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Restructure And Certification Are Hot Topics At The USHJA Annual Meeting

After what he described as a 30-year wait, trainer and USHJA Junior Hunter Task Force Chairman Don Stewart Jr. finally saw his proposed rule change to cap entry fees receive the green light at the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Meeting, held Dec. 8-11 in Nashville, Tenn.

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After what he described as a 30-year wait, trainer and USHJA Junior Hunter Task Force Chairman Don Stewart Jr. finally saw his proposed rule change to cap entry fees receive the green light at the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Meeting, held Dec. 8-11 in Nashville, Tenn.

“Well, it’s about time,” he said shaking his head. “We’ve been jumping for the same amount of prize money since 1975.”

In fact, a variety of impassioned rule changes dealing with prize money and allocation got the nod during the organization’s fifth annual meeting, as the USHJA Hunter Restructure Initiative took its first tentative steps to change the current point structure to money-won.

It didn’t happen without debate, however.

And a lot of work.

After three retreats in Florida, Ohio and Illinois, the USHJA Hunter Restructure Committee, led by chairman Geoff Teall and vice chairman Larry Langer, has set out on a mission to “identify and preserve the core traditions of show hunters, while restructuring the hunter division.”

Their initial goals are to focus on the open hunter sections, create a national championship event, evaluate and redefine the qualifying and awards systems and their relationship to prize money, and redefine the competition approval and rating systems.

Their first step was to propose rule changes to support their restructure, including GR1129.3, which changes the point system to money won for U.S. Equestrian Federation national Horse of the Year awards in the professional divisions effective Dec. 1, 2009.

“Some parts of our hunter industry are broken,” said Langer during the committee’s presentation. “We have the statistics now, and we see what’s happening around the country. We’re going to start with the professional divisions because they’re the weakest around the country.”

GR1129.4 and 5 redefines the amount of prize money to be offered and A- and AA-rated competitions and the amount of hunter classic prize money that counts toward this total. This rule change received ample discussion as the words “must be awarded” and “must be offered” could create different scenarios depending on the show rating, number of entries and combined sections. Amendments were also being discussed regarding AA shows that offer add-backs in the A-rated hunter divisions.
 
Questions also arose as to whether or how to count International Hunter Derby prize money and the newly proposed USHJA National Hunter Classic (still in discussion) prize money into the money-won standings. Some people feared that a horse owner could sponsor a big-money hunter classic in a remote location and skew the HOTY results to favor his own animal.

“The Open Hunter Task Force will monitor the money won,” said Louise Serio, the committee chairman who also sits on the Hunter Restructure Committee and the USHJA Board of Directors. “We’re very excited to see this move
forward. We’ll be studying it this year and tracking money won and points to see how it’s working. We’ll then be ready to add an increment or add-back system if needed.”

Their rule change HU108 established prize money allocations for the first three places in a hunter class for uniformity in awarding prize money. The balance of prize money may then be distributed at show management’s discretion.

Division Changes
In addition to the money-won change, the program also proposes a completely restructured professional hunter system, creating a new playing field for green and regular hunters.

Concepts under consideration include allowing a green hunter to compete for one full year minimum, and his green year starts when he first competes over 3’6″ fences. He may compete as a green hunter after one year if he hasn’t won more than a yet to be determined amount of prize money.

Conformation hunters will jump 3’6″, 3’9″ and 4′. The model is to count full points, and conformation percentage will be 30 percent in all other classes. He may compete at 3’6″ and 3’9″ for one year from the time he starts at each height.

In the proposal for open hunters, they will jump 3’6″, 3’9″ and 4′, and the horse is able to freely move up and down the levels. Prize money will be proportionate, so a horse who jumps higher will receive more prize money. An A-rated show may offer the sections combined, while an AA-rated show will offer a split with a specific minimum to allow combining.

During the Hunter Restructure Committee Presentation, professional Patty Heuckeroth worried that combining the 4-foot horses with the 3’6″ horses wouldn’t be fair. “You can ease a 3’6″ horse around a course, but at 4′ horses need to be fitter, and they sometimes have more rubs than the 3’6″ horse,” she noted.

USHJA President Bill Moroney said that he sees this restructure and the supporting rule changes as a way out of the current depression that the professional hunter divisions are experiencing.

“Larry [Langer] always says the horse shows are the laboratory of our sport,” said Moroney. “These rule changes are an opportunity to run an experiment next year. [Changing] the points to money won in the professional divisions may be a good opportunity to run an experiment in 2009 and see what happens.”

The Hunter Restructure Committee proposes the first USHJA National Championship to be in 2010 in August, which may follow a format similar to the USEF Pony Finals and with horses qualifying through earning a championship or reserve at an A- or AA-rated competition.

“There may also be different ways to qualify,” said Serio, explaining that they may use zone or regional qualifying criteria as well as inviting champions at the fall indoor shows and Devon (Pa.). “We want it to be inclusive, not just for the small percentage at the top of the sport.”

The Hunter Restructure Committee emphasized throughout their presentation that they are in the discovery stage and seek input from the membership. They’ll be conducting surveys and have four subcommittees—Open Hunter, National Championship Event, Qualifying And Awards Systems and Competition Approval And Ratings—for in-depth work.

“We’re looking at horse shows to work for the huge demographic and the whole country from AA to B and C [rated shows], which is a huge challenge,” said Hunter Restructure Committee member Shelley Campf. “I took on Geoff’s request and see both sides [as exhibitor and show
manager]. We all need each other. We behave like the Hatfields and McCoys. We don’t behave like we support each other. We need to get along better and support each other—we’re all in this together.”

The Trainer Certification  Conundrum
Even though hunter/jumper legend George Morris is eager to be among the first to take the USHJA Trainer Certification tests, many other trainers aren’t necessarily following his lead.

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After years of hard work and dedication by the USHJA Trainer Certification Committee, the program is set to launch in 2009. Certification materials, applications and enrollment procedures will be released in May, and testing begins in June.

After questions about the program arose in the Riders And Trainers Committee meeting, Campf, the chairman of the Certification Committee and Board of Directors member, held an impromptu session on the program.
She reiterated that at the outset this program is strictly voluntary, and contrary to popular belief, trainers will not be required to be certified to attend USEF-recognized competitions, one rampant rumor.

“This is really a program based on education,” she said. “It’s not about us dictating who you can and cannot teach or where you can show. This is certification, not licensing.”

Campf also added that the Category I test is open book, so anyone with fears of failing the test should realize that it’s not about test taking but learning. “It’s the foundation level,” she said. “We want you to understand the basics of horsemanship.”

She also noted that during the program’s first three years she sees it “easier to get in.” There will be tighter restrictions beginning in 2012.

Category II includes a textbook of “white papers” that are currently in the production stage. Applicants will be asked to study papers written by experienced authorities in their respective fields, including veterinarians, farriers, stewards, trainers, riders, etc., who provide a synopsis on a particular subject. For example, a paper on course designing will be written by one of the top course designers in the country.

“The intent of these papers is for people to get their brains going. We want to encourage people to learn more about the sport and all aspects of horsemanship,” said Campf. “George [Morris] always says that to be a good teacher you must teach yourself to always keep learning.”

Campf noted that the white papers are not intended to dictate or mandate a particular person’s philosophy as the only correct one, and the test questions will be phrased accordingly. “We just want people to open their minds to another way of thinking,” she said.

Category III will not be launched yet as the committee plans to evaluate Categories I and II and fine-tune the program, if needed.

“We’re now asking top people to get in and bring everyone else along,” said Campf, adding with her trademark smile, “I’m begging you to help us try. If it doesn’t work, you can all shoot me.”

The requirements for Category I certification include:

  • Be at least 21 years of age.
  • Be a current member of the USHJA in good standing.
  • Declare professional status.
  • Provide proof of current CPR/First Aid certification from the American Red Cross (insurance requirement).
  • Submit current resume documenting continuing education and experience teaching, training, and/or riding.
  • Provide proof of liability insurance.
  • Attend a USHJA Trainers Symposium.

Two Trainers Symposiums were held in 2008, one on each coast, and the USHJA plans to offer at least two in 2009, with dates and locations yet to be announced.

High Performance Hunters
In her year-end wrap-up, USHJA Vice President Chrystine Tauber noted that the International Hunter Derby had an incredibly successful debut year with 31 events held throughout the country.

“We have hit a home run with this program,” she said. “It’s grown to be the grand prix of the hunter ring.”
In the High Performance Hunter Committee meeting, chairman Ron Danta echoed those words. But he also noted that there would be a few tweaks to the program to fine-tune it, including one change to the judging.

“We received a lot of feedback from people who are worried about the scoring,” he said. “They’re worried about protecting the hunters when you have the jumpers and equitation horses going in these classes.”

In an effort to reward the attributes of a talented hunter, for which the class was developed, beginning in 2009 each judge may now award 10 bonus points in the first round for the horse’s style, movement and quality.

“Say a horse was an incredible hunter with great style and he had a late lead change, he could now receive up to 20 bonus points from the judging panel,” explained Danta, “which would reward his true talents.”

The inaugural International Derby Finals, scheduled for the summer of 2009, is also expected to raise the bar for the program.

“The Finals are probably going to be the largest showcase of hunters in the history of our sport,” said Danta. “I don’t think in our lifetime we’ll see anything else like this.”

While the details are still being finalized, the plan is for the top 75 derby horses on the money-won list to be invited for a two-day head-to-head showdown. In addition to the competition, the event will feature parties and other special events.

“Our goal is to get the International Derby horses to perform [an exhibition] at the [2010 Alltech FEI] World Equestrian Games,” said Danta. “As fast as this program has grown, the international people are showing an interest. Maybe one day we’ll even have hunters at the WEG.” 

What’s New For 2009?

USHJA Trainer Certification Program

After several years in developing, the TCP, a voluntary program, will launch this year with the first applicants able to take their level 1 tests in June (see article).

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USHJA Members Choice Awards
Allows exhibitors the opportunity to reward excellence at USEF-recognized competitions through their feedback relating to the facility, footing, show personnel, hospitality, etc.

USHJA “Building For Growth” Capital CampaignThe goal is to raise $6.5 million in a two-year time frame to construct a nationally recognized headquarters at the Kentucky Horse Park to be completed in the fall of 2009.

USHJA Emerging Athletes Program
A system that identifies and nurtures talented young riders and creates a national program as a stepladder to international competition. This will be accomplished through a system of talent search clinics on a zone level and regional level culminating in a national training camp.

ASG Software Solutions USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals
The first final will be held Aug. 21-22 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

USHJA Horse Registration
As of Dec. 1, 2008, the USHJA began a horse registration program. Currently, there is a one-time fee of $30. Owners wishing to participate in the USEF Horse of the Year Awards, qualifying competitions, championships, have points accrue in the National Computer Ranking List or participate in USHJA Foundation Awards will also need to have their horse recorded with the USEF. The USEF mandatory jumper recording fee was eliminated.

USEF Medal Final Schedule
The Equitation Task Force has proposed that the USEF Medal Final, held at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, will now have a different format beginning in 2009. Riders who qualify will participate in a mandatory Saturday qualifying class over an equitation course, and a top percentage of riders will then move on to Sunday’s Final.

Special USHJA Awards
Amateur Sportsmanship Award
Peggy O’Meara

Youth Sportsman Charter
Madeline Genereux

Volunteer of the Year
Mindy Darst

Lifetime Achievement Award
Beth Miner
Alvin Topping

Owner Recognition Award
Hunter—Mary Slouka for Cunningham
Jumper—W.M. Dobbs, Alex Boone and Kent Farrington for Up Chiqui

Rider Recognition Program
Hunter—Scott Stewart ($224,613)
Jumper—Margie Engle ($947,520)

New Rules In A Nutshell
The following rule change proposals passed the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Board of Directors and will now move forward to the U.S. Equestrian Federation Annual Meeting in January for final discussion and approval. Most will become effective Dec. 1, 2009.

HB104 — Eliminates the “double point” hunter breeding classes where two judges judge one class of horses and two sets of ribbons are awarded.

HP110 — Removes the sentence: “Suitability of a pony for a rider is determined by the performance of the animal and the size of the rider  as related to the size of the pony.” Provides the judge more discretion in determining the suitability of a pony and rider and places less emphasis  on size of rider.

HU124 — Reinstates the rule that in classes restricted to junior riders, a junior must jog the animal for soundness.

HU145.3 — Regarding entry fees: For any division offering $5,000 or more per section in prize money, management must limit the entry fee to no more than 10 percent of the prize money offered.

JP108.3 — Jumper prize money should be increased as the height, spread and technical difficulty of the courses increase. Therefore, in sections designated low and high, no more than 40 percent of the section’s prize money may go to the low section.

JP117.2 — Brings the amateur-owner hunter and jumper rules into sync: An amateur jumper rider who rides for a person outside of his or her family may not ride in a class restricted to an amateur-owner at the same competition.

Rules Not (Yet) Meant To Be

After discussions in committees and in the rule change forums, the following rule change proposals were withdrawn or did not pass the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Board of Directors.

JP150.10b — Sought to restrict amateur riders competing in open jumper    classes of $25,000 or more from competing in the lowest height section of the amateur-owner jumper division at the same competition where more than one height section is offered. This rule change drew  tremendous discussion and debate in multiple committee meetings but was withdrawn for further study and rewrite.

EQ109.2 — The proposed change changed the wording “conservative colored bandages” to black or white polo wraps. This rule change was voted down as evidently exhibitors still wish to use whatever color “conservative” bandages they choose.

GR907.2 — The proposed change required that all horses registered with a breed association must be entered using the horse’s registered name. This name must also be used for recording the same horse with the USEF for use in Horse of the Year awards.

GR914.1 — This rule change proposed by the Eventing Committee regarding refusal of entries added a sentence stating “Additional reasons to reject an entry may be, but are not limited to, check bouncing, proven incapability of rider or horse at the level entered, or medical questions.” Attendees in the General Rule Change Forum understood the premise of the rule change but voted it down as show managers didn’t want to be responsible for “legislating concussions.”

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