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SPSS Gradings at Heart of England EC 2004


Bert Sheffield

The SPSS was set up to promote the breeding of quality competition/ sports ponies in the UK. It takes the continental warmblood studbook societies as its model. Therefore, continental-style gradings are an exciting and integral part of the society's function.


The second grading of 2004 was held at the Heart of England Equestrian Centre, near Stone in Staffordshire on 24th October. The gradings are conducted as three tests with each pony brought into the indoor school individually.

Any pony mares or stallions over two and a half years of age can be brought forward for grading. In-foal mares and those with foals at foot do not have to be ridden or jumped during the process. Unbacked youngsters are loose jumped and shown in-hand. Due to the new BSJA levy of 1000 to be paid when registering ungraded stallions to compete, most of the entires forward were jumping ponies.


There are usually two judges, at Heart of England EC they were Celia Clarke and Clare Ballantyne, a German bereiter and British Dressage** international trainer. As this was also a grading for pony stallions competing under the auspices of the BSJA, Geoff Glazzard and Tom Hudson were also assessing the jumping phase.


Firstly, the ponies were shown 'on the triangle' so that they can be assessed for conformation and movement. A mark out of ten was then awarded for each the head and neck, shoulder body and overline (topline), the forelegs and finally, the hindlegs. There are also marks for type, temperament and general impression. Short comments were also included on the marksheets, to make the whole process more transparent.

For the second phase, the ponies were shown loose. This enabled the judges to see their movement and to finalise the marks for temperament. The owners could then decide whether they wanted to show their pony loose down a pre-built jumping lane. Some of the youngsters hadn't seen a jumping lane before so they were led down it first with the poles on the ground. This helped them to get the idea of what was being asked of them. The fences were not high as the judges were looking at the technique and attitude at this point. The judges were very patient with the ponies during this phase, allowing them time to understand what was required before asking them to jump any real height. Some of the ponies, especially Trobadour and Bryony Easter Bunny gave brilliant shows of technique.

Byrony Easter Bunny


Lastly, after a lovely lunch, the ponies were shown individually under saddle. Those forward as jumping ponies didn't have to show flatwork but had to jump a show jumping course of seven fences of at least 90cm. Buran successfully jumped a course of 1.10m as he measures in as a horse at 150cm. After they had all jumped the required course, they had the option to come back in and jump higher at their owners' discretion. Grey Palace jumped a super clear round of massive dimensions. However, technique was considered as important by the judges as the height scaled.


Non-jumping ponies forward had to show their ridden paces and could jump if they wished. For the flatwork display, the judges wanted to see the working paces as well as extended trot and canter. Betws Enfys wowed the judges with his amazingly powerful extended trot. Showing walk on a long rein with the pony fully stretched was also considered very important as this shows the correct attitude and suppleness of the pony.

After all these stunning displays the points were added up and the percentages calculated. The standard at Heart of England EC was high, with eleven out of the fourteen ponies making the grade. Every one of the mares and fillies forward made it into the studbook at some level. The 17 year old, welsh type mare Colwyn Foxy Lady was the female gradings winner with 78.18%, although, she will be entered into the preliminary studbook due to a lack of recorded pedigree. Ragtime Annie (73%), Langstaffe Evening Darling (72.69%) and Houdini's Aristocrat (70.76%) successfully made it into the main studbook. The two year old Jubilee Jive (66%) was added to the preliminary studbook.

Betws Enfys

*** Grey Palace ***

 awarded Elite status

Eight of the nine stallions forward for grading were jumpers. The Irish Sports pony, Grey Palace was awarded Elite status as recognition of his JA win at HOYS. He also had the highest marks of the day with 87.5%. The senior stallions, the Welsh Section C Betwys Enfys (76.08%) and the Welsh Section B Bryony Easter Bunny (71.92%), were both received into the main studbook. The very unusual Buran (76.67%), an Akhal Teke, and Trobadour (70.76%), an Irish Sports pony both passed the grading well but as younger stallions they have been granted two years covering permission and then they and their progeny will be previewed by the SPSS. Ashfield Village (74.62%) has been placed in the foundation studbook due to holes in his pedigree and has also been granted two years covering permission before being reassessed.


Gradings like this are a very important tool in encouraging breeders to breed better competition ponies for the FEI disciplines. They are a useful measure of the quality of British breeding.  Getting mares and stallions graded is a great experience and a innovative way for improving the pony stock of this country. All in all, the day was a very enjoyable success.

Ashfield Village


Tips for preparing ponies for grading

         Get your pony used to standing up correctly for the judge and trotting in-hand as this will make the showing on the triangle part far less stressful.

         Teach your pony to turn by raising your outside hand towards its face when trotting on the triangle. This will make your turns tighter and tidier.

         Practise loose schooling your pony a few times so that it has the basic idea of what it's meant to be doing. Several ponies charged at the judges and then wouldn't be caught again easily. It is not fair to expect a youngster to know what to do with a jumping lane, first time, when the eyes of the world are upon it.

         Make sure you can catch your pony when loose schooling it. The judges suggested having a bucket handy or some treats in your pocket.

         Enjoy the experience!


Report first published in Showing World; reproduced here by permission of the author.  (c) Words Bert Sheffield; (c) Images SPSS - no reproduction without permission of SPSS and author


The Sports Pony Studbook Society

Studbook Office:   The Last House, Keysoe Row West, Keysoe, Bedfordshire MK44 2JJ

Tel: 07703 566066    Email: 

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