Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023

Horse Welfare At Derby Finals One Focus Of USHJA Town Hall



During the latest in a series of online town hall meetings hosted by U.S. Hunter Jumper Association President Mary Knowlton, participants on Monday evening reflected on how horse welfare intersected with last week’s Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship in Lexington, Kentucky. Participants were specifically interested in the fact that there was no jog held and instead participants trotted a circle at the end of their classic round to test for soundness.

Town hall participants discussed improving horse welfare at the Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship. Kimberly Loushin Photo

“There was no jog at Derby Finals (although I believe it was in the prize list) then two horses were eliminated after their rounds for being unsound,” wrote in Illinois amateur Leslie Coolidge. “Wouldn’t it have been better to jog first?”

Pre-derby jogs were removed this year from regular qualifying classes—instead competitors must trot a circle on a loose rein after their trip—but the prize list for this year’s derby championship did specify there would be a jog the day before they jumped. And during the competition last week, two horses were awarded no score after their classic rounds.

“You fight a lot of fights in your life, and you don’t win every fight that you fight,” Knowlton said. “When this was brought to USHJA executive committee, I would have voted to keep the jog—but I only vote in case of a tie. Only one other member voted against changing the jog to the circle.

“We could be like the [Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event],” she continued. “That jog is fun. The Chronicle’s there, taking pictures of people’s jog outfits. I don’t think our derby participants find our jog to be quite the same, but I could be wrong on that.”

Meeting participants argued that while the jog may be inconvenient—one of the main arguments for eliminating it—it was worse for horses to be eliminated for unsoundness after jumping a difficult course, even if they became unsound while on course.

“If you are giving away that much money, requiring them to jog should be mandatory,” said Annette Longenecker, who runs Ryegate Show Services and serves as a show secretary. “Excuses of ‘we are too busy’ don’t seem to reflect horse welfare.”

“If you are giving away that much money, requiring them jog should be mandatory. Excuses of ‘we are too busy’ don’t seem to reflect horse welfare.”

Annette Longenecker

Meeting participants used last week’s derby championship as a touchstone for other problems with horse welfare as well, namely the USEF drug testing system and overshowing. Fourteen horses showed in both Platinum Performance USHJA Green Incentive Championships and derby championships. 


“If horse welfare is our concern, then why are many derby horses doing the incentive finals, another rated division, and then derby finals?” asked Troy Linback a trainer who runs Woodrun out of Ocala, Florida. “Seems like a lot of high pressure jumping in a short period for one horse.”

“People are talking about how much is enough, or how much is too much,” Knowlton responded. “Is it OK to do 12 crossrail classes? What if it’s six crossrail classes? As the jumps go up, does that change? Where is the line between looking out for horse welfare and being big brother? That’s a great question for you guys to debate.”

At derby championships the top 12 horses after Round 1 are monitored between Round 1 and Round 2 and subject to mandatory drug testing. That’s in addition to the random USEF drug testing to which all competitors are also subject. Knowlton said one derby championships competitor suggested that all the horses that return for Round 2—there were 30 in 2023—should be monitored and tested. 

At one point derby championships competitors worked out of secured stabling, similar to what’s done in Fédération Equestre Internationale competitions, but that proved very unpopular. 

“We went from a secure stabling—which was so unpopular because it split horses up and had an additional cost for people and grooms—then we went to a monitoring system, which is not necessarily perfect,” Knowlton said.

Presidential Preferences

Multiple participants chimed in—often interrupting other topics—to ask why USHJA hasn’t organized a town hall webinar dedicated to the two candidates running for the USHJA presidency. The candidacies of Britt McCormick and DiAnn Langer were announced in an Aug. 14 email, which many participants missed.

Only members of the USHJA board of directors are eligible to vote in the Sept. 11 presidential election. The president-elect takes over in December 2024. 

While the board elects its national officers (president, national vice president, secretary and treasurer) and other board members, the general membership does have a voice in the nomination process. Senior active/competing and senior education/non-competing members were eligible to nominate candidates for the presidential election.

USHJA members participating in Monday’s town hall sent a clear message: While they aren’t eligible to vote, they still wanted to learn more about the candidates. [Editor’s note: stop back at soon to hear from McCormick and Langer on key issues.]


McCormick chimed in in the Q&A section of the chat and offered to answer questions. It was unclear whether Langer was participating in the town hall. The candidates will give presentations to the board members during an open meeting in September that members are welcome to attend but which will not be live streamed.

“A town hall for future elected officials would be great,” wrote one anonymous attendee. “The membership would be able to gauge the direction the president wants to take the association.”

Adults On Ponies

A topic first raised at last month’s town hall webinar gained more traction in Monday’s meeting: adults showing ponies.

Adults are not allowed to show ponies that also are shown in any rated pony hunter sections (i.e. children’s hunter pony, green pony hunter, regular pony hunter) or in a WIHS pony equitation class or the USEF pony medal. This means adults cannot show a pony in, for example, a USHJA 2’ hunter division prior to a child showing the pony in a rated division. However, an adult can show the pony in that division if no child were riding it at the show. Adults may school a pony unjudged before a junior rides it, but not show it—even in a warm-up class. Currently if there are no similar restrictions on horses. 

“How is it OK for the professionals to show any horse of any size or level in the USHJA hunters and then it can show with the junior or amateur rider on the weekend no problem, but not a pony? Seems backwards for pony training,” South Carolina judge and professional Missy Roades commented.

Robin Rost Brown, head of the USHJA Hunter Working Group, said the committee has been discussing the issue. 

“We’re putting our youngest riders on green animals and expecting there to be success,” Brown said. “In most instances horses can be prepped by adults. Other than the size factor, why isn’t that allowed for the youngest children on green animals?

“When we brought this up at the Hunter Working Group today it was not ill-received,” she added. “I think people felt emphasis should be on green ponies, not just any pony to be ridden in a blue/red warm up [class] by an adult.” 




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