind. Thin foals appear to be narrow breasted. The depth of the flank and flat ribcage are to be seen as inaccuracies that remain. The legs illustrate the later development of the horse or pony. Pushed in elbows, weak joints and fundamental weaknesses that show that the body and leg don't conform are often the weaknesses that remain.
Pasterns with too steep an angle (straight) and the pony appears as though it is on "stilts" or pasterns that are weak and give way too much when moving normally improve without treatment and after a few weeks have taken on a "normal" position. Time and time again one sees the foals that have a sensational trot and like to "show off" winning. A fatal mistake if the other characteristics listed above, have not been taken into consideration. We should take into consideration the age and corresponding development of the foal and look at the quality and potential expected in the future and only then can we witness results where the foal with the best trot would not be placed first. This principle applies to all classes and age groups.
With the one and two year olds similar difficulties arise. Often here one and two year olds are thrown into the same class and must therefore be compared.
As already stated when judging foals of different ages, the same applies to the development and knowledge of the different types of ponies and the different stages to be expected in their growth.
The worst possible mistake made when preparing a pony (irrespective of age and type) is the bad habit employed by many breeders attempt "to feed away the mistakes". The breeder hopes that by presenting a pony that is round and fat – it will appear to be further in its development – for me personally these ponies and cobs are simply too fat and would never be placed in a class that I would judge before other ponies that are maybe not quite so far in their development but have more quality and the potential to progress! Think about how this false behaviour can damage the joints and general well being of the pony – the conscientious judge should always show his disdain through his actions and never place such a pony high in the rankings.
I know through experience that in Holland, England and also here at several international shows in the past, ponies are shown in this "obese" and unnatural condition – something that we should not support. Furthermore ponies are also shown where the whiskers/ beard hairs under the chin and on the muzzle are shaved off, the eyes have been "made up" in some cases with shoe polish and fire lighters have been used to remove unwanted "fluff" on the ears, under the chin etc. of the poor animals concerned.
Let us take the consequences in our hands and ban such breeders, who treat their animals in this way, from our shows and illustrate that we are against such conduct.
Back to the young classes – that I personally take to heart. I hear often from exhibitors that they don't want to show one year old ponies anymore because they have too often experienced that two year olds are continually and incorrectly placed in front of the yearlings. We should do something against this and judge according to quality as previously here in this article stated. A good yearling in a normal feeding condition (i.e. a lot on the field and a lot of bulk feed, so that it can grow in width and height in a natural way) will always appear younger than an animal that is twice as old and please don't forget that we are breeding a breed that is a late developer in comparison to some other breeds.
Surely a good judge would take all of this into consideration when judging his classes – as far as one can correctly judge within a few minutes and with no background knowledge of the animals shown.
It is certain that the breeders themselves spent a lot of time and energy when planning their "end products". The breeder values harmony, type, temperament, the ability to work, the willingness to work, how much milk the brood mare produces and many other factors that are important in creating/producing a superior rather than an "average" pony.
It should also be taken into consideration for what purpose the pony or cob has been bred, e.g. as a pony to drive or to ride, as a show pony or maybe as a sport pony. The judge must recognise whether the product presented to him is adequate for the proposed purpose. Only then can a complete picture and conclusion be reached to recognise, access and analyse the "ideal type". Judging is not just a job where the faults of an animal shown are to be picked out – the job of the judge is to show us all what a super product has been produced – how to recognise and appreciate a "good" pony. All of this should be demonstrated in his commentary.
The six following pictures illustrate the development phases of a Welsh B mare. The mare that at first appears too long legged as a foal, has with the age of 3 months a little more the long oblong form. As a yearling she shows the tendency to become a little wider and deeper, and the potential to develop further. With 5 years she is clearly a well developed brood mare, correct in her form and depth of body.