For Exmoor Horns, the showing season starts in May with the Devon County Show, and is followed by the Royal Cornwall, Bath and West, Three Counties, and Royal Welsh. These are three day events and, for the participants, involve a considerable commitment in terms of time and willingness to travel. There are also many more local one-day shows such as Dunster, Exford, Mid-Devon, Okehampton, North Devon and Porlock, besides those which are an intrinsic part of the major breeding sales at Cutcombe and Blackmore Gate. Judges are elected from amongst the membership of the Exmoor Horn Sheep Breeders’ Society.
The objective of the shows is to promote the breed, and for the individual owner, to entice buyers, thus increasing the value of the sheep. So the choice of replacement rams which represent the best qualities of the flock is of critical importance. Preparing a sheep for showing is hard work and begins with planning for an early tupping so that lambing is earlier and the lambs will be better grown for showing the following summer. Halter training is more successful if begun early too, as it is necessary to have any animal under full control when being led round the show ring, or standing still in a line-up. Being of a strongly independent nature and with horns, this is sometimes a challenge for Exmoor’s native sheep!
The criteria for the breed standards are published in the Flock Book, for example, no black spots anywhere in the wool, or ears in front of the horns. To show a beautifully proprtioned sheep at its best, it is shorn early in the spring, whereas when sheep were shown “in the wool” (in full grown fleece) in days gone by, it was possible to conceal minor imperfections of conformation by judicious trimming.
Fleece competitions, such as the very successful one at the Dunster Show in August every year, which attracted 60 entries in 2017, are increasingly popular. They are well supported by British Wool, whose expert judges can explain to both the public and farmer producers what constitutes a good quality fleece. “Wool on the Hoof” (as shown in the photo below) is a competition class where Exmoor Horns have been particularly successful against other breeds, and has been a useful showcase for native breed wool.