Paris and the World Arabian Championships is the must see show on any Arabian enthusiast’s bucket list, either as a spectator, competitor or official. In my case I was very lucky to be selected as a judge.
I can still vividly remember finding out about my appointment. I had just flown into Tel Aviv airport to judge a show in Palestine. I was excited enough about judging at the Palestinian show and the expectation around seeing some lovely horses and historical sites in that region. While walking through the airport to clear security and customs I found a WIFI service and turned on my phone – it lit up like a Christmas tree with over 60 messages of congratulations. It took me some time to digest the news. I was excited, but mainly in disbelief. I just wanted to shed a tear or scream out in excitement but the armed guards with their machine guns may not have appreciated that!
The drive to my hotel took me past Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I was mesmerised at seeing centuries old buildings on such a clear and balmy evening. I looked to the sky and saw a most beautiful and bright orange moon – I just thought how lucky I was to be given these opportunities to judge, travel the world and see so many amazing places. Reality, and panic set in when I arrived at the hotel and realised that the World Championships was commencing in three weeks’ time and I had at least one week in Palestine before returning to Australia to then try and book a flight more or less directly back to Paris!
I eventually arrived in Paris and gave myself two days to recover from any jetlag from the flight in order to make sure I was feeling 100% for my judging assignment. I was so glad I allowed the extra time as what I didn’t count on was my baggage being left in Dubai by baggage handlers and the stress of wondering if it would turn up in time – eventually it arrived at the hotel the following day. My stress levels subsided with its arrival!
The World Championships show is held at the Parc des Expositions, Villepinte, which is a large convention centre opened in 1982 and is the second largest in France. The centre occupies some 115 hectares and has 246,000m2 of convention space with eight large halls. The Parc des Expositions is located on the rail line to Paris, which is only 18 kilometres or 30 minutes away and is the first stop from Charles De Gaulle airport, some five minutes away. The station is conveniently located only a few hundred metres from the entrance to the convention centre.
The Salon De Cheval horse expo is the largest single equestrian event in France and attracts over 150,000 visitors. It has in excess of 450 trade exhibitors with some 2,300 horses regularly competing over the period of the show. Entry fees start at eight euro for children and 18 euro for an adult – considering the number of horse events you can watch during the course of the day including the Arabian World Championships, the tickets are reasonably priced.
The Salon De Cheval is also embraced by Parisians in that there is a traditional parade through the streets of Paris with a variety of horse breeds and horse drawn vehicles leading up to the official opening. The parade passes many iconic monuments including the Eiffel Tower. The show is also a great place to secure an end of season bargain with the many saddlery and horse shops drastically reducing their prices for this expo and in the lead up to Christmas. You do, however, need to be mindful of the exchange rate and any excess baggage costs for the return flight home!
The Arabian World Championships show attracts a substantial worldwide audience including those watching via live stream but to be at the show in person is a great opportunity to socialise with old and new friends and provides lots of opportunities for networking. The warm up arena and main show arena are large enough to ensure that as a spectator you can get very close to the horses and observe them relatively uninterrupted.
Judging at the Championships is obviously a huge honour and as a representative of Australia and the Arabian Horse Society of Australia (AHSA Ltd.) the importance of the occasion was not lost on me. I was also thrilled to be asked by the organising committee to recite the judge’s oath on behalf of all judges and then to officially open the 36th Arabian World Championships show – this is an honour I won’t forget in a long time.
All judges at the show mentioned to me the sense of occasion and the honour they also had in being asked to judge. Similarly, we all felt the sense of excitement, anticipation and pressure leading up to the judging of our first classes.
The show is programmed with the yearling, junior and senior classes for females on the Friday with the same breakup of classes on the Saturday for the males. Sunday is Championships day where the ten highest qualified from their respective heats go forward to an open championship. An open championship means that in theory, the tenth placed horse can win the title of World Champion if that horse performs well enough and receives enough points from the judges. Scoring during the heats is based on the ECAHO European system with marks up to 20 provided on Type, Head and Neck, Body and Topline, Legs and Movement. Scoring for the championships classes requires a judge to nominate only their respective first, second and third placegetters from the top ten horses.
Reflecting on the show I do have an immense sense of pride and relief! I was extremely happy that all my first choice horses from the yearling, junior and senior classes went on to become World Champions.
The quality in each heat was extremely high, every horse that had entered the show had won or been placed in their country’s respective National Championships or won or placed at an ECAHO approved Title or ‘A’ class show or equivalent. As a judge you always like to be challenged by having strong classes with depth of quality, however, at this show every horse had the potential to win their heat because of their quality and the high qualification regime.
After some understandable nerves in judging my first horse of the day I quickly settled into my judging routine and soon relaxed into my work. The show and the way it was run during the three days was as you would expect – first class, with all the officials and behind the scenes support staff making our job as judges easier by keeping us well informed of any issues or developments surrounding the running and programming of the show.
However, even at a World Championship show, you need to be prepared to trust your judgement, training and experience to make considered decisions, such as I did with my fellow judges in excusing an exhibitor from their class whose horse was in pain through soreness, or warning some handlers for excessive shanking.
Following the Championships I remember the few horses whom captured my heart through their sheer beauty or gave me goose bumps because of their movement or look at me attitude. My notes from the show assisted me in writing a précis of the six horses I selected that ultimately achieved the titles of World Champions.
My choice for Yearling Filly Champion was D Ajayeb (RFI Farid x Ladi Veronika), for me she was an exquisite yearling filly who exuded type and to my eye had extremely good movement. In addition, for a yearling filly I thought she was very well balanced and in proportion. She showed equally as well in the final as she did in her class two days earlier, and for a yearling she was very comfortable in the high pressure environment of the Paris show. She won what I felt was one of the strongest finals class at the show in that all ten finalists were quality horses who had scored highly on all judges’ cards – it was a final of depth in quality.
The Junior Female Champion saw me choose Mai Aljassimya (FA EL Rasheem x RP Miss Surprise). She was the first horse into the ring for the championships class and set the bar for all other competitors. She was the highest scoring filly in the heats and trotted into the arena with poise, grace and cadence – she owned the ring. I certainly liked her balanced, symmetrical movement but I also equally liked her depth of girth and body. She was feminine, with a very good head and neck.
This class was also very strong with the Silver, Mozn Albidayer (SMA Magic One x Mattaharii) and Bronze, Bint Hazy Al Khalediah (EL Palacio VO x Hazy Al Khaladiah), two beautiful, sound and functional horses in their own right deservingly gaining places.
The Senior Female Champion was Donna Molta Bella SRA (DA Valentino x RD Fabreanna). The class was full of feminine, well-bodied, ground-covering mares and was a real pleasure to judge. It was also the one championship class that caused me most deliberation. On one hand I had Donna Molta Bella SRA, a four-year-old mare who was athletic, well-muscled and conditioned. To my eye she was extremely well-bodied, had powerful movement with plenty of engagement from the hindquarters and was slightly thicker set than some other mares – she did however retain all those important feminine qualities you look for in a mare.
My second horse was Tehama Ballalina (Tehama NA Sidaqa x JJ Shai Majestic Queen), she was 14, white grey and ethereal – she was a delight to watch. She was lighter on her feet but did not cover the ground as well as Donna Molta Bella SRA in the finals, in my opinion. They were different in age and type but were exceptional horses. Very little separated these two horses in my final selection for this class, they were two worthy contenders for the title of World Champion.
The commencement of the male classes started with much anticipation from the now vocal audience who had been warmed up and excited by the female championship classes. The Yearling Colt Champion and my selection D Seraj (FA Rasheem x Ladi Veronika) was also a unanimous choice of all judges and most of the audience! D Seraj easily won his class and stood out in the final amongst the remaining yearling colts, he displays exceptional type and for a young horse has presence when he enters the ring. He showed very well during the championship and was not intimidated by the finals environment. He has type and quality stamped all over him and it will be interesting to see how he matures and progresses over the coming years as a show horse.
My choice for Junior Male Champion went to Gallardo J (Emerald J x Gomera J) in what proved to be a strong class with little between my first two selections. Gallardo J is an impressive young colt, he is a good-bodied and well-balanced horse overall. He personifies type and for me had the better movement on the finals day. He was very much a young masculine colt, but still maintained refinement. My Silver champion was Luigi (Kanz Albidayer x Lolita), a horse that gives the impression he really loves to be a show horse! He too is a horse of quality and one that is hard to take your eye off when he enters the ring. On any other day I could have had him as champion.
The Senior Male Championship was full of theatre, drama and expectation. The audience were wildly appreciative and vocal for each stallion as they entered the arena and trotted around trying to stake their claim as World Champion. My selection was EKS Alihandro (Marwan Al Shaqab x OFW Psylhouette), a horse that I can say did give me goose bumps! This horse displayed charisma and attitude that stood out amongst his rivals. He dominated the ring with his sheer presence and masculinity. EKS Alihandro was a unanimous selection amongst all judges for World Championship honours. He is a big imposing horse but lacks nothing in type and elegance. He is also extremely well-bodied and has eye-catching movement. I understand that since the World Championship show the six-year-old stallion has now been officially retired after remaining undefeated and attaining two World Championships, the previous as Junior Colt in 2013.
The Silver horse, Sultan Al Zobara (Gazal Al Shaqab x Inra Al Shaqab) is an exceptional horse, in particular he has a classic head and neck set and is simply beautiful – he catches your eye at every turn. The Bronze horse, IM Bayard Cathare (Padrons Immage x Shamilah Bagheerra) was a strongly built and powerful moving horse, I particularly liked the structure of his legs and feet and he too was a real show horse that enjoyed the sense of occasion of the Championships.
Flying back to Australia I had plenty of time to think about how I reacted and coped with the pressure of the World Championships show and indeed some of the other shows I have been privileged to judge in 2016 such as the World Cup in Las Vegas and the UKIAHS British Championships.
The point that I kept coming back to was that the AHSA Ltd. has much to be proud of in the way they have developed, nurtured and supported Australian judges over many years. I drew on 30 years of judging experience in Australia to cope with the pressures of international judging. I am thankful that when I first commenced judging I had the ongoing support of a number of mentors and Judges Executive Committee representatives who I had often used as a sounding board.
The AHSA has in the past provided regular educational and training days and forums for all levels of judges and trainees in order for them to either maintain or further develop their judging skills and knowledge. In this regard the AHSA has recently signalled its intentions to move toward a new judging model for use by Australian judges based on the European scorecard system and to provide the necessary training, advice and support for judges to make the transition to this new system a reality.
I am very supportive of this approach, as it will align our judging systems with those now used in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. I believe it will ultimately help our Australian judges gain more opportunities to judge internationally. We do have a strong base of experienced and well-credentialled Australian judges that can and should represent us more frequently on a world stage.
As I mentioned in my opening comments: Paris and the Arabian World Championships should be on your bucket list. You have a chance to visit one of the most beautiful cities in the world and at the same time see some of the best Arabian horses compete. I would encourage you to visit, you won’t be disappointed!