U.S. Hunter Jumper Association President Mary Knowlton kicked off a rescheduled USHJA Town Hall webinar Monday evening by reminding participants about a rule change just approved by the U.S. Equestrian Federation board of directors at its mid-year meeting: All horses in schooling areas, exercising areas and longeing areas now are required to wear their numbers, or have the number attached to the person riding or longeing. Any horse without its correct number will be asked to leave the area.
“When something happens and a horse needs to be identified, a number is the best way to do it,” Knowlton said. “You can’t just, say, carry a microchip scanner everywhere.”
Knowlton related a story of when her assistant was longeing a horse and another longer’s horse ran into hers. Knowlton had a hard time tracking down the other person to address the incident, but it would have been easy to do if everyone had a number. She also suggested that it will be easier to identify someone who falls and might be knocked unconscious when they are wearing the horse’s number.
“Recent EVH-1 health concerns at certain licensed competitions brought a requirement for any horse out of a stall [to] wear a number; requiring a number on a person longeing, exercising or schooling, or the horse, is practical and easy to enforce,” the rule change states in part.
While some people are worried that grooms, riders and parents could lose the number, Knowlton said show secretaries are often “wizards” at recreating lost back numbers by piecing together numerals from others. She also suggested that hunters could follow what jumpers and other Fédération Equestre Internationale competitors do in buying interchangeable numbers that can be attached to the bridle or breastplate. She pointed out that dressage horses must wear a number at all times‚ not just when showing, schooling or longeing. Minnesota amateur Betsy Kieffer pointed out that there’s a similar rule in place at hunter shows in Canada.
“This came from the stewards committee,” steward Janet Fall said. “We’re the ones who asked for it. It’s going to help horse show managers also, because non-showing horses are going to have to have numbers, and proper paperwork will be signed, and releases will be more current. It’s going to dot a lot of I’s and cross a lot of T’s.”
Addressing An Attitude Problem
Knowlton also asked about improving civility at horse shows, saying she and others have seen a decline in manners at shows.
“Asking people to be civil and deal with situations in a professional and temperate manner is not calculating the trajectory from the earth to the moon,” she said.
“How do we as a sport get past this moment where we’re standing in front of person at the in-gate screaming at them and calling them names?” she continued. “Being angry at a rule interpretation is not how it should be. How do we reverse this negative tide? How do we make sure people understand our rules? Is part of what we should do [to] decrease amount of rules? Then are we willing to accept a judge or steward has the right to make a judgement call without screaming and wailing? Or do we need every single loophole closed?”
Florida judge Lucie McKinney recalled giving out six yellow cards in one day for incorrect behavior at a recent horse show. The bad behavior she saw ranged from trainers riding horses through an area where horses were forbidden, a rider trotting full bore through the out-gate of a ring despite being warned that she must follow the rules and leave the ring at a walk, and a trainer berating an in-gate staffer.
“I believe in old-fashioned morality of how we used to do horse shows, and that’s not available now,” she said. “You have to give a warning; you have to give a yellow card. The next day [after receiving a yellow card] not one of those people broke the rules. If I don’t take a stand with a steward, who’s going to do it? [First offense] chat, [second offense] warning, [third offense] yellow card—that’s how you do it.”
On anonymous attendee described the stress at horse shows as “worse than an airport” when they were at a show with 1,500 horses. Another described the problem as entitlement, which Knowlton agreed with. She related a story of enforcing the parking rules at a horse show only to be met with cold disregard.
“I think that people get away with poor behavior because we allow them to,” wrote Ryder Richardson, 2022 U.S. Equestrian Federation Youth Ambassador. “I think warnings need to be given out a bit more.”
Another anonymous attendee asked if why certification and education of trainers hasn’t happened, as problems like poor longeing, dangerous riding and mistreatment of show staff are largely the purview of trainers.
Knowlton agreed that could help, but she was advised by USHJA General Counsel Marianne Kutner that the association couldn’t mandate trainer certification. She pointed to the USHJA instructor credential programs as avenues for coaches to learn about ethics, laws, coaching, nutrition and athlete wellness. But the program, while strong, she said, is voluntary.
“In some cases it’s leading a horse to water, but they don’t want to drink,” she said.
Channel System Woes
Several attendees expressed discontent with the channel system, which created two separate USEF Horse of the Year tracks, one for premier- and national-rated shows and one for regional-rated shows. The channel system was explained in 2021 and implemented in 2023, having been passed by the USEF on an extraordinary basis, meaning it bypassed the usual rule-change process.
“As a matter of personal experience, it has limited shows for us [and] increased cost, as our barn goes for national points,” one anonymous attendee wrote. “Some of us love to show and just don’t have the means. We have to stay in one channel to be competitive, and it really breaks the little guy. We have to go where our trainers go, and it was a huge hit for many of us. As an amateur-owner, this program has been super limiting and disappointing. We [literally] showed half of what we did last year.”
Knowlton acknowledged the writer’s discontent, saying the USHJA was not in favor of the channel system and wanted to have a full year of discussion to try to work out the kinks before it was implemented.
“[The USEF] had the bit in their teeth, and they were going forward no matter what,” Knowlton said. “There’s many parts of this that haven’t turned out the way we’ve hoped. It’s early days—we haven’t even been doing this a year—but I agree with you.”
While this was the final USHJA Town Hall meeting on the original calendar, Knowlton said that they have been so popular that the association is planning to hold another one in August, with the date and time to be announced.