USHJA Annual Meeting Draws Many Viewpoints And Record Attendance

Hot topics include the money-won structure, zone standardization and redefining the amateur rule.

December 10, 2010

A record number of attendees gathered in San Antonio, Texas, for the sixth annual United States Hunter Jumper Association Annual Meeting, presented by the Texas Hunter Jumper Association. There they discussed a number of issues, including standardizing zone children’s and adult specifications, a revamped amateur definition and whether or not money won in derbies and classics should be counted toward Horse of the Year Awards.

The 346 attendees traveled to the Westin La Cantera Resort, where there were plenty of passionate viewpoints expressed but also many standing ovations as deserving equestrians received awards during the Evening of Equestrians Dinner and the Showcase Luncheon.

“So many members came and got involved with the process, wanted to learn about the process and understood it,” said USHJA President Bill Moroney. “Through experiencing the process, they better understand the dedication of the people who are on these committees. And they were able to see that meeting after meeting was added to hear everyone’s voices, opinions and expand the data.”

During the four-day meeting, Dec. 6-9, ample time was dedicated to discussing whether money won in the USHJA International Hunter Derbies and National Hunter Classics (soon to be known as National Derbies) should apply to a horse’s earnings for USEF Horse of the Year awards in his respective section. Currently, depending on the section, money or points won in derbies does apply.

Some professionals voiced their displeasure, especially those with first year green horses. They believe that a small number of first year green horses are capable of competing successfully in the hunter derbies and that the few who are capable shouldn’t receive “bonus points” for these classes. The opposite viewpoint is that these horses should be rewarded for their capabilities, and if they are able to supplement their winnings and move up in their respective HOTY national standings, “more power to them.”

In the end, after several compromises were considered, it was decided that the specifications should remain the same. “I have to commend all the committees and the many members involved in these discussions. These dedicated equestrians really considered the program and how it relates to the bigger picture. They talked about the future of the sport and where it’s going and used that dialog in their decision-making process. It is clear that our members want to see our sport evolve by keeping the good parts of tradition while moving forward with new opportunities so that we can grow the sport. In my mind, this discussion and decision really moved us forward in the sport,” said Moroney.

For more information about the Money Won issue and relevant data, see the "Direction of our Sport" power point program presented during the Annual Meeting.

Another primary topic centered around a proposal initiated by the U.S. Equestrian Federation but taken on by the USHJA that seeks to standardize zone specifications for the C-rated children’s and adult divisions across the country. Currently, each of the 12 zones set specifications for these divisions, and these specs vary from zone to zone, which has in the past created some challenges and points issues for riders competing outside their home zone.

At the culminating Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, the Board voted to refer these rules to the 2011 USHJA Annual Meeting. In the interim, the USHJA leaders plan to continue these discussions at the annual spring zone retreat where these rules will be further analyzed with supporting data.

“We encourage input from all of our members,” said Otis Brown, Jr., co-chairman of the USHJA Children’s And Adult Nationalization Task Force. “We [came here] on a fact-finding mission.”

USHJA members are encouraged to take the USHJA Zone Nationalizing Specifications and Awards survey to assist in the process.

A proposal adding USEF National Horse of the Year awards for these divisions was on the docket as well, but input from the attendees resulted in its withdrawal. During an informal vote on the second day of the meeting the proposal received no support from those in attendance.

“The country as a whole is closer in specs than you might think at the zone level,” added Britt McCormick, task force co-chairman. “We think we can find the right compromise. We’re moving at a snail’s pace because we want to get it right.”

The word “amateur” proved to be a popular one throughout the week as after several years of diligent work the USHJA Amateur and Owners committees proposed a major revision to the USEF definition of an amateur, which many people believe has become too complicated and cumbersome. Following valuable input from attendees during the General Rule Change Forum on Monday, the committee members reworked their proposal and included a definition for both an amateur and a professional that was brought forward to the final BOD meeting. Although the BOD voted to refer the proposal to their January meeting for additional fine-tuning, it was an important step forward.

“I think we’re really, really close,” said Amateur Committee Chairman Tracey Weinberg. “For the past several years we’ve given this change in definition much thought. We truly believe that if we’re to effectively reduce the confusion with the amateur rule it will go a long way toward reducing the number of amateur violations. We need a definition that people can comprehend and follow.”

Other rule changes of note include: one that designates a nationally recognized small hunter division at 3’ for horses just over the large pony height of 14.2 hands and reaching 15.2 hands; allowing riders to stop while on course in the show ring to reattach their helmet chinstraps without penalty; and removing the lead over option in the handy hunter specifications due to safety concerns.

All rule changes voted upon during the USHJA Final BOD meeting will now move forward to the USEF Annual Meeting, January 19-23, in Lexington, KY, where the USEF BOD will make the final decision.

During the Evening Of Equestrians on Tuesday night, USHJA leaders proudly announced that the Wheeler family, of Keswick, VA, has acquired the naming rights to the USHJA National Hunter Jumper Sport Museum located in the USHJA headquarters in Lexington, KY. The newly named “Wheeler Museum” is being underwritten through a generous donation by the Wheeler family in honor of their lifelong commitment and dedication to equestrian sports.

Other featured honorees included: Craig Dobbs as USHJA Volunteer of the Year; Danny Robertshaw and Col. John Russell as USHJA Lifetime Achievement Award winners; Tara Widman as the Amateur Sportsmanship Award winner; Kara Dunegan as USHJA Youth Sportsman’s Award winner; and Helen Baker Kelley as the inaugural winner of the Jane Marshall Dillon Award.

Four jumper riders have reached the coveted $1 million level in earnings since the USHJA began tracking the total money earned in 2005. They include: Beezie Madden ($1,001,825); Chris Kappler ($1,073,519); Tracy Fenney ($1,078,790); and Todd Minikus ($1,231,375). Jennifer Alfano reached the highest level in the hunter sections with earnings of $401,124.

USHJA Foundation President Lynn Jayne and Director Louise Serio announced during the Showcase Luncheon that the late hunter owner/rider Peter Wetherill, who passed away in February, had left the Foundation a significant gift that will be used to support its charitable works.

Complete coverage of the USHJA Annual Meeting will be published in the February 2011 issue of USHJA In Stride.

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