A Conversation With The Candidates For President Of USHJA

Aug 25, 2016 - 3:43 AM

On Sept. 12, the United States Hunter Jumper Association’s Board of Directors will elect a new president of the organization. Bill Moroney has served as president of USHJA for the past 13 years and was one of the organization’s founding members.

Two candidates have been nominated to fill Moroney’s position—the USHJA nominating committee named Mary Babick, and the USHJA board floor put Diane Carney’s name forward.

Whichever candidate is elected will officially take office during the USHJA’s annual meeting Dec. 11-15 in Palm Springs, Calif. 

Babick, a professional in the industry for 38 years who operates Knightsbridge Farm in Middleton, N.J., has been a member of the USHJA board of directors since 2010. Babick has served on the Emerging Athletes Program committee, is the hunter discipline vice president, and also serves as the chair of the U.S. Equestrian Federation national breeds and disciplines council and USEF’s horse identification council. 

Babick is a certified trainer through the British Horse Society organization and USHJA, as well as a USEF certified judge.

Carney has been a professional rider and trainer since 1978 and is based out of Telluride Farm in Antioch, Ill. Carney has volunteered with USHJA since its inception, and she has served on the USHJA board of directors since 2015. She is the chair of the USHJA Zone 5 jumper committee, and in Jan. was named as the USHJA’s representative to the USEF international disciplines council.

Carney is a USHJA certified trainer and a USEF certified judge. She also works as a course designer and show commentator.   

We asked both candidates to tell us about what made them interested in running for the USHJA presidency, their thoughts on the USHJA’s flagship programs, and on what particular issues they would focus if elected.

COTH: What made you want to seek the presidency of the USHJA?

Mary Babick
Photo courtesy of the USHJA

Babick: About 4½ years ago I was sitting in Shelby French’s office—she was the CEO of USHJA at the time—and I had spent a lot of time in the office that year learning the ropes. I was writing the horsemanship quiz challenge and EAP study guide, so I was in the office a lot doing that. The more I was in the office the more intrigued I became with what USHJA did. 

I remember going to Shelby when I was the chairman of the youth committee and one of my volunteers on my committee had said, “You know, there’s an election [for president] this year and I would like to nominate you.” I said, “Well, I think Bill [Moroney] is going to run again and I don’t want to run against Bill, so thank you, maybe next time.”

I went and talked to Shelby about this and said, “Hey, someone said they wanted to nominate me for president, and it made me realize if you guys ever thought I would be capable of doing that its something that would really, really interest me, because I find this all so very fascinating.” And Shelby said, “You know, I think you might actually be a good president.”

So it went from there to Bill himself actually nominating me himself four years ago. I could tell you exactly where I was standing and what day of the week it was when he called me to ask me if he could nominate me. It was one of those moments—I was just so startled that he had such confidence in me. I think we can really just place my earliest origins of considering [running for president] in the office and seeing what Bill did and understanding the office dynamic—I loved the challenge of it.

Carney:  I’ve been a volunteer with USHJA for 14 years—that’s longer than we’ve been the national affiliate with USEF. 

The founders of USHJA went out from their first meeting and they started selecting people to work on the four very important parts of USHJA, which are education, communication, rules, and awards. Those are four cornerstones in USHJA. They went out to find people that were already doing those things, and I’m very big into education.

I was at the time and still am very involved with clinics, so they approached me back then to start volunteering and help get the word out about USHJA and what it meant and what it was going to be to the professionals.

I’ve been a part of the association on many different levels ever since then, and certainly education and clinics are a very strong part of what I have contributed.

So when you ask the question of what made me want to do this, it wasn’t about me. I responded to the altruistic spirit of service.  I was asked by very, very respected professionals and members of the board of directors back in November if would I consider it, and I said yes I’d consider it.

So then I took a very serious look—of course I don’t say yes unless I’m all in—and I said yes.

COTH: What do you think of the USHJA hunter derby program—what do you like about it, what would you like to see changed?

Babick: The derby program has grown amazingly. We’re close to $300,000 dollars in prize money. We haven’t quite hit that mark but we’re very close. I was just speaking with Ron Danta yesterday and he was telling me how pleased he was that we’ve grown the program to the point where now the prize money is actually coming from the enrollment, so it’s horsemen supporting horsemen.

I think there is a gap between the national hunter derby and the really big hunter derby, and I’d like to see a more graduated way of developing derby horses. It could be something like the star system for jumpers, so when you go to the derby you know exactly how big you’ll be jumping and know, “OK, for my young horse this will be a great stepping-stone derby.” I’d like to see that. 

The derby is also experiencing some bad things from people feeling that there are doping violations that I would certainly like to see those gotten under control as well. I was talking with one of the member this morning and he was suggesting to me that for large money derbies we have secure stabling, like FEI stabling, and that may certainly be something to consider going down the road. 

I think people work really hard to develop a derby horse and they want to have a fair and level playing field. Certainly USEF has helped with a lot with doing a lot of drug testing but I think there are concerns from some people that some of the derby participants are perhaps less ethical than others.

I say this to people a lot—I think that you should be able to go back and meet your younger self when you first started riding, and say to that younger self, “Hey, this is what I’m doing with horses now, and I feel really good about it.” I cannot imagine going back to my younger self and saying, “Gosh, I’m giving my horses all these medications to make them competitive.” Some of these people are putting our sport in a funny place. So I would like to see that addressed.

Diane Carney
Photo courtesy of USHJA

Carney: When it comes to the derby program, I want to give them a compliment: I haven’t been a part of that program since 2008 right after it got started, and I want to say they clearly have built what is known as one of the flagship programs of the USHJA.

This is a huge moment in our industry where the USHJA International Hunter Derby program reinvented hunters in our generation of riders. That was the whole point of George Morris’ idea, that’s why his name is on the trophy.

Back when it was first starting out I took that derby idea to the people, the members, and the association has taken it from there. So there is a really clear example of my ability to mobilize the membership. I believe that to be my role as president and I believe that to be my value to the other programs [Pre-Green Incentive, Trainer Certification, EAP] that you mentioned.

If I had a wish list for the derbies, I would like to see the derbies at levels. I would like to see the $40,000 or $50,000 derbies have a course that I know as a trainer what I’m getting. I would like to see the lower money derbies have the options in them perhaps, but I would like to see the higher derbies not have the options.

I would like to see the designated amount of money that is given reflect that, so that I know as a trainer where I’m taking my horses and where I’m taking my riders. I would also like to see riders be limited to riding two or three horses at the $40,000 and above derbies.

COTH: What do you think of the USHJA’s trainer certification program? What value do you see in a formal certification program? What would you change about it if elected?

Babick: Trainer certification just went through the committee review program, which is part of our strategic plan. We’re going through the organization program by program and just tearing into the various programs that we have, and trying to strengthen them or if we need to get rid of them we would get rid of them, but so far we haven’t gotten rid of any. EAP is the next on our list [to look at].

I would say we probably spent two or three months analyzing the trainer certification program, and came to the conclusion that we need more levels of this and more specialized levels. The levels need to be based on education, and not results. The last time trainer certification proposed levels it was all about basing it off of things people have won, and for the program review committee it was about what people actually knew.

I’m a British Horse Society graduate—I know that’s not really prevalent in the hunter jumper world, but I used to be an eventing person, so I came through the BHS program in England. There you actually had to show that you knew what you were talking about, and I think if we were doing something like that it would be a lot more valuable.

At this moment we’re not going in that direction. It’s still a fledgling program. I suspect that ultimately you will have to actually show that you have the skills that you say that you do, and when that happens it will be more meaningful to a lot of people.

Carney: I’m a [USHJA] certified trainer and I have participated with the program since it began. I think there is tremendous effort being made to put a certification or coaching program together, and I would support that in any form that it takes in trying to be implemented.

So what I would do to improve it is just continue to keep doing clinics and putting out material to keep those clinics going. Right now Equestrian Coach is clearly doing a great job with providing the test for certified trainers online, and I think that’s a great innovation in our association using technology in this way. I have taken the test and I think it’s a great tool.

I do very much like the in-person clinics where you’re actually with a horse and you’re with horsemen. I want to reflect back to years that readers of yours will probably remember when George Morris used to do the teachers’ clinics, he called them. Those were specific demonstrations of four groups of riders, with George teaching beginner kids how to post, George teaching intermediates, George teaching advanced, and George teaching grand prix level. Those were demonstrations for the teachers in the audience to up their teaching skills, so I very much appreciated those clinics.

I don’t think there should be a country that doesn’t have a training certification program. I think we in the United States are behind some of the other countries that have really good coaching programs and really good trainer certification programs. I think it’s important because while at the moment I don’t know that [the USHJA program] has enough merit, I think at some point in the future it will have enough merit.

In these other countries when you’re a certified trainer, like in Canada or Great Britain, it means something to the public, the buyers and the breeders. At the moment I’m not sure that [USHJA] program is where we want it to be, but I think it’s a very good start and I would like to do everything I can to assist it.

COTH: What do you think of the Pre-Green Incentive program? What do you like about it, and how would you like to change it?

Babick: Pre-green is going really well, the concept of enrollment has gone over nicely, and as you’re calling me now I’m sitting here actually doing pre-green research, so I can say that the program is strong in a lot of ways. 

But there’s a gap at this moment—there are plenty of horse shows where this class does not run at all, and I’d be interested to see if those shows could be encouraged to hold the class. There’s a difference in the number of horses entered pre-green at a horse show versus the number of horse that actually compete in the incentive program, so I would be interested to investigate that and see if we could perhaps we can strengthen that.

We have also been discussing the idea of moving to make more sections so that what is pre-green this year is then called green 3’ and green 3’3”, and first year would be called green 3’6”. We’ve been talking about potentially adding a 3’6” section and maybe even a 3’9” section. We think that would help with the development of these hunters.

Carney: The pre-green program is really cool, I’m so glad Colleen McQuay and the group at USHJA puts that together. Colleen comes from such a smart background with her hunter/jumper experience and her reining and Quarter Horse background. She’s such a smart businesswoman. She has come up with a good idea here that has put some economic incentive into horse showing.

With the American hunter system prior to the derby and pre-green program, really the only money incentive they had was way back when there was the International Hunter Futurity. There was a little money incentive in some big classics once in a while, but the regular working hunter showing prior to the derby and pre-green programs couldn’t even pay its braiding bill if it won every class. It didn’t break even. So when there are these programs that have some economic incentive in them, that’s fantastic.

I would love to see that incentive idea work its way into the green hunters and move up the ladder a little bit. I love the pre-green incentive. I think it’s fantastic.  

COTH: What do you like about the USHJA’s Emerging Athletes Program, and what would you improve upon moving forward?

Babick: EAP is one of my favorite things, I have to just put that right out there. I am a member of the Emerging Athletes committee and I would say that we were on our second rendition of that program. We had a complete re-think about five or six years ago and I think that that re-think made things better and stronger.

Both Sally [Ike] and I have often discussed that we would be even stronger if we had a program that was one step below emerging athletes and one step above emerging athletes. Diane Carney has been very instrumental in running the zone programs which, in my mind, is a level up from what EAP does. And then the Interscholastic Equestrian Association has started this new concept of clinics a level below EAP, so I think we’re starting to develop that. I’m hoping that we can keep both of those things and integrate them into the program.

The kids I see at Emerging Athletes are amazing, amazing kids. They’re so dedicated, they’re so hard working, and they’re thirsty for knowledge. But so many times when we’re getting them some of them needed to attend a step below so that they could hatch up to the right level. Because it’s not just riding, it’s riding and stable management.

It’s my very strong feeling that there is an element of our industry that is no longer interested in horsemanship, and it doesn’t seem like trying to get the adult versions of those people interested in it is really helping us. I think sometimes it better to start down at the root of the situation and develop stronger interest in horsemanship in our youth, which is something our sport really needs some help with.

Carney: Certainly EAP is excellent, it is offering a very well rounded horsemanship experience from the stable chores to how you care for your horse. Barn managers are working with the kids, and I think that’s excellent. The clinicians are excellent, I know Peter Wylde has done the finals, Julie Winkel does quite a bit, Chris Kappler has done it, I’ve taught one, they’re all very, very excellent.

Why this program is important to me is because I don’t think you can have enough branches of education or enough levels of education in the community. Not everyone who does EAP is showing all the time at the national level or premier level of horse shows, so these are experiences for these kids where they can go and be and participating and getting great education.

We’re a little early in the program, but these kids may very well be the next trainers that teach the next generation of kids coming up, so I think that’s important. I think we’ve seen certainly seen some great results from finals winners like Jacob Pope and Steve Foran. For example Steve got the opportunity to go to Europe in part due to his experience with EAP. So when you see a program give a launch or a trampoline effect to a young rider’s career or a young rider’s desire to seek even more mentoring, that’s awesome.

I just think we can’t have a better moment then that when those things happen for us at USHJA. 

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