Our columnist discusses changes for the Young Jumper Championships program this season—and remarks on its importance.
In 1999 I was fortunate enough to have an amazing 5-year-old jumper, owned by a client. It was the second year of the Young Jumper Championships, and I competed in qualifying classes throughout the year.
At the YJC Western League Finals, held at Showpark (Calif.) in late August, Richard Spooner outran me for the championship. I hate second place anyway, but this was more depressing because the winner got an invitation to compete in the La Silla Cup for Young Horses in Monterrey, Mexico, against young horses from the East Coast finals, as well as horses from Canada, Mexico and South America.
I begged my horse’s owner to pay for us to go anyway, and she did. It was an experience of a lifetime for me. Our horse, Mr. Acobat, flew there, and we were stabled with the other U.S. horses competing in the young jumper championships and Olympians Rhythmical and Eros competing in the international classes there.
I won the qualifier, participated in an elaborate awards ceremony—and most importantly got to go last in the final round. I was double clear and finished second (ugh) to Mexico’s Olympic rider, Gerardo Tazzer.
Again, I was devastated, as the winner got an invitation to the World Breeding Championships for Young Horses in Lanaken, Belgium! I barely knew the countless famous people who tried to buy my client’s horse, although she would not sell.
It was a fabulous launching pad for this horse’s career. I met so many top international riders and got to watch the international classes every day. The facility was second to none. The events were televised worldwide. The entire production was top notch. The whole experience was awesome, and I was hooked on finding my next youngster to do the YJC competitions again the following year.
I’ve been involved through the years with breeding, selling and training of young jumpers, but last year I was honored to become a member of the YJC board of directors. Along with Linda Allen, Cheryll Frank, Candice King and Kelly McKnight, we have some significant changes for this season. These new developments were undertaken, first and foremost, with our young horses’ best interests in mind.
The Nuts And Bolts
But first, an overview of the YJC program. Linda Allen, Olympic Games course designer, horsewoman and California Professional Horseman’s Association Lifetime Achievement recipient, had the vision for this organization. The International Jumper Futurity, now the Young Jumper Futurity, was started in 1988, and the idea was to promote young jumpers in the United States. The Young Jumper Championships came along in 1998.
Since then, more than 7,000 horses have participated in the Young Jumper Futurity and/or the Young Jumper Championships.
Horses are registered with the YJC once their age and breeding can be verified by the organization, and the verified information is maintained in the office in Kentucky. Once in the system, the YJC tracks the horses’ performances in more than 450 sanctioned YJC qualifying classes annually, where horses earn eligibility to compete in one of three regional championships around the country.
Additionally foals, yearlings, 2- and 3-year-olds enrolled in the YJF for 4-year-olds earn added monetary incentives when they compete and place in the regional finals. The YJC office has kept track of IJF and YJC graduates over the years and posts their career highlights often on the YJC website and Facebook pages.
Since 1988, the championships and futurity have awarded about $5.75 million in prize money, breeder and stallion awards. Graduates include internationally ranked stars like Uceko (Kent Farrington), Chaman (Ludger Beerbaum), Cristallo (Spooner), Coral Reef Via Volo (Beezie Madden), Chill R Z (Charlie Jayne), Pironella (Daniel Deusser) and Quabri de l’Isles (Pedro Veniss).
YJC graduates have competed in FEI World Equestrian Games, Pan American Games, Global Champions Tour classes and at many other international venues. U.S.-born futurity horses include international jumper Judgement ISF (Madden) and FEI World Equestrian Games competitor Peterbilt (Guy Thomas).
Research conducted on the top 300 ranked jumpers in U.S. Equestrian Federation grand prix jumper rankings this past January indicated that graduates of the YJC earned an average of $30,723 in 2015 USEF grand prix jumper prize money, compared to an average of $19,205 for the entire grand prix jumper population.
Changes For 2016
Staying in stride with the changing marketplace, the YJC board recognizes the growth of young jumper shows throughout the country, and in an effort to promote and endorse these outstanding organizers, the first major change for 2016 is that qualifying for the 5-year-old regionals will no longer be restricted to USEF-sanctioned competitions.
Recognizing the cost associated with developing young horses in the United States, as well as the need to showcase these youngsters in a more suitable environment such as one-day events and those closer to home, the YJC is embracing these opportunities.
Young horse shows and series such as those provided by the Spy Coast Farm Young Horse Show series, Nona Garson’s The Ridge Farm young horse shows in Florida and New Jersey, and “No Shows” by Blenheim Equisports in California are just a few examples. There are no fees to the organizers, and in order for these classes to count they simply need to provide results, which include scores and fence heights, to YJC. Blenheim Equisports is even taking it a step further this season by requiring no entry fees or nominating fees, in addition to discounted stall fees, for all young jumpers.
The second notable change for 2016, and my favorite, is the reduction of fence height requirements for 5-year-olds early in the year at rated shows and throughout the year at unrated shows. This is now set at 1.00-meter.
Recognizing that these youngsters do not develop mentally or physically at the same rate is critical. Basically these babies are 4½ at the beginning of the year and shouldn’t have the pressure put on them to jump 1.15-meter early on if they aren’t ready.
This new change allows trainers, riders and owners to do what is in the best interest of their horses and not what they have to do to make it to the regional finals at the end of summer. I strongly encourage everyone to enlighten and encourage management and course designers to lower these fence heights to garner more participation in the YJC 5-year-olds, in the best interest of our youngsters.
The third notable difference this year is the name change of the International Jumper Futurity. It will now be known as the Young Jumper Futurity, in order to have a name more easily associated with the Young Jumper Championships.
But more importantly, participating horses will no longer need to be sired by nominated stallions; they just have to have been foaled in North America. This change opens the door to more eligible futurity participants while recognizing U.S. breeders and offering financial rewards throughout a horse’s career.
As a replacement for stallion nominations, the YJF hosted the inaugural Stallion Service Auction Feb. 14-28, earning $10,550 for the program in its first phase, with the second phase to come soon.
Keeping up with the times, the Youngjumpers.com website is getting a nice facelift to make it more user-friendly and easier to navigate. The new site will be launched in the near future.
Fun And Education For All
Another piece of the new developments is that the Young Horse Trainers’ Schools are now officially recognized by the YJC. This will be the fourth year of these week-long schools that focus on educating trainers, owners, breeders and riders who are interested in specializing in developing, competing and marketing young jumpers.
The school is organized and produced by clinicians Linda Allen, Jose Alejos from Guatemala, Kevin Winkel and myself. Participants come to Maplewood Stables in Reno, Nev., in early fall to experience training in groundwork, backing, starting youngsters over fences, preparing for competition, and dealing with difficult and problem horses.
Each day has classroom lectures, PowerPoint presentations, videos and handouts, along with demonstrations and hands-on work. The days are full with many young horses to start, babies to halter break, trailer loading, conformation talks, inspection and keuring discussions, free jumping in the chute, long-lining, longeing and marketing and sales. It culminates with a mock jumping competition for 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds.
Each school takes on a life of its own as the horses are always different, so we learn from them as individuals. Many participants are coming for their third and fourth schools, receiving certificates and endorsements from each experience. The networking is priceless; we have participants from all over the world, from every walk of life, with different backgrounds and experiences to share.
The 2016 Young Horse Trainer School takes place Sept. 6-12 in Reno, and it’ll fill up quickly. We’re always interested in sharing and learning from all the great horsemen who come together who are passionate about young horses and their best development mentally and physically.
We are also pleased to have guest instructor Mauricio Benavente coming from Chile to share his knowledge with us. Some participants bring their own youngsters, but everyone has lots of opportunities to experience as much first hand as they want. This is always such a fabulous week of education and fun experiences.
But most importantly, these schools are designed to get these nice youngsters off to a great, solid start that will enable them to have strong, confident, successful careers. I’m very excited to see what’s on the horizon for our young jumpers in America!
Julie Winkel has been a licensed hunter, equitation, hunter breeding and jumper judge since 1984. She has officiated at prestigious events such as Devon (Pa.), the Pennsylvania National, Washington International (D.C.), Capital Challenge (Md.), the Hampton Classic (N.Y.) and Upperville (Va.). She has designed the courses and judged the equitation finals.
She has trained and shown hunters and jumpers to the top level and was a winner of multiple grand prix competitions and many hunter championships.
Winkel serves as co-chair of the USEF Licensed Officials Committee and chairman of the USEF Continuing Education Committee, chairman of the USHJA Judges Task Force and the USHJA Officials Education Committee. She serves on the USHJA Emerging Athlete Program committee, Trainer Certification and Zone 10 Jumper Committee. She also sits on the Young Jumper Championship board of directors.
Winkel owns and operates Maplewood, Inc., a 150-acre training, sales and breeding facility, standing grand prix jumpers Osilvis and Cartouche Z in Reno, Nev. Maplewood Inc. also offers a year-round internship program for aspiring horse industry professionals.
She writes a monthly column for Practical Horseman’s “Conformation Clinic” and is a contributing columnist to Warmbloods Today magazine as well as an EquestrianCoach blogger.