The Hunter Derbies Are Raising The Bar

Oct 8, 2010 - 6:20 AM

We’ve had an exciting year for hunters and jumpers in this country in 2010. We’re in the midst of an economic crisis—horse shows have all been hit by fewer entries—yet we keep going because of our love of our horses and ponies and our love of competition.

This year’s The Chronicle of the Horse/USHJA $100,000 International Hunter Derby Finals hit a home run. The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games limited the choices as to where this competition could be held, so this year it moved to the new indoor ring at The Kentucky Horse Park.

There were many concerns about the venue being indoors instead of the typical outdoor derby venue, but course designers Patrick Rodes and Bobby Murphy pulled off a quality event with great courses. Show manager Hugh Kincannon and his crew did everything they could to make everyone comfortable and welcome. Horses were allowed in the ring all week, and they were allowed to hand walk in the ring once the course was set. And most importantly, it was the same for everyone.

I think the derbies and especially the Finals have added new life to the hunter world. Two top junior riders under the age of 14 advanced to the top 25 and gave the professional riders a run for their money. How exciting that these junior riders could show against the best hunter riders and horses in the country! I see these classes as a steppingstone to better riding and better horsemanship.

Riders and trainers must now plan their year leading up to the Finals with that goal in mind. This means competing in enough derbies to qualify for the Finals and doing enough in different venues with different course designers in order to be prepared for different jumps and tracks. They also must be prepared for the pressure of showing against the best of the best. In addition, competitors must have their horses at the correct fitness level for the three-round Final.

But once you get there, the chance to watch the competition and compare yourself against the other competitors is, as they say, priceless.

The excitement in the building the night of Derby Finals was fantastic. Owners, grooms, riders, trainers and judges all felt the importance of this class. Riders were fair and polite in the schooling area getting ready for the class, which rarely happens in a competition with this type of pressure. The riders walked the course and discussed options among themselves—again not something that happens in events of this nature.
Equestrian Life ( provided live video coverage, which garnered so many hits that the servers couldn’t keep up! While that wasn’t great for the people watching from home, it demonstrated the popularity of the class. People are tuned in to this new concept, and they are interested and excited.
Now it’s the job of Ron Danta, chairman of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s High Performance Hunter Committee, the committee itself and the managers producing these events to keep striving to improve. We need to keep raising the bar.

During the growth of these derbies, which became so popular so quickly, it’s our job to make improvements that will teach better riding, better horsemanship and produce better horses at all levels. Without an Olympic Games or a World Equestrian Games to look to, the derbies serve as a goal for hunter riders at all levels to aspire to.
We have top riders who act as the sport’s role models. We have horse show managers who want to hold a USHJA derby, and they want theirs to be better than the last one. Managers are renting new jumps or building them, and standalone events are popping up all over the country.

My barn has competed at the Chicago Hunter Derby for the past two years. It is a standalone event that is tops in every way: great stabling, wonderful schooling area, a fantastic derby field, super jumps and so much more. Rush and Carl Weeden, Lynn Jayne and Bobby Murphy work hard each year to make it grow and be better, and they’ve done a wonderful job. The area professionals work together to provide jumps, trophies and help in any way they can. All of the joint efforts are showcased in a beautiful class.

For the first time ever the hunters were featured at the WEG. Jennifer Alfano, Peter Pletcher, Liza Towell Boyd, Tammy Provost and Louise Serio performed demonstrations for six days. How exciting to be showing off our hunters in an international venue, especially of this caliber! These riders were able to show the world what an amazing sport we have. Hopefully in showing off our hunters to spectators from all over the country we’ve enticed a child or an adult to begin taking lessons or to buy a horse or pony. We never would have gotten to be a part of these games without the USHJA International Hunter Derbies.

Susie B. Schoellkopf serves as the executive director of the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, which is the home of the Buffalo Equestrian Center and SBS Farms in Buffalo, N.Y. An R-rated U.S. Equestrian Federation judge, Schoellkopf has trained numerous horses to USEF Horse of the Year honors, including Gabriel, Kansas, Big Bad Wolf and GG Valentine. She started writing Between Rounds columns in 2002.


If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. “The Hunter Derbies Are Raising The Bar” ran in the October 8, 2010 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.


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