The author believes that one of the most challenging national equitation classes needs to include an open water jump—but it shouldn’t be mandatory in all qualifying classes.
The U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s Hunt Seat Equitation Task Force is always striving to listen to the recommendations of people in the industry, as well as other committees, in order to better the sport.
The USEF Talent Search Finals have always called for an open water jump in the stadium jumping phase, but until December 2010 there was no requirement to have open water jumps at qualifying competitions. A few years ago the Task Force started discussing the fact that it seemed like the riders at the East Coast Finals struggled to negotiate the water jump well.
We can’t be sure why this is different at the two Finals, but my guess is that on the West Coast riders show at fewer venues, and many of those venues, such as the Los Angeles Equestrian Center (Calif.), the Oaks (Calif.) and Del Mar Horse Park (Calif.), have an open water jump and use it.
The only competitions my riders attend with an open water jump are at Old Salem Farm (N.Y.), the Kentucky Horse Park, the Hampton Classic (N.Y.) and Lake Placid (N.Y.). But the show schedules at these venues have changed over the years. There’s no equitation on the field at Old Salem—not even the Governor’s Cup—and there’s only one equitation class on the field at the I Love New York Horse Show in Lake Placid, and you have to qualify for that. The water jump at the Kentucky Horse Park is a move-able one, and in my experience it wasn’t utilized in the equitation ring until the water jump rule came into effect.
So we on the Equitation Task Force took it upon ourselves to address this. Last year we came up with the idea to make it mandatory to include a water obstacle with a 10' to 12' spread in all USEF Talent Search classes at AA rated horse shows and to include an option jump that riders could elect to jump instead. Typically the option jump has a high degree of difficulty, such as a tall, skinny vertical, a square oxer or a plank. We wanted to see if access to the water jump during the competition year would help improve the quality of competition at the Finals.
The USEF High Performance Committee governs the specifications of this class. When they met this year they opted to make an open water jump at AA shows mandatory but deleted the idea of an option jump. This new rule will go into effect on September 1, 2011.
The High Performance Committee is striving for excellence and to make the USEF Talent Search a special class. It should—and does—teach riders how to jump a jumper course well. Riders like McLain Ward, Lauren Hough, Richard Spooner and Meredith Michaels-Beer-baum won at this Final and went on to successful international careers. We’re 100 percent behind the idea of using this class to groom the next generation of international riders.
Like the High Performance Committee, the Equitation Task Force really wants to see this class continue to produce top riders, and the trainers I’ve talked to are all thrilled with the opportunity to jump the open water on a more regular basis. But the Task Force is also familiar with the clientele and the horse shows we attend, and we know there will be potential threats to the class if there isn’t an option jump offered along with the open water.
Why We Need An Option
My riders have always practiced the open water at home. As a farm owner, I’ve taken the time to install an open water jump, a single liverpool, a double liverpool in-and-out, a bank obstacle and a grob to prepare for this and other classes.
Every year before the big $10,000 equitation class at the Hampton Classic, I take riders and a tractor-trailer load of horses to a different place to school similar obstacles since the horses might become familiar with these jumps at home. In 2008 and 2009 I chose John and Beezie Madden’s farm John Madden Sales in Cazenovia, N.Y., for this practice trip. Last year we attended the training session at Double H Farm that benefited the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s Capital Campaign to practice on that field prior to the Hampton Classic.
We love having access to open water at horse shows and teaching kids to ride it better. We’re trying to find an equilibrium where we don’t have to over-jump the water in the equitation division, but we still have the opportunity to school it and use it in competition.
For example, if you’re at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.), showing in that circuit for 12 weeks without pre- or post-circuit shows, as a trainer you might choose to jump the water every other week and utilize the option jump once the horse and rider have had a few successful water jump experiences. We’d like to allow horses who are good water jumpers to stay good water jumpers. If we have a setback, if a horse steps in it or spooks at it, we can take a week off, school it, then represent the water without losing access to the class. The USEF Talent Search has such an important flat phase requiring the riders to execute extensions and the counter-canter. I would hate for riders to lose this opportunity if they need to show a horse that does not jump the open water for a week or so.