Hints and Tips for the New Dales Pony Exhibitor

These guidelines aim to provide advice to those wishing to show a Dales Pony for the first time. They should be taken as a guide only and do not supersede the rules of individual societies and shows. We advise you to read the rules for the show you wish to enter and any additional rules for affiliated classes such as National Pony Society (NPS), British Show Pony Society (BSPS) or Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) before making your entries.

The rules governing Dales Pony Society main and area shows can be found in the Member’s Handbook and are also published here. There is also a subset of these rules which cover shows which are not DPS events.

In Hand Classes – Pony Presentation

Ponies should be shown in their natural state, which means no trimming or plaiting other than the traditional plait and ribbons at the top of the tail. Ponies should be presented clean and well groomed, with manes and tails as full and flowing as possible, and traditionally were “a yard long”. Feathers should be full, curtaining the coronets. Ponies which have been clipped for riding or driving reasons in the winter can be shown in hand but may be at a disadvantage depending on the Judge’s view. Legs should not be clipped whatever type of body clip has been used. Youngstock should never be shown with any form of clip. Use of make up, hair dyes, false hair pieces and otherwise altering a pony’s appearance from its true form is expressly forbidden both at Society shows and other shows.

The traditional plait at the top of the tail is optional and is often used in mixed mountain and moorland classes to identify the pony as a Dales Pony. Traditional colours for the ribbons are red, white and blue but other colours can be used.

Most adult ponies are traditionally shown shod but this is not a mandatory requirement. Until relatively recently it was also common for youngstock to be shod but is now generally disliked by judges when showing in mixed classes and is only occasionally seen in breed classes. Ponies that are shown shod are best shod all round and not with front shoes only as this unbalances the action of the pony, making the knee action higher than the hock action when both should be level. Shoes were traditionally flat as ponies were not then expected to canter and today fullered hunter type shoes are more commonly used on ponies competing under saddle as this gives better grip at faster paces.

Youngstock, mares and geldings are traditionally shown in a white rope halter, although white webbing ones which do not slip are increasingly being used. Some of these have a curb chain which can be useful on a very strong pony. Riding or in-hand bridles are also acceptable. Colts 2 years and over must be shown bitted for safety reasons. Licensed stallions (3 years or over) are traditionally shown in full stallion harness with side reins, and this is a rule at DPS breed shows.


Halter styles – 1.  White rope, 2. White webbing, 3. Adjustable white webbing with curb chain

A well turned out stallion in full stallion harness

The handler should also be clean and smartly dressed to complement the pony. A tweed jacket, cap or hat, shirt with collar and tie, gloves and a smart pair of trousers (not jeans) are recommended.  Safe, strong footwear is a must as handlers have to be able to run with their ponies often on uneven or slippery ground. Some shows and societies have specific rules concerning safety headwear, particularly where children are concerned so check the show rules for this, and also check for rules detailing the length and type of whips or sticks carried by the handler. Usually this is limited to a cane or stick no longer than 30”, without a thong or lash of any kind.

Photo Courtesy of Sinclair Photography. This photo shows a correctly turned out handler. Note the handler’s stick which is 30” and has no lash or thong

Some shows, mainly Championship shows, have evening performances, usually under floodlights. Evening dress is often worn by handlers at these events.

In Hand Classes – Showing the Pony in the Ring

Ponies are shown clockwise round the ring, and will be expected to show a good active walk. Each pony will be trotted out individually before being called into line. The lineup may be either in random order or as an initial placing at the judge’s discretion. Each pony will be presented individually to the judge and will be handled by the judge if it is a Dales breed class. The pony must stand still for this inspection and trained to lift a foot. In a breed class, the pony will be expected to walk away from the judge and then walk back, then trot away and trot back, this time carrying on past the judge before returning to the line. The judge is looking for straight powerful action and the pony should be trained to trot freely when asked. The handler should run at the pony’s shoulder and in time with the pony’s stride, and this takes time to get right so it is worth practicing at home before the show.

Photo Courtesy of Sinclair Photography. This photo demonstrates a pony trotting out freely, with the handler running at the shoulder in time with the pony’s stride

Once all the ponies have been looked at, the judge may either ask for a final walk round before calling them back in in the final placing, or place the ponies from the initial lineup. The class is not over until the rosettes have been handed out and the class is dismissed.

Ponies outside of the preferred height range of 14hh to 14.2hh and mis-marked ponies can be shown and will be placed at the discretion of the judge. These are both faults, but it must be borne in mind that a breed judge might well place a high quality mis-marked pony or one outside the preferred height range above a correctly marked pony or pony of the correct height, if he/she considers it to be a better animal overall.

Ridden Classes – Pony Presentation

Ponies are turned out as for in hand classes but with suitable tack for ridden classes. Saddles should be straight cut in order to show off the pony’s shoulder and can be black or brown leather, and If a numnah is used, it should be the same colour as the saddle and unobtrusive. Girths should also be the same colour as the saddle. Bridles are usually of medium weight and the same colour as the saddle, but if the pony has a larger head, a heavier weight bridle may look better. Nosebands should be flat cavesson style, and browbands either plain or plaited leather, but not coloured. The type of bridle used will depend on the class, most novice classes require a snaffle bridle while it is usual but not mandatory in open classes to use a double or pelham bridle, with two sets of reins.

Ridden Classes – Rider Turnout

Riders should be smartly dressed in a tweed jacket, shirt with collar and tie, gloves and light coloured jodhpurs or breeches.  Long boots or jodhpur boots are correct, in either black or brown, with most adults wearing long boots and children jodhpur boots.  Riding hats must conform to current safety standards and this may be checked by the ring steward, the show schedule will detail the current safety standard required. The hat must be securely fastened at all times when mounted. If the rider carries a stick it is usually limited to a cane or stick no longer than 30”, without a thong or lash of any kind, but some unaffiliated shows do allow other types of stick. Spurs are not allowed in any Dales Pony Society competitions.

For evening performances it is usual to wear a black or navy blue jacket and stock, and some shows allow top hats to be worn but check the rules for the show on this as it is not universal.

Photo Courtesy of Sinclair Photography.  This photo shows a correctly turned out and well presented Open ridden pony and rider. The pony is wearing a black medium weight pelham bridle. Note the straight cut saddle showing off the shoulder and unobtrusive black numnah and girth matching the saddle

Ridden Classes – Overview of Class types

Ridden classes can be divided into Traditional, which are walk and trot only, those where canter is expected (flat classes) and Working Hunter Pony. A Traditional class is judged mostly on the trot and ponies should be well balanced and very free and active, really covering the ground. Canter is not expected and a break from trot to canter will be penalised by the judge. The individual show should include a figure of eight at trot, collected on the bends but really pushing into extension across the diagonals and finishing with an extended trot on the long side of the ring before a smooth transition back to walk. A rein back may sometimes be asked for, and the pony should step back for four paces without being hauled backwards, and move then forward to a square halt. Ponies will not be stripped and run up in hand in a Traditional class. Traditional classes are largely limited to Breed classes and shows.

Classes where the pony will be expected to canter cover all other ridden flat classes, which are often subdivided depending on the experience of the pony (novice, intermediate and open) and in mixed mountain and moorland classes by the various breeds. The pony will be expected to display walk, trot and canter as a class on both reins and perform an individual show which should include an extension of pace at canter. Depending on the class, there may two judges, one for ride, and one for conformation and if this is the case ponies will be stripped and run up in hand. In certain classes, such as those under NPS rules, ponies may still be stripped if there is only one judge. Your groom will normally attend to take off the saddle & brush off the saddle mark before the pony is presented for conformation judging. The groom should wear a hat at all times when in the ring & may be dismissed by the ring steward if a hat is not worn. The individual show may be set by the judge so that all the ponies in the class perform the same show or the judge may give a ‘free’ show in which case the rider can use the opportunity to show the pony off to its best advantage. Depending on the particular affiliation of a class a marking system may be used to determine the winners – check the requirements of the show and the class affiliation before entering.

In Working Hunter Pony (WHP) classes the pony will be expected to jump a course of ‘natural’ fences, perform an individual show and be stripped and run up in hand for conformation judging. These classes can also be split into novice and open sections and are usually subdivided on pony height rather than by breed. Fence heights, width and types are usually limited by the rules of the competition in affiliated classes but may vary in non affiliated classes. These classes are usually judged by a marking system, with marks awarded for jumping, style while jumping, type and conformation and individual show and manners.

Photo Courtesy of Sinclair Photography. Novice WHP jumping a ‘natural’ fence