Sunday, Apr. 21, 2024

Planning The Future Of Our Sport

Our columnist, the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association president, seeks your help in shaping the future of the hunter/jumper sport.

It’s time for everyone to step up to the plate.

At the U.S. Equestrian Federation mid-year Board of Directors meeting, President David O’Connor directed the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association to take a hard look at our sport from a global vantage point and to make recommendations to the Federation that will direct us into the future.
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Our columnist, the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association president, seeks your help in shaping the future of the hunter/jumper sport.

It’s time for everyone to step up to the plate.

At the U.S. Equestrian Federation mid-year Board of Directors meeting, President David O’Connor directed the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association to take a hard look at our sport from a global vantage point and to make recommendations to the Federation that will direct us into the future.

First we must determine a philosophy for what and where we want our sport to be in the future. For too many years we’ve been asleep at the wheel, and it’s time for all of us to take responsibility.

In achieving this goal, we must review all aspects of our industry, keeping the welfare of our horses and participants at the forefront. 

Standards vs. Amenities

Standards are somewhat different than amenities in that you can create a minimum standard for something like number of or type of restrooms, but the cleanliness and convenience of them is more an amenity.
The USHJA Show Standards Committee has been developing an amenities evaluation, which will create an Amenities Score for each competition. Exhibitors will be able to evaluate competitions they attend, and shows will be able to advertise their positive scores.

We need to get to a point where exhibitors know by reading the rating of a competition on the prize list what minimum standards to expect at the competition. This is long overdue.

Our community has been hard at work these past four years developing individual parts of the ultimate plan; however, we have many other areas that need our attention.

In December, the hunter and jumper community will be introduced to the first stage of the Trainers Certification Program. At long last, our community is establishing a pipeline for developing responsible and educated trainers. 

Some benefits of the TCP will be immediately available, such as reduced rates on insurance for professionals, highlighted listings on the USHJA Trainers Directory and a new level of credibility. 

The greatest benefit will come in a few short years, when most trainers will be licensed, and clients will have a database to help them find a trainer who will be best suited to their situation. This service to our clients and potential clients will build confidence and support a level of integrity not always present in our sport.

Of Mileage And Standards

The single greatest effort must be to assess, revise and create a new philosophy with regards to our competition calendar. Everyone must understand that being granted a competition license is a privilege, not an entitlement, and the granting of a license is at the sole discretion of the Federation.

There’s no guarantee of the renewal of a license or to the mileage rule and standards remaining unchanged. 

As a community, I often wonder whether we are in a better position now than we were 20 years ago. Our industry has reached a crisis point due to the increased number of competitions, and this has created the immediate necessity for implementing definitive standards and requirements that go beyond the minimal ones that exist today.  

The mileage rule always seems to be the focal point of conversations in our sport, and the idea is often expressed that without the mileage rule, competitions would be forced to raise their standards due to marketplace competition. 

I believe that mileage is only one part of the much larger puzzle, and we are remiss if we don’t take the time necessary to fully explore all aspects of our sport.

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First, we must develop a philosophy about what we want our sport to be now and in five, 10 and 20 years.  In order to reach a consensus on our goal, we must accurately assess our current world to see the trends over the past several years and their effects, both positive and negative. 

Concentration of horses, migration patterns, number of competitions, how the competitions are structured—one, two or several consecutive weeks—concentration of competitions under one licensee and/or managed by one entity/individual, facility maximum capacity and a myriad of other data will be studied. 

Restructuring The Systems

The effort to examine and restructure our hunter system has started, and, although this is a daunting task, professionals from all levels and areas of our sport are working together to develop a plan that will revolutionize our industry and revitalize our sport.

This committee has already divided the duties among numerous task forces, each with a mission and obligation to return to the larger committee with a researched, defendable and innovative plan. 

The areas of interest include development of a USHJA World Championship hunter and jumper competition, prize money requirements and distribution, competition fees to exhibitors and to the Federation, competition standards, a menu of classes for
competitions to select from, and our awards and recognition programs.

I look forward to the first report to the general membership on the progress of this project during the USHJA Annual Meeting in December.

On the jumper side of the sport, our athletes also need to meet and decide their future. At every competition complaints are heard about our current system; now is the time to change it.

I’ve suggested that the USEF Show Jumping High Performance Committee hold a retreat in order to begin this process for the jumping discipline, which needs a long-range plan.

We must look at our competition calendar in a geographic sense in that one size will not fit all, and the variables change depending on the time of year.  It’s likely that there may be requirements for different levels of competitions depending on where they are located and when they are held.  We must make sure that the future calendar provides equestrians with increased opportunities at all levels, both economically and competitively.

Management And Licensing

In developing our future plan, we need to determine whether our sport warrants many different management organizations, or whether we want a smaller number of large management organizations, examining the pros and cons of both viewpoints. 

What tangibles will larger management organizations be able to provide our community that smaller managements cannot? And vice versa.  We need to make some definitive changes to the process of transferring (selling) licenses. 

While the Federation isn’t involved in the pricing of these transfers, our current system doesn’t provide an avenue for outside application for those dates. Right now, these deals are relatively private transactions between licensee and potential transferee, and the Federation is in no way required to honor any contractual agreements between the parties. 

It may serve our sport better to have a public application system for the licenses that come available for transfer. This system would provide the Federation officials with the opportunity to choose the best applicant from their perspective for the license, ensuring that qualified management is in place. 

Now we need to establish the necessary qualifications to manage the different levels of our competitions. Just as licensed officials and now trainers are certified, perhaps it’s time to require the same of competition management and personnel.

Creating definitive standards and requirements that a facility, the licensee and its management must provide to obtain a license at any level competition must be developed and implemented.  We can no longer continue allowing the lowest common denominator to be the norm. If a licensee wants a certain level of competition and its benefits, then he needs to meet a certain standard.

There’s a base level of standards that all competitions must provide to be Federation licensed.  As the level of a competition increases, so must the number and quality of the standards it must meet or exceed.  We must establish a system to grade facilities and relate that to the level of competition that can be held. Again, in order to provide opportunity, this standard may vary depending on geography.

Just last month I attended a competition with a computer list grand prix where the soundness jog was held on a rutted, muddy road through a grass field.  To add to the poor conditions, the jog was interrupted when trucks needed to pass by on the road. Is this acceptable for this level of competition?

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In my opinion, absolutely not, and this is just one of the issues that can be addressed by creating competition standards in our rules.

Point Chasers Beware

Overhauling our system of recognition and awards is a critical piece of the puzzle. 

The Mileage Rule Is Flexible

There already exists the ability for new competitions to be approved within the mileage of existing competitions, if they are deemed to be in the best interest of the sport.
A very good example occurred in 2007, when a Saratoga (N.Y.) competition was granted permission to be held at the same time as Lake Placid (N.Y.) and Fairfield (Conn.). All three competitions prospered. 

This opportunity may not be advantageous to someone trying to build a new showgrounds, but if a facility exists and market conditions warrant, you can apply for approval.

Competitions such as the Pony Finals, Quarter Horse Congress and Arabian Nationals are models that we need to consider in our future planning. These three competitions all have qualification criteria and bring together hundreds of competitors in head-to-head competition for the overall champion. 

None of them require a horse to show at 20, 30 or more competitions to qualify.  In fact, the opposite is true. There’s room in our sport for head-to-head national championship competition and for high-point horse of the year competition, allowing people to make the choice best suited for their situation.

We examine other breeds and disciplines to help us redefine our goals. The USHJA International Hunter Derby and other programs in the pipeline will provide equestrians with alternative avenues for competing and recognition. 

Under our current system, from year to year, we never know how many points or amount of prize money it will take to qualify for Devon (Pa.) and the fall indoor shows.  All too often, we’re compelled to keep showing, long after we would already be qualified, if we knew up front what we needed.  This needs to change. Our horses and our help are suffering the consequences of our current state of affairs.

We Need You

If you really want changes to our sport that will be best for all of us in our community, then get your thoughts and ideas down on paper and send them to us. We cannot read your minds. 

If you think that we were inundated with written complaints following the winter circuits last year, you are wrong.  So here is your opportunity to give us your input. All I ask is that you do it responsibly. Identify the problems, take the time to really think about them and give us some ideas for solutions.

In the process of developing our future plan, there will be pressures put on all of us from various groups within our sport.  It will require the work of people who do not back down in the face of adversity and are not easily intimidated.

It will require an incredible amount of hard work, determination, honesty, integrity, perseverance and true grit. It will require putting aside personal or special interests in the pursuit of excellence for all. 

In the end, what’s best for the equestrian community as a whole will be best for each individual part.
The USHJA has set up a mailbox for member input: competitions@ushja.org. Submissions must include name, address and membership number. 

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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