A Day at Romney Marsh Horse Show
In my time I have been asked to do many strange things. With no qualifications, some of them have proved more than a challenge. The day was fine after a day of rain; a cool breeze swept up the slope of the hill to the top field where the local fox hunt was staging its annual point-to-point meeting. Many of the competitors were very good and the standard of horsemanship superb. The judges consisted of a local lady whose home was full of gold medals and cups, which she had won over the years at the Royal Horse Show at Olympia; she had appeared on television in the Horse of the Year Show and was always up among the medal winners.
The local vet, a good friend of mine, requested my help. He was in charge of sending the four footed animals out, and attending if need be, to any injuries they received while the local St. John’s Ambulance would deal with any human casualties. My humble task for the day, among such a fine field of hedge jumpers, I was assured would be easy. All I had to do was rearrange the poles that riders on their mounts knocked down and raise the metal clips that held them in place on the uprights as the day progressed.
At ten am, I made my presence known and got the job of collecting the tea urn and cups and saucers from the market where the local bakery had a café on market days. By the time I got back and installed the urn and crockery into the marquee, my task as pole keeper had been filled by another person. But no matter, the president of the local hunt said he had a much more rewarding official duty for me to perform, one that came with a long white jacket and an official name tag.
I had been gazumped of my promised cushy day out sitting by the triple jump, now I had been given a much more capable task. Donning the white coat, I was to become the judge for the dog show. All it consisted of, I was told, was to stand in the middle of the ring and give the most promising animal a good looking over.
The first class to go were the Working Terriers and as I was the proud owner of half a dozen Jack Russells, I was well qualified, I was told. Not so as I soon found out. The Working Terrier Class did not only mean the actual dogs that worked but the owners too. Many of the dogs were family pets and nothing other than lap dogs. The odd dog with a tattered ear told me those were the real working terriers. By the look and way some of the others acted, it was clear that they had never met a rat let alone an angry fox under ground. I had told the man holding my white coat and badge of office that I had no idea of dogs. He had suggested that I pick the best looking one of the bunch. I wish he had taken my place. Very early on in my career as dog judge, no sooner had I pointed my finger at the most useful looking critter of the nine miscellaneous dogs, an owner of a pretty looking little Russell objected saying, “How could that dirty scruffy thing be the winner; was I blind?” Luckily the man who had handed me the coat was the master of hounds and he took the fight up for me as now all the other people that had entered their pride and joys joined the bandwagon demanding to know what qualifications and certificates I had in order to be in charge of judging dogs. I don’t know what the kennel dog handler told them but soon peace returned and the dogs left to do what they did best, chasing a rabbit skin from one end of a thirty yard fenced off course to the other end, to vanish up an old drain pipe.
The pipe was embedded in a wall of straw bales where a lad sat on a bicycle pedaling for all he was worth with the back wheel suspended off the ground winding the cord attached to the rabbit. The idea was a race to see which dog was the fastest. A few of the terriers had played this game before and instead of stopping at the pipe where the skin had vanished up, they jumped the straw bales and set to trying to kill the inert skin. This led to a right royal dogfight that I was glad to have nothing to do with. The lad on the bike put his feet up on the handlebars to protect his legs from the dogs’ vicious teeth. Meanwhile I carried on looking the next lot of dogs over. The class was the Most Obedient Dog. Half the dogs would not sit so were quickly disqualified. The next would not stay when I asked the owners to walk away so no prizes there.
The next class of the fun dog show was supposed to be the Best Groomed one but a lot of the crowd had never seen a comb let alone a brush! One had actually found a fresh pile of horse dung and rolled in it but the kids had insisted to their poor mother that Fido, who they brushed every day, would surely win. I looked at the dog and there was no disputing the fact that it was well looked after. A spaniel with no knots under his ears and all his legs burr free, including the flag of his tail and as the animal was a superb example of his type, I gave him first prize. This brought a cry of alarm from the other entries’ owners. How could I give a dog first prize as it was covered in horse dung? Easy, before that unfortunate event with the horsemuck, it would have stolen the show. The next event was the dog the judge would most like to take home with him. This was open to every dog there that day and the terrier that I had given first prize to was entered by the owner’s son. I admit that I was biased towards the others for the dog had acquired quite a lot of blood from its encounter with the other dogs behind the straw bales and his head was now encrusted in dry red blood.
Never has anyone been so pleased to take off the coat and badge of office, as I was that day. With a mate of mine offering me money to give his whippet a prize and all the others clamoring for my blood, I left!