Sunday, Apr. 14, 2024

Opportunities Abound For Juniors And Young Riders

Our sport seems to finally be making some progress on increasing the opportunities for our junior and young riders.

There’s been a disconnect in our world for a while, and I’m pleased to see that the leaders of our sports are taking the initiative to increase the opportunities available for juniors and young riders.

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Our sport seems to finally be making some progress on increasing the opportunities for our junior and young riders.

There’s been a disconnect in our world for a while, and I’m pleased to see that the leaders of our sports are taking the initiative to increase the opportunities available for juniors and young riders.

Over the years there’s been no formal nationwide program aimed at identifying young, talented equestrians at the national level. Unless you were established and far enough along in your career to represent the United States on a Developing Riders Tour, you haven’t been able to gain much experience and exposure.

Our national championships do offer an opportunity for young riders to experience competing as a team member and an individual under a championship format, but this experience is limited to those who qualify to participate.

The local, regional and state groups have provided opportunities for constituents in their geographical areas or for small groups based on selection criteria, such as the West Coast Active Riders. These events and programs are much needed and should continue to function and be supported by our community.

Fortunately, change has been happening over the past couple of years, resulting in many more learning avenues for our youth.

An Educational Opportunity

The U.S. Equestrian Federation, by moving the North American Junior And Young Rider Championships to Lexington, Ky., has greatly increased the chance for our youngsters to participate and for this event to become a success in all aspects–participants, spectators and financial.

This will be the third year that the Federation has looked to the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, U.S. Dressage Federation and U.S. Eventing Association to contribute to the financial support of this event.

Speaking for the USHJA, as an organization, we believe in the need for this event and are proud to be in the position to offer financial support, but we’re glad to see the Federation taking the initiative to make this event a well-attended success.

If this championship can follow in the footsteps of successful events such as the USEF Pony Finals, the NAJYRC will be able to support itself in a style much more like the past events held at Howard Simpson’s Tempel Farms (Ill.).

Now that the NAJYRC is placed within the hunter and jumper competitions at the Kentucky Horse Park, trainers will be able to bring the rest of their clients to show, which hopefully will cancel out previous excuses for not supporting this event.

Funding through USHJA, as well as additional funding being raised by USHJA Zones to provide financial assistance to NAJYRC riders, helps to reduce the financial hardship for our youth.

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Due to the existing competitions at KHP, there’s a built-in equestrian oriented spectator and fan base to attend the competition too, and this fact provides the Federation with the ability to attract larger and additional sponsors for this championship.

Additional and larger sponsorships also help keep costs down and affords the Federation an opportunity to make this event financially sound. With the ongoing expansion of the KHP, we may see other competitions, such as dressage and eventing, take place around the NAJYRC in the future.

The built-in spectator and fan base will help fill the stands for this event and offers equestrians the opportunity to observe the various disciplines that compete during the NAJYRC. Our entire community will benefit from the ability to watch, listen and learn as representatives from across the nation come to Lexington to compete under international rules and regulations.

The Fédération Equestre Internationale component, along with all of the pressures and excitement it brings, gives these young riders international exposure. This competition is truly a steppingstone to representing our country in the future. Perhaps we should consider placing gold-medal NAJYRC riders on future Developing Rider Tours.

A residual benefit of the NAJYRC in Lexington is that our pony jumper and junior jumper riders will have a greater chance to watch this competition. With the Pony Finals just two weeks following the NAJYRC at the same location, this event is a valuable learning resource for those riders.

They’ll be able to observe the format, the pressures the riders are under representing a team and all aspects of a championship competition. I have no doubt that those riders who take the opportunity to immerse themselves in this event will be better prepared to participate in their own championships.

Support For Emerging Athletes

The USHJA Hunter and Jumper Zone Committees are finding their stride and making efforts to reach out within their areas to increase interest and awareness of programs and competitions to benefit young riders.

By creating separate hunter and jumper zone committees, we’ve increased the number of people involved in our sport. We’re seeing many new faces that never before participated in the governance structure, and these young equestrians are committed to helping members of their Zones to realize their goals.

Creating, implementing and funding Zone projects and programs has greatly increased. We’re seeing increased opportunity within the equestrian world, such as the lifetime benefit of the Zone 5 Scholarship Program, which, by the end of 2009, will have provided $25,000 in college scholarships over the past three years.

Joint Zone meetings provide the opportunity for idea exchange and collaboration on initiatives and programs. If we work together for the benefit of our members, we’ll increase our success rate. Identifying and including young people to assist with the plans, programs and goals of the Zones is critical to the education of our youth and will help us identify the future leaders of our sport.

Through the Zones, programs to assist our young riders are increasing, but the newest program launched this year by the USHJA is proving to be a major success: The Emerging Athletes Program (see March 13, p. 34).

The EAP was created by a committee of diverse equestrians interested in developing a nationwide system for identifying and nurturing young talent.

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Level I Training Sessions are currently being held across the nation. An application process is used to determine the 24 riders who will be invited to participate. From the Level I events, a smaller group of riders will be invited to participate in the Level II Training Sessions, after which a group of riders will be chosen to participate in a National Training Camp.

Following the National Training Camp, two riders will receive a scholarship for advanced training with a top professional chosen by the Emerging Athletes Committee. The format, dates and locations for the Level II and National Training Camp will be finalized by the Committee shortly.

The applications submitted to date have been amazing. The committee members are diligently reading each application thoroughly. I believe that the experience many of these committee members have gained through participating in team events and selections as competitors and trainers serves them well in their efforts to select the young riders for this program.

The number of applicants is far exceeding the number of available rider positions, and because we want to include as many riders as possible, the task of selection is important.

I want to stress that if you’re not selected to ride this year, don’t be discouraged. We invite you to participate as an auditing participant this year and to apply again next year. We had no idea how this new program would be received and how many wished to participate, so we started slowly. It will obviously grow.

One of the most interesting results of the application process is the number of riders who are honor roll students in their academic lives. I’m not involved in the rider selection, but personally, this is refreshing to observe, and the riders should be commended on being well-rounded individuals.

Academic performance will serve them well whether they continue to become equestrian professionals or participate as clients for other professionals. Riders from all levels of competition and experience are applying to this program, and it’s produced a wonderful cross section of participants. In addition to learning from our experienced clinicians, they’ll learn from each other.

Their onsite participation has been impressive too, from horse care to watching other training sessions and assisting with course building. The riders are immersing themselves in the program, which will make these events a true-life experience.

In addition to the work of the EAC, our hosts should be commended. Each venue, its owners, management and staff have gone out of their way to welcome our program, participants and public. They’ve provided stabling, rings, jumps, equipment, sound systems and staff to help facilitate the program, and to date all hosts have provided these amenities at no cost to the USHJA! Our entire equestrian community owes these generous friends a heartfelt thank you.

I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the USHJA staff for their organization and hard work. Without the many hours they spend behind the scenes, programs such as this one wouldn’t be possible.

One of the most important responsibilities our community has is to identify, nurture and enable our future leaders and representatives on the international level. I believe that we’re well on the way to accomplishing our goals by creating new avenues to assist our young equestrians. 

Bill Moroney


Bill Moroney is president of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, a member of the U.S. Equestrian Federation Board of Directors and a USEF R-rated judge. In between officiating, he’s head trainer at Salamander Farm in Middleburg, Va. He started writing Between Rounds columns in 2004.

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