Saturday, May. 18, 2024

Many Journeys For Some Champions

This year’s annual Horse Show issue is our biggest ever, with 1,088 photographs of champion hunters, jumpers and equitation riders from throughout the country. From our U.S. Equestrian Federation national champions to regional and local associations, this issue celebrates horses and their talented riders from leadline to grand prix.
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This year’s annual Horse Show issue is our biggest ever, with 1,088 photographs of champion hunters, jumpers and equitation riders from throughout the country. From our U.S. Equestrian Federation national champions to regional and local associations, this issue celebrates horses and their talented riders from leadline to grand prix.

Most of our champions come by their titles through conscientious devotion to their horse and their sport. Unfortunately, not every story behind every photograph is a positive one. And over the past few years I’ve heard some startling first-hand reports of one of the most negative aspects of our sport, point chasing. Although you might think it’s most prevalent at the higher levels, surprisingly, point chasing is common even on the local circuits.

Last year, U.S. Hunter Jumper Association leaders convinced the USEF IT Department to add the number of horse shows attended (in parentheses) to the points each horse or pony earned. While chasing points is nothing new, having this information readily available is, and it promotes much-needed discussion.

The 21 USEF national champions in the hunter and hunter breeding divisions traveled to an average of 25.8 horse shows to earn their 2007 titles. The fewest were 15 (side-saddle), while the most were 37 (yearling hunter breeding). Interestingly, the youngest horses showing, those in the three hunter breeding divisions, attended the most shows, with an average of 28.25. And, similarly, the youngest riders competing, those on ponies, averaged 27.83 shows to earn their championships.

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So what do these USEF numbers say about our sport? I believe they reveal that it’s time to consider some changes to the way our top tier championships are awarded. The sport’s leaders are well aware of the problems too and are exploring solutions. One suggestion is a head-to-head championship—perhaps similar to other breed organizations’ world championships or the All American Quarter Horse Congress (Ohio)—where the top horses could meet to determine the “world champions.”

Unfortunately, efforts to curb point chasing haven’t been all that effective over the years. Some major horse shows and associations only count a certain number of shows—15, for example—for qualifying purposes or championships. But often people continue competing well past the 15 shows in an effort to “sweep” the division as many times as possible to accrue the most points. In addition, “pony pros” are sometimes employed to qualify a pony for another, less experienced child to show, which really isn’t in the spirit of the process either.

There are many other goals and opportunities out there, and the sport’s leaders are continually adding new programs. For instance, the USHJA Foundation Awards and the High Performance Hunter Derby competitions, in their formative years, certainly promise to add yet another option for those who horse show.

And while the USHJA and USEF leaders will continue to work to solve such problems, they’re not in the business to legislate common sense. Owners and trainers need to put their horses’ welfare above a ribbon or a championship, whether local or national. There’s simply no reason a hunter breeding horse should spend more than half of its life on a horse van or a pony hunter should attend four shows in one week. Our equines reward us every day with their trust and generosity. Shouldn’t we return the favor?

Tricia Booker, Editor

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