Farewell Amateur-Owner Jumpers: A Report From The Last USHJA Board Meeting Of 2020

Dec 15, 2020 - 8:01 AM

At the conclusion of the 2020 U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Annual Meeting on Dec. 11, the board of directors voted to change JP 117 to eliminate the amateur-owner jumper division at horse shows. Instead, there will just be one open amateur jumper division on the prize list.

As it stands now, there are amateur and amateur-owner jumper divisions, which are regularly combined together or with junior jumpers. But not all amateur jumper riders have equal opportunity to compete, since many shows don’t offer both amateur and amateur-owner jumper divisions. The rule change would keep the U.S. Equestrian Federation Amateur-Owner Jumper Horse Of The Year award, but all amateur jumpers will compete head-to-head.

One sticking point earned some discussion on the board floor: Riders who compete in the amateur-owner hunter division may only ride one horse they don’t own at the same competition, so amateur hunter riders will be more restricted than amateur jumper riders. Riders in the current and future amateur jumper division don’t face that restriction. But in the end, the rule passed.

Like all rules that pass at the USHJA Annual Meeting, this will go to the USEF meeting in June for final approval, and if approved, it will go into effect Dec. 1, 2021.

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Other amateur conversations also got airtime on the board floor. A proposal to split the 3’3” and 3’6” amateur-owner hunters into three age groups was postponed. The argument for doing so was that amateurs are looking to compete against their peers and not their children—or grandchildren. The USHJA Amateur Task Force polled USHJA amateur members and found that 77 percent were in favor of an additional split.

Board member Sissy Wickes questioned whether entry numbers justified the split, pointing out that in many areas of the country the division isn’t big enough to split even once.

Fellow board member Rick Cram, who runs shows through his Progressive Show Jumping, supported the rule, even though it wasn’t the best thing for competition management.

“They researched this age split thoroughly,” said Cram. “This is a group of people who support our sport the most, and to reward them with another section so they can show against their peers is logical in my mind.”

USHJA Vice President David Distler, who also serves as show manager at Devon (Pennsylvania) and the Washington International (District of Columbia), pointed out that this will have a real effect on qualifying championship shows, where ring time is at a premium. Creating another A-rated section means that those managers will have to tweak their qualifying criteria for all the amateur sections, perhaps accepting fewer entries.

The board postponed their vote on the rule, as there’s one tricky segment that still needs to be worked out: how to equitably combine and divide the sections if they don’t all fill. Complicated combining and dividing rules have plagued the junior hunters, which are split four ways, and now amateur-owners would face similar problems. For example, if there are enough amateurs to fill the middle section but not enough to fill the younger and older sections, then the latter two sections would combine, which is exactly what the amateurs are trying to avoid.

Two rules addressing modifications to GR1306, the so-called “Amateur Rule,” will not immediately move forward. The first, a USHJA Amateur Task Force-proposed rule that would have prohibited amateurs from acting as social influencers, was withdrawn. A second, proposed by an ad hoc committee formed by the USEF’s National Breeds and Disciplines Council, would have made some major changes, including allowing amateurs to teach in a non-competitive environment, upping the maximum value of a non-monetary gift of appreciation from $300 to $1,000, and allowing amateurs to be social media influencers. USHJA board member Britt McCormick headed the USEF ad hoc committee, and he suggested that they postpone voting on the rule. He wanted to get input from more people, including members of the USHJA Amateur Task Force.

Is Jogging About Horse Welfare?
Since shows resumed on June 1, all hunter classes that required a jog have been operating under a presidential modification stipulating that riders should trot a circle on a loose rein at the end of the course. Due to this method’s success, the USHJA Hunter Working Group proposed a rule change that would allow show managers to decide whether to use the traditional jogging method or a circle.

The discussion revolved around honoring tradition and what to do if the judge isn’t positive on soundness. (In most cases, they felt it was appropriate to re-jog on a circle.) And another question arose: Is it fair if all horses jog at one show, but at another only the ribbon winners are evaluated for soundness? Short answer: No. But when Distler mentioned that if jogging were about horse welfare, then horses should jog prior to their jumping round, it led to a bigger discussion on the purpose behind jogging.

“I think it creates a better atmosphere for the horses,” Distler said. “The fact that we make them perform, and then we take something away from them—well, they’ve already performed, and if you think they’re good enough for a ribbon, and now you’re saying, ‘Nope, because they really weren’t sound enough,’ it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So they should show their soundness beforehand, and then you say, ‘Yes, you can perform,’ or ‘No, you can’t.’ ”

Since the presidential modification takes precedence until the pandemic ends, the board decided to take advantage of the extra time to evaluate the idea of checking soundness before the round.

Rule Change Proposals Status Check

  • A pair of RCPs came forward this year that upped the required amount of prize money at all levels and removed the requirement to pay out a minimum of $24,000 in rated hunter divisions at premier shows, which got complicated when divisions didn’t fill. There are some tweaks to be made, so the Competition Management Committee asked the board to table the rule until March 1, when all rules must be sent to USEF.
  • Mules were approved to compete in jumper classes.
  • The USHJA tightened up the rules that say stewards can’t officiate for the same show licensee for more than three consecutive competitions.
  • Low adult amateur hunter and low children’s hunter divisions will be added to the “USEF Rule Book,” and those divisions will follow zone rules.
  • The USHJA gave the green light to allow the standard practice of building the first fence lower than the minimum height on a jumper course.
  • Several rules passed making it easier to age verify young horses. Breeders may “register” their horses with the USEF as an alternate way to address the necessity of age verification for classes that restrict by age.
  • A series of rule changes passed prohibiting earbuds in the schooling areas at horse shows. This counts for those who are mounted and unmounted.
  • A chart to designate metric to standard heights for hunters was approved. This chart will help competitors avoid accidentally breaking one’s green status by competing in a class that’s too high.
  • Several rule changes passed that will prohibit shows from offering more than three jumping classes per day per section. The rule does not limit how many classes a competitor (or horse) may show in daily.
  • A horse welfare rule change that would’ve prohibited selling portable stalls with tent poles in them to competitors for their horses saw plenty of discussion. Board members shared their own experiences with dangerous pole locations, but they felt it could lead to increased costs for competition management and exhibitors, so they wanted to see different language stipulating that tent poles must be flush with the side or back wall of the stall to limit the risk of injury.
  • The equitation tests will get an update. Dismounting and mounting have been removed; trot jumps must be 6″ lower than the class height; turn-on-the-forehand is only to be performed from the halt. There’s also a new entry explaining that the following basic dressage movements from collected trot may be required: shoulder-in, shoulder-out, haunches-in (travers), haunches-out (renvers), leg-yield or half-pass.
  • A rule change proposal banning specific kinds of attention-getting devices—namely one that emits a spark or flame or one that emits a spray, fog or mist—passed.

See all the RCPs on the USHJA website.

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