How to get to HOYS - advice from showing judges

If you’ve been left feeling inspired by the entrants of this year’s SEIB Search for a Star (SFAS) finals at the Horse of the Year Show and are keen to enter next year, you might be interested to hear exactly what it is that the judges look for.

 SFAS champ & hunter winner Mister Fezziwig Lynsey Lawrence with Nicolina MacKenzie Pic: 1st Class Images

SFAS champ & hunter winner Mister Fezziwig Lynsey Lawrence with Nicolina MacKenzie Pic: 1st Class Images

What the confirmation judge says... 

Confirmation judge Richard Ramsay has been producing show horses and ponies for over 30 years, often winning at the highest level.

He says: “First and foremost, the horse or pony must be correct in its conformation and fit the criteria for type.

“Many that come forward simply aren’t potential show horses. Many of the riders are new to showing, so we would forgive greenness and lack of ringcraft, because those who qualify really go to town to improve themselves, as can be seen at HOYS.

“Many of the horses are not used to going in company and get rather competitive, but the keen owners will take them away and do their homework to correct this. We won’t forgive downright bad manners though.

“If we see a horse that has potential but goes badly on the day, we tell the rider to get help and try again, as that horse could turn out to be a future star. The 2017 champion [Lynsey Lawrence’s Mister Fezziwig] was a case in point as this was their second year of trying to qualify.

“In all cases we want a straight-moving, well put-together horse or pony that fits the category of the class.

"We have often told competitors they are in the wrong class — for example they may think they have a riding horse but it’s actually a lightweight hunter, or vice versa — and it’s great when they then reappear and qualify.”

What the ride judge says...

David and Chris Bartram-Lawton, who have officiated at the qualifiers for 16 years, also bring a wide range of experience with them, with David having evented at Badminton and Burghley, and been a highly successful producer, trainer and showman.

He is also a panel judge for a number of societies and has officiated at HOYS and Royal International on several occasions 

Chris has ridden show and competition horses and is a popular judge both in the UK and abroad.

David says: “As a ride judge, I’m looking for a light, uphill, mannerly and balanced ride that is accepting of the bit and leg — sadly, we see a lot of SFAS horses that are over-bitted.

"It’s also very important for competitors to get different people to sit on their horses beforehand as it prepares them to carry a ride judge.

“All too often, people tend to over-ride and do not keep their horse between hand and leg and in rhythm — hence the pace is too fast.

"A green horse in the show ring can be forgiven but an unmannerly horse should not be — if they cannot behave, they need more education and schooling.”

Chris says: “On the go-round, competitors must ensure that they take notice of their fellow riders and, more importantly, the ring stewards who are there to inform and keep everyone safe in the ring.

“Standing a horse up for conformation is something that a lot of competitors struggle with too. You need to walk out with purpose, stand the horse up well without pushing and pulling, and pretend you are trying to sell it to the judge.”


Search for a Star is the brainchild of SEIB Insurance Brokers and has launched many horses and riders to glittering paths.

SEIB marketing director Nicolina MacKenzie says: “The concept now is the same as it was when we started the competition more than 20 years ago, but the standard has improved ahead of all hopes.

“Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see a raw amateur learn, progress and move on to succeed at top open level.”