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Sport Horse Classes

Sport horse classes have become hugely popular following the massive growth in the Sport Horse market of recent years. Around the 70s and 80s, when everyone was still in the market for a good Irish/TB hunter who could turn its hoof to some competitions in the summer months, the Europeans were busy developing breeding programmes to breed the best of the best competition horse bloodlines to develop the modern Sport Horse, capable of competing at the highest level in each discipline, show jumping, dressage, eventing.

Ironically, these were based on good British Thoroughbreds. Most of the successful Sport Ponies of today can be traced back to British Riding ponies exported to Germany during the 1970s, with regular lorry loads being shipped out each month to be crossed with larger Warmbloods. Most of the old Riding Pony or Welsh bloodlines can be found among Sport Ponies being sold for tens of thousands of pounds today.

Sport horses are generally European Warmbloods, but the Irish were quick to follow the European's lead and market their own version, the Irish Sporthorse. (Normally Irish/TB!) Any horse who fits the criteria, ie with correct conformation, temperament, movement and athleticism to enable it to contest any of the 3 disciplines will be considered in these classes, but its as well to remember that many of the classes are judged by top competitors in these fields, who know the type they consider will make the grade.

Classes are generally held 'on the triangle', ie, whereas in usual in hand classes, after the initial walk round and individual trot up, the horse would be run up in a straight line, the Sport horse or pony is now walked and trotted to enable the judge to see movement from front, side, and rear views. Depending on the show being attended, the triangle can be fashioned with anything from traffic cones, to elaborate planters, so its as well to teach your youngster at home to avoid spooks!

As is the case with some of the Welsh in hand classes, if you are going to show a Sport horse you need to be fit, and able to run fast to show off your horse's big movement, as movement will count for a lot in these classes and competition is fierce.


Young Sport horses are bitted from yearlings, as their size, strength and sometimes exuberance can make for much excitement in a busy showground environment! Plain or embellished browbands can be worn but not coloured ones as, say, a Riding horse would wear. Workmanlike is the key with a bit of bling if required.

Plaits are usually small and plentiful, to accentuate a good length of rein, and high on the neck to show (or create) a good crest, but it's worth remembering that only imported horses are entitled to wear white tape in their plaits and the white backed continental bridles often seen.

Handlers can wear traditional in hand clothing, the same as would be worn for a hunter class, but at breed shows it is the norm to wear white trousers and sweater, with trainers worn to enable the handler to run fast. A schooling whip is allowed rather than a cane to help guide the younger horse. I find they are very useful to hold at an angle to stop over excitable youngsters being stood too close in the line-up!

Sport horse babies need to show some sparkle, but good manners show trainability, and if you can harness these traits together with a well made, good moving horse you will do well.


Contributor - Sara Egan (Sky)


Extra Notes from the Sport Horse Breeding of GB - SHB(GB)

Dress for ridden classes:

Skull cap or hat and safety harness, appropriate jacket, shirt and tie, fawn or buff coloured breeches, black or brown boots, leather or string gloves, no earrings or any other visible jewellery.

Horses. To exceed 148cm. A rider may present up to three horses in each ridden class.

No tack which conceals an animal's conformation may be worn other than boots of a plain colour which may be worn during both the ridden and jumping phase. No rugs, clothing or items of tack that reveal the identity of a horse or owner may be worn in the ring.

Manes should be plaited and tails pulled or plaited. Plain leather bridles should be worn. Snaffle bridles must be worn as per rules for British Eventing dressage for four and five year olds.

In 6, 7 and 8 year old classes, snaffle bridles are not compulsory.

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