Although there are distractions galore, the Show was originally a showcase for the breeding efforts of farmers in the south of the country, and putting up field animals for a prize remains an essential element.
So do the displays of horsemanship, and believe me, an awful lot of riding goes on in my part of the world! I've ridden myself, although my personal experiences have not been good. I still recall with terror an ex-racehorse called Finbar that I found myself saddled with on a holiday ride in Anglesey in North Wales in 1977. This excitable animal may have been officially retired, but he clearly didn't understand the concept, and expected to be urged into a wild gallop as soon as we got out into open countryside, which, being Holyhead Mountain, meant perilously near the cliffs. He found me lacking in skill and courage, and, irritated, would bite my feet. Then, having made up his mind that I was no good and that he'd best take charge, he showed a distressing inclination to push forward ahead of the field and get some real exercise in. I managed to hang on - but, well, never again! I solemnly swore that to myself, once the bruises on my nether regions had healed.
However, in the early 1990s, I got myself persuaded by a girlfriend to learn to ride properly at a farm near Horsham, and I then spent over a year getting bent legs and a sore bottom every week. I persevered, but eventually I gave it up because I invariably drew the short straw on available horses. The young girls got lovely little ponies, but I had to mount and ride a huge lumbering ex-carthorse called Thunder. This mountainous specimen of workaday equine breeding was chiefly interested in a quiet life munching hay, and found it bothersome to move. He was too docile - or should I say inert? After a while, after too much of his company, I felt that I was being short-changed and would never learn anything useful, and so I left, never to return. Besides, heights worried me, and the prospect of a spectacular fall from Thunder was in itself robbing me of any pleasure I might have had.
In the late 1990s, I went to see the championships at Hickstead (which is not so far away from Ardingly) - on a free ticket, I might add - and saw amazing demonstrations of dressage, as well as regular jumping, by internationally-known exponents. Quite an experience. But even that did not inspire me to leap back into the saddle. This year's jumping at Ardingly reminded me awfully of Hickstead. Here's a few shots from the Show:
But my main interest was in the cattle and sheep. Cattle first. They were all noble beasts. Look at these shots:
If you've got the impression that the owners were not quite in perfect control, you'd be right. The younger animals simply didn't know the ropes, as if they'd turned up to the Strictly Come Dancing Final without any prior tuition whatever. They did their best, wanting to please, but didn't knew the steps. The older animals, who had done all this before, and knew the routine, and knew what the judges were looking for, were inclined to be perverse and mischievous and to make life difficult for the daft humans. Quite frankly, they couldn't give a monkeys. So they amused themselves as they saw fit. The poor girl in the bottom two pictures had a fight on her hands to get her beast into position for judging, but the men did no better. The animal winked at me.
Sheep haven't got the advantage of bulk and weight, and feel far more caught up in a process beyond their control, and indeed beyond their understanding. However, out in the open, while being judged in the sunshine, the more mature sheep looked poised and confident:
That's a good-looking animal, and no mistake. How sturdy and well set up. You can see why the other owners are giving admiring glances:
But the lambs in pens inside the tents, out of the heat, on comfortable straw but hemmed in and no doubt feeling like prisoners, seemed anxious; and they buried their heads in corners, or hid their faces behind each other, seeking some kind of comfort. They were silent.
Poor little things. We looked at each other. On impulse, I leaned forward and whispered to them: 'Fear not,' I said, 'You will inherit all the earth.'