Wednesday, May. 29, 2024

A Fresh Approach To Washington

I spent several enjoyable days at the Washington International (p. 8 and 32), and I was most impressed on the final day. I watched Meredith “Maddy” Darst and All About Me clinch the medium and grand pony championships with an outstanding performance in the stake class.
   

PUBLISHED

ADVERTISEMENT

I spent several enjoyable days at the Washington International (p. 8 and 32), and I was most impressed on the final day. I watched Meredith “Maddy” Darst and All About Me clinch the medium and grand pony championships with an outstanding performance in the stake class.
   
I spoke to Maddy’s mother, Mindy Darst, at length about All About Me’s journey to his titles. The pony’s trainers, Tim and Kelly Gougen, weren’t planning to campaign the chestnut, so after Devon (Pa.) he was turned out for four months. By virtue of his 2007 Washington championship he had a bye.
   
It was an interesting juxtaposition—All About Me performed better in each class, while many ponies’ performances deteriorated. By the final classes in each section, I’d lost count of the cross canters, lost leads and refusals I’d seen. There were some tired ponies at Washington.
   
Mindy, who is the chairman of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Pony Task Force and a long-time proponent of horse welfare, said All About Me’s results were unexpected but not surprising. “The first day he was a little fresh,” she said. “But in that stake class that pony jumped out of his skin. He’s a great pony, but having some rest and trail riding benefited him. Maybe not having to go to too many horse shows to get here resulted in a really happy pony who was ready to win.”
   
Of course, there’s only one defending champion each year, so the remaining ponies have to earn enough points to qualify, which was around 3,500 this year. Hunters competing at the Washington International qualify based on USEF National Horse of the Year points at their best 15 shows. While it sounds like a logical way to prevent point chasing, the system doesn’t quite work.
   
Few if any ponies have 15 “perfect” shows, where they sweep the division, so they continue to pound the pavement to improve their point total. It’s a vicious cycle as the number of points needed to qualify continues to increase, forcing everyone to show and show.
   
Over the years the qualifying criteria has changed in an effort to develop the best and fairest way for our horses and ponies to get to indoors, but it hasn’t been an easy task. The blame game often rears its ugly head—trainers are blamed for taking clients to shows to make money, show managers for creating multi-week show circuits, and the mileage rule for simply existing. There’s really no one entity to blame, which is why the fix has been so difficult.
   
“[Qualifying for indoors] is a constant discussion in our committee meetings,” said Mindy, who is also on the National Hunter Committee. “We’ve talked about dropping the number to 10 shows or using a mean or taking an average. Somewhere out there there’s a better system, and I hope all of the committees keep grinding away out there to put it back in the normal, real perspective.”
   
This is certain to be a hot topic issue at the USHJA Annual Meeting in December. If you can’t attend, I encourage you to send your ideas to the committee members, whose contact information can be found at www.ushja.org.
   
While it’s certainly rewarding to earn a place at our prestigious fall indoor shows, our current system isn’t necessarily benefiting us or our animals. All About Me’s performance just reiterated the point home: Sometimes less really is more.

ADVERTISEMENT

Tricia Booker, Editor

Categories:

ADVERTISEMENT

EXPLORE MORE

Follow us on

Sections

Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse