After months of discussion and many iterations of a rule change proposal that would have altered the current age splits for the amateur-owner hunter divisions, the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association board of directors voted on Feb. 22 to leave the splits at 18-35 and 36 and over for now.
The rule change proposal originated from the USHJA Amateur Task Force after amateur members requested the hunter divisions be split into three, as they felt it was unfair older riders had to compete against the college-aged amateurs.
In reality, this change would’ve affected only the largest shows, because at many shows throughout the country the entries are small enough that the amateur-owner sections are often combined, and on occasion they’re combined with the junior hunter divisions as well. The burden would’ve been greatest for qualifying shows (Devon [Pennsylvania] and indoors) and shows that limit entries (like Capital Challenge [Maryland]). Due to scheduling constraints, if those shows were to add a third section at both 3’3″ and 3’6” they would have to accept a smaller number of entries in each section.
During their meeting on Feb. 8, board members suggested that the best option might be to stick with two age splits and adjust the age ranges. USHJA President Mary Knowlton brought the idea to the Amateur Task Force, and while some task force members said it might be best to withdraw the rule to allow further investigation, chair Tracey Weinberg felt it was best to find a compromise.
The newest iteration would’ve kept two sections at each height but with a floating split—meaning the specific age range for the “younger” and “older” divisions would vary depending on the age demographics at the show. Qualifying shows would not be required to use a floating split but would have to accept an equal number of entries for each section. There would be three divisions for the purpose of U.S. Equestrian Federation Horse of the Year Awards, with two potential options: 18-23, 24-39, and 50 and over, which would have been roughly equal based on current membership numbers, or 18-25, 26-49, and 50 and over, which was less equitable.
“There’s more data to study,” said Knowlton. “It’s a complicated problem.
“The median age actually goes against what the amateurs asked for,” she added. “The median is 31, which would lower it [from the current 36]. Moving up to 42 and over makes a very unequal split.”
Ultimately the board members felt there were too many details that needed to be worked out, so they voted to disapprove the rule for this year, but the USHJA will host a number of town halls in the upcoming months so that members can weigh in on the subject.
The other amateur-related proposal that the board discussed came from the USEF National Breeds and Disciplines Council and, if passed, would lessen the current restrictions on amateur riders. The board members were mostly in favor of increasing the cumulative value of non-monetary gifts allowed from $300 to $1,000 but were split on whether being a social media influencer should be permitted. In theory, board members were also in favor of allowing amateurs to receive remuneration for teaching in a non-competitive environment and while working as an apprentice, but members voiced concerns that both were difficult to define and enforce. That being said, the board voted to approve the rule and sent comments forward to the National Breeds and Disciplines Council.
Two other proposals that had not been resolved at previous board meetings received some conversation. One, a change to GR312.1, would make changes to the amount of prize money required to be paid out at hunter competitions. Some of the major changes include capping the permitted prize money at regional 1 and 2 competitions to $10,000 and increasing the required payout at premier competitions to $75,000.
The success of this rule change hinges on whether the USEF accepts another USHJA proposal that would reduce the number of premier shows held annually. The USHJA’s proposal would set new parameters for shows with the premier rating including: hosts level 5 jumpers and above; pays $75,000 in hunter prize money; holds USHJA special classes; and offers around 20 A-rated hunter sections.
New board member and horse show manager Glenn Petty expressed concerns that the new parameters would limit the premier rating to managers who are running multi-week circuits, but Knowlton looked into the current calendar and said the change would reduce the number of premier shows to about 70, and of those 70 there are several standalone shows.
Another proposal dependent on USEF action on another of the federation’s own proposals relates to the mileage exemption panel, which reviews mileage exemption cases. The USHJA board is seeking to increase the number of people on the panel from three to five and establish a pool of 20-30 trained individuals from the hunter/jumper industry who could sit on the panel. The competing proposal submitted by the USEF would simplify the mileage exemption process and place the decision solely in the hands of the USEF CEO or his/her designee. The USHJA board voted to disapprove that version of the rule during the Feb. 8 meeting.