THE first time I ever saw a Concours d’Elegance class, with riders in gorgeous, flamboyant costumes looking as though were from a completely different era. I genuinely did a double-take. Alison Fligg has a particular soft spot for this most showy of showing classes, so I turned to her to find out more. Alison started riding when she was about seven and got her own first pony – Minnie Magic - around a year later. She says she could write a book about the experiences they had together. ‘She was an 11.1hh Welsh Mountain Pony with huge amounts of attitude, the naughtiest little pony but also the most amazing competition pony going, a real jumping and games machine. My first season with her was on lead rein with my Dad usually on the end of the rope. She would bite him as she was jumping or doing the games and if I lost my stirrups she would refuse to move until I had them back. She would give you a certain amount of time to put the flag in the cone or the cup on the bending pole but if you weren’t quick enough, she was off and there was nothing you could do about it. She would bolt and buck, sometimes in between doubles which was a real skill, and would chase you across a field, but she was a mega star and won many rosettes for me over the years. We adored her.

Alison says being a member of the West Cumberland Pony Club taught her a great deal.‘In 2004 I was part of a team that qualified for the Pony Club area Eventing and Dressage Championships, with my ex-steeplechaser Belmont Pretender (Poe). He was the softest, sweetest horse, but he was a cross country machine. In the start box, he would do little hop rears while they counted down, and as soon as they said go, he was off, and if you weren’t ready you got whip lash. The team won every event at that championship.‘I have always really enjoyed eventing and come back to it recently with my home-produced horses, Welsh D, Lowhaygarths Will O’ The Wisp (Will) and Trekehner, Holme Park Steinbeck (Ned). We used to do a lot of British Eventing with Poe and Touchstone 8 (Digger) but it just got too expensive, so we moved on to do more showing. ‘Will turns his hand to anything, even side-saddle which was our challenge for this season until a certain virus put a stop to it. Our homebred Highland, Hamish of Blengside, is up for anything too so he’s a really fun pony to have on the yard.’

Alison had her first glimpse of Concours d’Elegance at Ponies UK Championships, and decided to give it a go. When she won her first ever class, she was hooked.‘Concour d’Elegance is quite simply the elegance of horse and rider judged as a team. Your horse should go nicely and show excellent manners. There is no point having a rider sitting beautifully on top of a pony that is behaving very badly. In historical costume classes you often have to produce a picture of the outfit yours is based on, with a bit of historical information included.‘You should never show flesh, so no bare chests or arms. The skirt should cover your feet but not drop down to a dangerous length. The outfit should show off the rider’s shape. It is very much judge’s preference. Some judges will like your costume, others won’t. I personally don’t like billowing skirts, clashing colours, feathers on ponies or bright red outfits, but others will like this so you need not be disheartened if at one show you are at the top of the line-up but at the next you’re not in the ribbons at all.‘I bought my first outfit third-hand, but my Mum now researches and makes them all and they are made to fit me like a glove. It’s always great when we are placed as I know how much work goes into the designing and making of the costumes.‘We tend to get fabric samples and check them against the pony to see how they look first. People’s skin tones are different and some colours can wash people out. I never thought I could wear green but Concours has shown me I can. We have lots of fittings, starting with a mocked-up outfit made out of old curtains to see how the skirt and jacket lie on the pony before cutting into the proper fabric. The skirt gets checked on board the pony to make sure the correct length is achieved before making the final cut and hem.‘Our new outfit for side saddle is taking a long time to create. We chose the design we wanted and the colour but finding the right type of fabric has been difficult. Hopefully it will be seen out at the back end of this season but if not, it will be out next year.