Take a look at the farrier’s area at some of the biggest shows in the country, and you’re likely to see a line of horses waiting to have their shoes pulled at the behest of riders and trainers looking for the slightest advantage in under saddle classes. The hope is that, without the weight of shoes, their horse’s movement will be floatier and will earn a better ribbon. It’s a practice that’s been popular for decades, though over the years, critics have tried to outlaw it over horse welfare concerns.
The U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Horse and Rider Advocates Committee introduced a rule change proposal to that effect in 2018, but it was voted down. Due to pressure from members, the committee resurrected the proposal. The proposed change to HU129 states that, “Horses competing in hunter divisions must do so with the same shoeing status in the under saddle classes as in the over fences classes. If a horse is competing in over fences classes with shoes, the horse must compete in under saddle classes with shoes. Exception: caulks and studs.”
The proposal prompted lively discussion during the USHJA Annual Meeting, held virtually Dec. 4-10.
Committee chair Sue Lyman said they revisited the rule change proposal after it came up during one of the town hall meetings USHJA President Mary Knowlton hosted this spring. They sent a survey out to membership, and 80% of respondents said they’d be in favor of prohibiting shoe pulling. Of those respondents, 70% believed it was a welfare issue, while 80% thought it would level the playing field.
“Many of the disapprovals [by various USHJA committees] thought it was unenforceable, but how do you enforce other things for horse welfare like withholding water, riding or longeing a lame horse?” Lyman said. “The membership reports it.”
During a member comment period before the annual meeting, 10 members wrote in to say they were in favor of the rule, and three stated they were not.
“On social media, I think the Chronicle put something up about rule change, and I think there were eight comments, seven in favor,” Lyman said. “I’m looking for suggestions on how to make it go forward.”
Knowlton agreed that enforcement was one of the biggest obstacles to getting this kind of rule change passed. She pointed out that as a judge, you can’t keep track of which horses were shod and which weren’t in over fences versus under saddle.
“Without standing a steward at the in-gate, which is costly and not necessarily something we can get done, how do we do it without exhibitors policing each other?” she said. “They don’t like that; they get cranky about it.”
Several members of the Hunter Working Group and other committees shared their own experiences with shoe-pulling, stating that while it used to be standard practice, many trainers have stopped doing so altogether or only do so at specific championship shows and only with horses that have good enough feet to go barefoot.
“As a judge, I only have 10 minutes to decide who to pin out of a group of good-moving horses,” board member Mike Rosser said. “I don’t have time to look at their feet. Our job is to put our class in order. As a horseman, I have pulled shoes; I have not pulled shoes. I know my horses. At indoors this year I had two horses. One horse didn’t have good enough feet, so I didn’t pull shoes. Another could trot barefoot on gravel; we did pull his shoes. These horses are beautifully taken care of, and I think it’s individual and up to the professional that knows a horse.”
Both Knowlton and board member Sissy Wickes suggested the best way to discourage shoe-pulling for the under saddle is by educating members on the potential drawbacks of pulling shoes. They argued that more education will encourage owners and amateur riders to start questioning the practice and tell their trainers if they don’t want their horse’s shoes pulled.
Bev Bedard, who has worked as a steward at many championships, brought up an example from the USEF Junior Hunter National Championships that suggested the practice is losing popularity.
“I was a steward at junior hunter finals at Devon [Pennsylvania] before it left there and went up to Saugerties [New York],” she said. “At that time, they hired 10 farriers for under saddle day. You signed up for $100 apiece on entry blank. They lined up, and there were probably 100 getting shoes pulled. This past year I was the steward, and I waited to hear about farriers, was watching for the tent and farriers; it didn’t happen. Some showed with shoes pulled, but we didn’t have 10 farriers. There was some, but we didn’t have the line-up that we did before, and that leads me to know, somewhere along the way, education is happening.”
While the rule change ultimately didn’t pass at the final USHJA board meeting, the Horse and Rider Advocates Committee is going to look into ways to increase education on the possible drawbacks to shoe-pulling.
What’s The Future Of Horse Shows?
In November, the U.S. Equestrian Federation approved a new system that would divide horse shows into two tiers or “channels,” and that also garnered significant conversation during the USHJA meeting. Shows would be split into Channel I (national- and premier-rated hunter shows and standalone jumper shows at levels 4-6) and Channel II (regional-rated hunter shows and standalone jumper shows at levels 1-3). The two channels would have their own national and zone Horse of the Year awards.
The system will go into effect for the 2023 show season, and riders based in less densely populated parts of the country expressed concerns about it. However, they weren’t the only ones left uneasy. The changes were coupled with a new point chart that will award the same points regardless of competition rating; instead it’s dependent on the number of exhibitors in a class. There also are new prize money requirements, namely increasing the amount of money that must be paid out in rated hunter sections and classes from $24,000 to $75,000 at premier shows.
Louise Serio, who serves on the Hunter Working Group and helps run the Brandywine Horse Shows (Pennsylvania), worried the requirement to increase prize money could drastically reduce the number of premier-rated shows, particularly without those premier shows being able to draw competitors with the incentive of earning additional points. Brandywine often gives out roughly $68,000-$72,000, and to reach the $75,000 benchmark would be asking a lot, Serio said.
“If I give more, I should get more,” she said. “That’s a lot of sponsorship, and giving the same points they get for a national show for $25,000. It does make me concerned.”
WCHR Improvements For 2022
The World Championship Hunter Rider Task Force also announced changes meant to improve the overall program. Three WCHR Spectaculars were held in 2021, with the new WCHR Summer Spectacular taking place in San Juan Capistrano, California, in June. While that event will not return in 2022, the task force announced the addition of a WCHR Central Spectacular, which will take place at the Traverse City Spring Horse Show (Michigan) in June. As with the WCHR West Coast Spectacular, which will be held at the Desert International Horse Park (California) in 2022, the winner and reserve from that class will earn automatic entry into the 2023 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, held annually in Wellington, Florida.
The task force also increased the enrollment fee to ensure that all regional winners received some prizes. In the past, regional coordinators were responsible for soliciting donations, which made for severe inequity across the different regions. While regional coordinators are still encouraged to fundraise for prizes, the task force hopes it will be easier to recruit and keep regional coordinators if their fundraising duties are reduced.
Task force member Carl Weeden also introduced the concept of a yet-to-named excellence initiative that would recognize exemplary WCHR shows.
“One of the things that’s happened, that we get a lot of comments on, is there’s such differences between the regions,” Weeden said. “It’s definitely comparing apples and oranges. We want to give equal opportunity, but want to put positive spin on shows that are front runners of quality. Why not reward them? Where this concept came out is we want to pinpoint things that make them top level, maybe scoreboard, maybe prize money, look at what the derby program did with stars—not based on height but for amenities.”
Wickes pointed out that while it would be nice to have all WCHR shows reach an elite standard, that wasn’t a reality, as some regions of the country don’t have access to the same amenities and show facilities that others enjoy, and each region runs 10 WCHR shows annually.
More Ado About The Amateur Rule
The USHJA Amateur Task Force expressed concern about the changes to the USEF Amateur Rule that went into effect Dec. 1. A USEF Amateur Committee with members from all breeds and disciplines created the five rule changes, and many thought that perhaps hunter/jumpers needed their own discipline-specific amateur rule. The main concern was that the new rule allows certain breeds and disciplines—though not hunters and jumpers—to teach beginner lessons.
“While the hunter/jumper discipline is exempted from the teaching at the moment with this rule change, the risk and fear is that at some point in time hunter/jumper will no longer be an exception and be part of the rule,” said chair Tracey Weinberg. “I’m in favor of moving an amateur rule out of [the general section of the USEF “Rule Book”] and into [the hunter/jumper section.]”
An independent group of amateurs had approached Knowlton with similar concerns, including Rachel Howell, who sits on the task force. The group is trying to craft a rule specific to hunter/jumper that will be, in Knowlton’s words, “easy to understand and easy to regulate, with no gray areas.” The task force agreed to make the topic a major agenda item for the year ahead.
The task force also discussed the idea of creating an amateur hunter finals, similar to the USEF Junior Hunter Finals. While the idea originally was to include just 3’3” and 3’6” amateur-owner competitors, some also supported including adult amateurs and low adults as well.
Other Rule Changes And Conversations Of Note
• The USHJA board of directors held elections for four spots on the board, selecting Caroline Weeden, Anne Kursinski, Cricket Stone and Andrew Philbrick.
• A rule change updating the tests a judge may ask of equitation riders passed. There are now 23 tests, and the instructions for the test are more explicit about what is expected of the rider, including some diagrams. Much conversation surrounded whether a rider on a swapped horse could be asked to perform tests they had performed previously on their own horse (e.g. if riders were asked to counter-canter a jump on their own horse in an earlier course, could they be asked to do so again on a swapped horse?). In the end, it was agreed that should not be allowed.
Like all rule changes that pass during the USHJA Annual Meeting, this rule will go to the USEF meeting for final approval, and if approved will go into effect Dec. 1, 2022.
• A rule change requiring stewards to wear discernable identification provided by the USEF earned plenty of conversation and in the end had strong support, but the language of the rule proved a bit tricky to get right. That rule has been postponed to fine-tune the wording, but the concept is expected to pass. Also for stewards, a new rule would require shows that use golf carts to provide each steward with a golf cart.
• A rule change prohibiting certified schooling supervisors from officiating when their family members or clients are competing failed, with the rationale that there are not enough schooling supervisors without the additional regulation.
• Much discussion surrounded a proposal to improve safety by requiring the back rails of oxers in hunter classes to be set in Fédération Equestrian Internationale-approved breakaway jump cups. However, because all FEI-tested cups with breakaway sleeves are only 20mm (about .75”) deep, and hunter classes use 1.5”-deep cups, no safety cups exist that are both the desired depth and FEI-tested and approved. Currently some show managers mix deeper cups with breakaway sleeves, however that combination has not been safety tested by the FEI.
The rule change proposal failed, but with the comment that it would be approved with amended language stating that hunters will have to use the shallower FEI-safety tested cups on the back rail of oxers until deeper cups can be tested.
• After much conversation, a proposal that would have allowed stallions in certain junior equitation classes failed. Proponents of the rule argued that the division needs all the horses it can get and that juniors may already ride stallions in the jumpers. Opponents of the rule worried about safety, especially in flat classes or before tests when riders line up next to each other and at crowded in-gates.
• A rule change proposal that would have required the under saddle to go on the first day of two-day hunter divisions was disapproved.
• A rule change proposal that only requires small junior hunters to have a measurement card passed. Any junior hunter without a measurement card may compete in the large section. The intent states that: “Many horses competing in the large junior hunter sections are well over 16.0 hands; the owners/trainers/riders understand these animals are not contenders for the small junior hunter sections but are required to follow protocol and obtain measurement cards.”
“We brought this forward because at certain competitions where equitation horses compete in a junior hunter division once in the year, they need a measurement card, and the steward and vet are tied up doing this once a year,” said steward Cricket Stone, who is also an incoming member of the board. “It causes a hardship on the steward on that show or the couple of shows. Also, we feel it’s necessary to prove that you’re a small junior but not necessary to prove you’re a large junior. If you want to show in the [more restrictive] small division, get a measurement card. Open the large juniors up to anyone who wants to show.”
• A rule change requiring hunter divisions to split at 40 entries rather than 50 entries passed by a close vote.
• A rule change lowering the minimum number of junior hunter entries to four from the current six to reduce the number of premier shows required to combine required junior hunter sections passed.
• A rule change revising the how to deal with jumper riders without a back number passed. On first offense, the rider receives a verbal warning. The second offense the rider may get a yellow card, and on the third offense, he or she may be eliminated by the judge.
• A rule change codifying how to deal with a jumper rider whose air vest deploys in the ring passed. A rider may get assistance to remove an inflated vest. While this was proposed as an extraordinary rule change proposal, it’s now a standard rule change that will go into effect next Dec. 1.
• The Sallie B. Wheeler/USHJA/USEF Hunter Breeding National Championships will hold 2022 finals at the Virginia Horse Center and at the Central Texas Rose Classic.
“There were not enough entries in the west, so we moved it to central,” said Knowlton. “It was almost dead; hopefully this will revive it.”