I AM pretty much a stranger to the world of equestrian Showing. It’s not hard to see why. To excel in this particular discipline, you need to be a perfectionist with endless patience and the eagle-eyed ability to spot equine potential. I possess none of these attributes. So you will be surprised to hear I actually won one of the very few Showing classes I can ever remember entering. It was at the Annandale Show countless millennia ago, when I as an absolute rookie, took my Arab mare Rhanna into the ring. My girl was indeed lovely – I had fallen like a stone the very first time I looked into the bottomless pools of her deep dark eyes and never really recovered. However I had no expectations of success whatsoever, and given that she was prone to being a hothead, especially when all eyes were upon her, my only ambition was to actually get back out of the ring in one piece and preferably without having made a complete numpty of myself. To this day I can still remember the feeling of complete and utter astonishment that flooded my soul when we won the class.

This is not a feeling young Cumbrian competitor Lexi McSherry will be familiar with, because Showing runs through her veins like words through Blackpool rock, with Mum Sylvia and Grandmother Patricia both experts in the field. I reckon they could hold masterclasses in how to present ponies to their absolute best, immaculate in every single way and the trophy cabinet in the McSherry household bears testament to that. Like everyone else, they’ve seen many of their plans scuppered this year with countless shows cancelled due to Covid. However undaunted, they simply found another way to compete – by going virtual.

Enter Karlie Jelly. In 2018 she launched a company called SHOWPONYPREP to supply everything the dedicated showing person could possibly require to make their horse or pony look exquisitely bandbox perfect. She and husband Tal started the business in their own front room, but before long it had taken over the entire house and they found themselves shipping everything from browbands to false tails to customers all over the world. Things were going brilliantly until Covid lurched onto the scene, putting the kybosh on shows everywhere. It could have spelled disaster for the company, but Karlie had a brainwave. People might not be able to get to shows, but they could still produce and present their ponies to show standard at home, and take photos and videos of the result. The footage could be viewed in perfect safety by judges and prizes awarded accordingly. And so virtual showing was born.

For keen competitors like Lexi and Sylvia, it was an absolute godsend – a real light in the dark Covid tunnel, giving them a focus and something to aim for. So – they became movie makers. Karlie staged a series of shows online with a total of 146 classes over three days, and first and second in each going through to live Championships in the evening. Lexi amassed several wins and placings over the course of the three days and made it through to the Supreme Championship on the last evening with her relatively new equine partner Caithness Bertie Bassett.

Now at this point you might be forgiven for thinking, well it’s all very well and I suppose it’s some sort of substitute, but can virtual competition ever hold even a fraction of the sheer excitement of the real thing? Can it capture any of the atmosphere of the ring, the thrilling anticipation, the nail-biting eternity of waiting for the results? Apparently it can. However the McSherry household came perilously close to missing their big moment. As Sylvia explains they nearly didn't bother when the internet went off. But they rescued it in the nick of time when Sylvia's phone came to the rescue. 'We were ecstatic. We screamed as if we were at a proper show, in fact it hit us the same as it did when Lexi won the overall supreme of the show at TSR Grand Slam in Ingliston.'