Changes made over the last few years put us in the perfect position to move the sport forward—we just have to take the chance.
Times are changing, not only in the sport of show hunters but in the larger world. If we want to preserve the true traditions of our sport, we’re going to need to make significant changes in how we look at things.
At the moment we’re positioned to accomplish this task. Over the past several years the ideas and hard work of many people have set the groundwork for the future of the sport. Now more than ever is the time to invest just a bit more time to really understand the pieces we have available to us and how they can fit together to create a cohesive overall plan to lead this great sport into the future.
At the core of our sport are the real traditions. To me this starts with beautiful horses, well presented and trained, performing over traditional hunter type fences with smooth and seemingly effortless rounds. These horses, above all else, need to be beautiful and accurate jumpers with effortless movement, great manners and real quality or beauty. It’s the attention to detail, the traditional dress and the tremendous pride in turnout and presentation that make this division stand out. And as frustrating as it can often be, the subjective opinion of knowledgeable horsemen serving as judges is also a big part of this sport. In my opinion, these are the things that we as the hunter community need to protect.
Derbies Have Lit A Spark
It looks as though hunter derbies are here to stay. One of the best parts of this program is the emphasis on tradition and returning to an earlier era in the sport.
It’s important to present again the more difficult types of fences that are still a part of real foxhunting and also a part of showing hunters in the not-too-distant past. It’s also great to see that we’re again asking our horses and riders to jump higher jumps and to do more difficult options in the handy round of the derbies.
The derbies have sparked interest not only in our riders but also more importantly, in owners, spectators and even sponsors. All of this interest is so necessary right now. In addition, there is now a great deal of interest in taking the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Hunter Derby series international with horsemen from France, Germany and the Nether-lands showing interest in hosting derbies in their countries. When George Morris had the vision to insist that this program get started these were all on his list of things to accomplish. I think the USHJA, High Performance Hunter Committee Chair Ron Danta and the entire High Performance Hunter Committee have done a great job in getting so much of this done so quickly and so well.
The WCHR Program is another program that has done much for the sport of hunters and has stood the test of time. The brainchild of Louise Serio, this isn’t just another series of awards. It’s created an alternative way to win points and qualify for year-end awards.
This system, based on limited showing at the shows with the best and most competition, requires a good horse and a good rider to plan his competition year around a few key events and to peak at the right moment. Certainly luck is a factor, but careful planning and thoughtful training are the keys to success. This is certainly better for the horses and more educational for riders and trainers.
Although the changeover of this program to the USHJA has not been without problems, it’s now positioned to help put an overall plan to the sport of showing hunters. I believe this will become a critical piece to our future plans.
Results Of Restructuring
Although the work of the USHJA Hunter Restructure Committee is often considered controversial, when we really look at what we’ve done so far I think it’s been conservative and well thought out.
The subtle changes made to the green and regular conformation sections have allowed for two better sections, better competition in those sections, and a better chance for the division to survive. What’s important is that we do what we have to do to allow the important traditions of these divisions to survive.
Additionally, I truly believe that the creation of both the performance working hunter 3’3″ and performance working hunters 3’6″-3’9″ will prove to be an important change to our sport. These new sections have proven to be popular so far and have allowed for more horses and more riders to compete at more shows in the open divisions. More importantly to me, now that these sections exist, we can use them in any way that will benefit the sport in the future. They give us options to work with to create the hunter sport that will not only function in the future but also hopefully flourish.
Debate Over Money Won
There’s no doubt that tracking money won in the open divisions for both qualifying and U.S. Equestrian Federation Horse of the Year Awards is a controversial topic. I think that this change is taking heat for much more than it’s actually responsible for. We must remember that there’s been a lot of change in our world in the recent past, and no one piece is responsible for any positive or negative impact on our sport.
It’s important to remember a few things when we talk about changing to the money won system. This
system was implemented to benefit the sport, more than for any individual or any particular shows. This system has worked well in the jumper division for a long time and has helped them to keep owners interested in having horses for their professional riders to show and also to help create both spectator and sponsorship interest. These are areas where the hunter world is sadly falling short.
At this particular moment the open sections of our hunter sport are hurting as much as they ever have. To me this means that we can now comfortably try new things and safely give them time to take effect. Money won is not the reason for the decline in our open divisions, but it might be their salvation.
I firmly believe that this has been the correct and best first step to take the hunter divisions forward into the future. Having said that, I’m not blind to the concept of perhaps working out a compromise and changes to the system in place as the ultimate solution. I’m not convinced that we have to choose between points and money won, but perhaps we could explore a combination of the two that could meet the needs of many different people. It seems as though the rift between the very top of our sport and the rest has gotten bigger, and I’m thinking that there’s a compromise that could include all of our participants in a way that will be healthier for our sport in general. There’s enough for everyone if we’re smart.
Increment System Adjustments
There’s another rule change proposal coming forward from the USHJA Affiliates Program that is a new and simplified version of the increment system.
It’s reminiscent of the system that is used for the WIHS Equitation class and the THIS Children’s Medal. These classes were started many years ago at about the same time as the WCHR Program. At the time, also like the WCHR Program, one of the reasons for starting these classes was to implement another system of qualifying that could be used as a model that could be easily implemented if it proved to be a success. I think we’ve arrived at that moment now, and I’m very interested to see how the system proposed by the Affiliates Committee will be received. I think it’s a great system.
At this juncture, time is our friend. We’ve created a great framework for change in our sport. The pieces are in place, and if we take just a little bit more time and make a huge and unified effort, we can, and will, arrive at the solutions necessary to preserve the traditions of our sport and at the same time carry it forward into the future in such a way that it will enjoy great success.
My biggest fear at the moment is that we’ll either move too fast, or even worse, move back to what we know and what’s familiar, and in the process lose our chance for important and necessary change. We must be willing to step out of our own comfort zone and try to understand what’s best not for ourselves, but for the sport as a whole. The world is a different place now, so what we’ve always done may not work anymore. This is the moment that we have time and interest, so let’s continue to relax, communicate and work together to come up with the answers that are right for our sport.
Geoff Teall, of Wellington, Fla., trains in the hunter, jumper and equitation divisions—with an emphasis on amateur and junior riders—and shows in the professional hunter divisions. An R-rated USEF judge, he has presided over the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals, USEF Pony Finals, USEF Pony Medal Finals and many prestigious horse shows such as the Washington (D.C.) International and National Horse Show. Teall also co-founded the American Hunter-Jumper Foundation and serves on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association.