A Primer On USHJA Rule Change Proposals

Nov 10, 2014 - 12:36 PM

Get a head start on the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Annual Meeting with a look at some of the biggest ideas on the table.

As the horse show season starts to slow down, the rule change season swings into full gear. Each year, individuals and committees alike submit rule change proposals to the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association. The majority of them come as a result of sport study by committees within our governance structure, but they also come from discussions at the back gate and member communication.

The 2015 Rule Change Proposals have taken a slightly different path than in years gone by. The date for submission of rule changes was moved back to allow more time for study. Also, the USHJA Rules Committee took a much stronger role in streamlining the grammar, syntax and order of the submitted rule changes. In some cases, rules were re-worked in their entirety rather than focusing on only the newly suggested language.

An old saying states that we have two ears but one mouth. This reminds us that we should listen more than we should speak. Using that philosophy, 2014 has seen some changes in the communication style at USHJA. Using our ears, we have collected member feedback through the Town Halls that have been held throughout our country. We have also been ramping up the use of mailboxes for member feedback on rules and hot-button topics.

The 2014 Annual Meeting, Dec. 7-11 in Las Vegas, will debut a new strategy that focuses on presentations and concept discussions. This year’s topics will be the USHJA Strategic Plan, green and young hunters, and the pony hunter sections and measurement. I encourage all of you to attend and participate in the discussions.

I have proposed a moratorium on non-essential rule changes for the 2016 competition year. After listening to member feedback, I believe we need one year to slow the whole process down and take a breath. Of course, rules that deal with welfare or safety could still be passed. Taking a break from rule changes would allow us to spend a year re-writing our rule book. As we re-work the rule book, some sport structure rules may arise that require some attention, but on the whole, most things can wait for one more year. The goal would be to make the rule book clear, logical and user friendly. It is a big goal, but I believe it’s necessary and attainable.

The following is a selection of rule changes that have sparked comment and debate over the last few months.

Green Hunters

A proposed change to HU103.1, which addresses green hunters, contains new concepts and has had a complete makeover. The rule now compiles the following rules into one: HU 103 Green eligibility, HU104 Green Pony, HU105 Green reinstatement and part of HU106 Regular Hunter – Definitions and Classifications. This change would move all the language concerning pre-green and green horses and ponies into one place. The goal is to make the rule user-friendly.

The new concepts in the rule are:

The creation of the concept of hunter eligibility. Hunter eligibility for a horse would be defined thus: “Hunter eligibility for a horse begins when a horse of any age, competes for the first time in any over fences class with jumps set at three feet (3’0″) in height or higher in Hunter or Hunter/Jumping Seat Equitation classes or sections held at a USEF or Equine Canada Licensed Competition in North America.”

Hunter eligibility for a pony: “Hunter eligibility for a pony begins when a pony of any age competes for the first time in any over fences class with jumps set at 2’0″ or higher for small ponies, 2’3″ or higher for medium ponies and 2’6″ or higher for large ponies in Hunter or Hunter/Jumping Seat Equitation classes or sections held at a USEF or Equine Canada Licensed Competition in North America.”

These changes would allow a horse or pony to compete over any height in the jumper ring prior to becoming a hunter. Once a horse begins competing in sections that require eligibility, they would no longer be allowed to jump higher than their hunter height in a jumper class or section. Once a pony begins competing in sections that require eligibility, they would no longer be allowed to compete in jumper classes.

Since I can hear some of you screaming from here, I do agree with you that horses that have competed in the jumper ring are no longer green. However, after many months of study, we have not yet found another proposal that levels the playing field and is track-able. This proposal gives the American-foaled horses the same opportunities as their foreign counterparts.

The definition of how to calculate a horse’s green status. Green status is determined using two factors:

The height of the fences (determined by the class, section or division specifications) over which a horse or pony has competed.

The number of competition years a horse has competed at regulation height.

One change of note is that the provision allowing zones to define their pre-green rules has been removed. In studying the Zone Specifications, only Zone 9 runs under different rules, and consequently, that zone has received an exception.

The rule concludes with the green reinstatement process, which hasn’t changed much. The only difference to note is that the instructions for filling out the form will be moved to usef.org. It is my belief that procedures are not rules and therefore do not belong in the rule book.

Pony Proposals

The Pony Breeders Task Force is proposing a new pre-green pony section. The section is currently proposed without a rating or award structure attached to it. Eligible ponies would be given one year of pre-green status. Small ponies would jump lower than 2’0″, medium ponies would jump lower than 2’3″, and large ponies would jump lower than 2’6″.

By now, I believe that most of the country knows there is a lot of discussion concerning Federation generated protest measurements or “spot checks.” HU181 is a new rule that seeks to define the procedure under which a spot check measurement must be conducted. The rule is intended to protect both the animal that is being measured and the owner. The USHJA is seeking comments regarding the pony sections. They should be directed to Ponycomments@ushja.org.

Closing A Loophole

There are times that rule changes are proposed to close loopholes in our system. On this rule change proposal, HU132 Competed and Completed, the Sportsman’s Charter is rolling over in its grave. The current rule defines the word compete: A horse has competed in an over fences class when the horse’s entry number and a score for at least the first jump are recorded on the judge’s card.

It has come to USHJA’s attention that there are competitors up and down the East Coast who are using this rule in an unsportsmanlike manner. The current definition of compete helps areas of the country where entry numbers are very low. In these areas, even if a horse is eliminated, the class or section still counts for points. On the East Coast, where numbers are larger, the rule is being used to split sections. For instance, if a trainer or owner wants to have a pony section split into small, medium and large but the numbers are not sufficient, a spare pony or ponies are entered. These ponies may jump one jump and retire or circle three times and leave the ring without jumping. By the letter of the law they have competed. In my mind, by the intent of the law, they are unsportsmanlike.

The rule change proposal defines completed as having jumped the course without being eliminated. If a horse competes without completing, the horse would still count for the section, but the other riders would not get the benefit of the animal being used for the increment calculation. This change would be very difficult for the IT Departments at both horse shows and the U.S. Equestrian Federation. In addition, it would cause a shift in the judging standards. A judge would have to indicate whether the horse withdrew or was eliminated, and the horse show office would have to give the results in two ways: total number of horses who competed and total number of horses that completed.

Limiting Equitation Points

There are several equitation rules of note. The first is a proposal to cap the number of points an exhibitor may accumulate in the Pessoa/U.S. Hunter Seat Medal after June 1 at double the number that it takes to qualify. Feedback has been received praising the rule change proposal for addressing welfare for our horses. This proposal could potentially limit the number of classes that a horse could be shown in. Others see this differently. Their point is that in some areas of the country, riders who are already qualified are used as fillers. Their point is that if these riders can’t show, the pool of available riders is too small to fill the classes.

Splitting Hunter Sections

HU111 (Junior Hunters) and HU115 (Amateur-Owner Hunters) deal in part with the combining and splitting of sections, something that is usually a topic of interest to exhibitors.

These rules have gone through several incarnations over the past few years and are still experiencing growing pains. Currently, a section must combine and then be re-divided at 12 entries. The rule change proposals would adjust that number to 16 for the re-division of sections. I expect to hear a myriad of comments at the Annual Meeting.

Frozen Samples

Sure to spark controversy is the amended version of the frozen sample rule, which has been reintroduced taking into account the feedback from last year’s USHJA and USEF Annual Meetings. More important than whether or not this proposal to retain blood samples—and bring action—for eight years is approved are the new conversations and ideas it’s generating on how to address and regulate the misuse of medications and over preparation of horses in our competition environment.


The USEF Veterinary Committee has utilized the USHJA proposal concerning vaccination protocols from last year and rewritten the vaccination rule to create a standard vaccination requirement for horses at USEF-licensed competitions. Based on USHJA and member feedback, the Veterinary Committee has provided multiple ways to show proof of your horse’s vaccination record.

Premier Competitions

Lastly, there is a proposal to amend the required number of competition days for a premier competition. The new proposal changes the number of days from five to four, provided that a minimum of two performance classes from two different “A” rated hunter sections must be scheduled and judged on each day of the competition. The intent is to create the opportunity for less expense for organizers and exhibitors.

As usual, the USHJA will be a hotbed of lively discussion. My hope is that our members will bring their skills of civil discourse, their ideas, and their passion to our meeting. And my fondest wish is that interested parties will stay through the last board meeting so they can understand the rule change process and the whys and wherefores of how rules are passed.

I hope to see you in Las Vegas!

Mary Babick, of Freehold, N.J., has trained students and horses out of her Knightsbridge Farm for more than three decades, earning championships, victories and medals at such shows as Devon (Pa.), the Pennsylvania National, the Washington International (D.C.), the U.S. Pony Finals and the FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships. Her students have earned countless state, zone and national championships over the years, from the small pony to the national equitation finals and the junior and amateur-owner jumper sections. She’s been a member of the USHJA Board of Directors, Planning Committee and Emerging Athletes Committee, as well as chairing the Youth Committee before becoming vice president of the USHJA in 2013.


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