USHJA’s Emerging Athletes Program – Zone 10’s Level I Training Session

By Laura Ware

Back in October of 2008 I was excited to read that the USHJA was creating the Emerging Athlete’s Program (EAP). Geared towards discovering and teaching young people who are dedicated to becoming the best riders and horsemen possible, I was happy it began while I was still young enough to participate. The application, which I eagerly completed, contained questions about academics, extracurricular activities, and riding accomplishments. I was thrilled to be chosen to participate in the 3’6” section on my young jumper Westin.

The clinic, given by Melanie Smith Taylor, was split into three sections: 3’, 3’6”, and 4’, with no more than eight riders each. The first day, we did trot rails, a circle of four jumps, and a relatively straightforward course. The trot rails were spaced one step, two steps, then one step apart, and the circle of jumps was set so the rider could put either two or three strides between the fences, which were actually just small flower boxes with potted plants as standards. Melanie really focused on increasing our awareness of our horse’s feet. She had us do an exercise where we would back up four steps, go forward four steps, and then decrease the amount of steps until we were just shifting our horse’s weight forward and backwards, without actually moving their feet. The idea was that this shifting of our horse’s weight at the halt would be similar to the feeling of rebalancing our horses back over their hindquarters while cantering on course.

The second day, the exercises were more technically challenging and Melanie was a bit more demanding. I loved it. Of course, I had my fair share of problems, but I learned so much about what I need to do to improve myself and my horse, and being able to figure my way out of some of the problems presented improved my confidence in my riding abilities. Similar to the first day, we did more trot and canter rails – Melanie had been unimpressed with our performance over the trot cavaletti the previous day. We also practiced exercises that forced us to dramatically lengthen and shorten our horse’s stride. In our flatwork, we cantered over a long bounce to a short bounce at one end of the ring, to a short one stride to a long one stride, all ground rails, at the other end. During the 3’ session, I stood next to the rails so I could re-position them as the horses displaced them, and I felt bad every time I had to close the gap between them – they were set so short! Though Westin had been really good with the trot rails, we had some problems with the cantering elements. He wasn’t keen on the idea of putting his feet between such closely placed poles – he found it much easier to just take one big, awkward leap over them! However, after a few corrections, he figured out how short he needed to make his stride, and did the exercise quite well.

Over the jumps, we practiced long gallops to singles, accompanied with short turns. Melanie instructed us to ride to each fence with a particular distance so the task upon landing would be easier to accomplish. The amount of discipline the lesson demanded was starting to wear on Westin and at times he became a little resistant, but overall he performed well over the jumps. It was fun being able to gallop down to a single oxer, and then do a pretty prompt turn right afterwards, which six months ago Westin probably couldn’t have done. Immediately after our last jumping pattern, Melanie asked us to do a small movement to keep our horses thinking. She asked me to place my horse’s front feet one step to the right, without moving his hind end. Westin wanted nothing to do with this! He threw a small temper tantrum as Melanie was going on about how none of the riders in my generation are able to do something as simple as place their horse’s feet, and I was really starting to sweat. “How do you expect to adjust for a distance if you can’t even move your horse’s feet at the halt?” she asked us emphatically. A little light illuminating the significance of flatwork went on in my head. I’d never thought of this, and I was frustrated with myself for not being able to do something so simple. She continued explaining this particular failing to me as well as the rest of the group, even using her pen to demonstrate my incorrect turn effort. Just when it seemed she was going to give up on me and continue with the clinic, I thought to myself, “Westin, you are going to participate” and sure enough, he did and we did it! Being able to move my horse’s hooves one step to the right may not seem like a great achievement, but I was proud of both of us for finally figuring it out. Though I had to take some heat for being unable accomplish the task initially, I was truly pleased with our eventual success.

The end result of the EAP annually is that the pool of riders chosen from each zone will be narrowed down, after more training sessions and a Nation’s Cup-style competition, until there are just two, and the top two will each receive a grant for one month’s worth of training with a particular professional. Through this experience I gained perspective, learned a lot and came home motivated with some new exercises to practice. EAP provides a unique chance for young competitors to learn from top professionals and grow as riders. If you’re under 21 and aspire to be the best rider possible – I highly recommend that you apply for the 2010 program.

See a Zone 10 EAP Training Session First Hand!

Earlier this year the United States Hunter Jumper Association, Inc. announced the 2009 USHJA Emerging Athletes Program, a unique series that offers an unprecedented opportunity for young riders at various levels to learn from some of our nation’s top show jumpers. They received an overwhelmingly fabulous response from all levels of riders. Almost three hundred applicants, many of whom have not competed in ‘A’ horse shows or have a high level horse, will be selected – twenty-four from each zone – to participate in their zone’s 2-day clinic – eight riders at 3’, eight riders at 3’6” and eight riders at 4’. The applications received to date were well prepared and showed a very hard working, dedicated group of young athletes.

Watch Olympic medalist Melanie Taylor work with riders who show talent on horses with limited abilities, young horses, difficult horses, as well as pony jumper rider participants. Additionally, participants will do all their own work from horse care to course setting, learning about the skills of riding well from the ground up.

This exceptional format makes the EAP a wonderful audit to riders and trainers who find themselves in similar situations every day – it is a chance to truly relate to the clinicians and partakers. As an auditor, one will have complete access to the techniques used to identify talented young riders competing at the grassroots level of competition in our sport, nurture budding talent regardless of the means, and support the emerging athletes that embody the future of Hunter/Jumper sports.

Forty-eight riders from Training Level 1 will then be selected to join in one of four regional clinics. The next twelve chosen from the regional clinics qualify for a week-long intensive session, culminating in a Nations Cup type competition. Finally, the top two from this session will be invited to train for 30-days with an experienced trainer.

As Committee Co-Chairman Melanie Smith states, “This is a program for emerging athletes that is only the start of something very big and important to the future of the next generation of our sport. USHJA and the members of the Emerging Athletes Committee are committed to making this program one that will provide a stepladder for young talent to reach their goals of riding on a team representing the United States someday.”

2008 USHJA Annual Meeting

A to Z at USHJA
By Jackie McFarland

We all expect interesting changes due to the economic climate. However our industry is hot to trot – attendance didn’t appear to be light at this year’s USHJA Annual Meeting in Nashville, TN. The interaction at the rule change forum, in committee meetings and regarding program implementation was lively and positive. USHJA is taking big strides for our discipline and participating members are playing a big role.

The meeting covered a wide range of topics over a four-day period. The following is a brief overview of a handful of the impressive developments happening with this five-year-young hunter jumper association.

Hard work for HJ

The staff, board members and committee members of USHJA are working diligently on behalf of the hunter jumper discipline – from the grassroots to high performance. It takes an incredible amount of effort to build a brand new organization for a discipline steeped-in-tradition that wants to evolve to new levels. That said, even the traditionalists are opening their minds and participating in some very forward thinking.

Unruly Ruling

Rule changes are a key element of these annual meetings. Seemingly mundane, these sessions can get quite animated as various individuals speak their mind on details that are important to their passion and potentially their livelihood. Covering topics from measuring ponies to splitting an equitation class to heights of Low Junior Jumper Classics, these minute details are important to hunter jumper exhibitors at all levels.


2008 was the inaugural year of the High Performance Hunter. In the form of the USHJA Hunter Derbies, chosen A-rated horse shows hosted these special hunter derbies throughout the country. Not only did hunter, jumpers and equitation horses step up to compete for the money, the points and the fun, but spectators gathered in droves. To watch hunters! The program returns in 2009 and will culminate in the first final in Kentucky this August. The top 75 horses on the money-qualifying list will be invited to a unique two-day competition, offering fabulous prize money and awards to grooms, riders, trainers and most importantly owners. The first International Hunter Derby of 2009 is during Week III of HITS-Thermal with another during the Championship Week. Winter circuit derbies will be held in Ocala, Gulfport and Wellington.


New! Although the details of the program may change as it evolves, the Emerging Athletes Program offers an unprecedented opportunity for young riders at various levels to learn from some of our nation’s top show jumpers. As Committee Co-Chairman Melanie Smith states, “…this program will provide a stepladder for young talent to reach their goals of riding on a team representing the United States someday.” An applicant needs to ambitious and assertive, however they do not need to have competed in ‘A’ horse shows or have a high level horse. So spread the news! Riders who show talent on horse’s with limited abilities, young horses, difficult horses… as well as pony jumper riders all are encouraged to apply. Almost three hundred chosen applicants, twenty-four from each zone will participate in their zone’s 2-day clinic – eight at 3’, eight at 3’6” and eight at 4’. Some of our nation’s top riders and trainers will run the clinics. Participants will do all their own work from horse care to course setting, learning about the skills of riding well from the ground up. A group of twelve from each of the twelve zone clinics will then be selected to participate in one of four regional clinics, narrowing it down to forty-eight riders. The next twelve chosen from the regional clinics will be participate in a week-long intensive session, culminating in a Nations Cup type competition. And the top two from this session will be invited to train for 30-days with an experienced trainer.

EAP offers education for hundreds of riders that they otherwise may never have dreamed of garnering. Not to mention discovering young talent that these top trainers may never have otherwise seen. Auditors and volunteers are welcome – check with the clinic host for details. Since this program is just spreading its wings, watch the USHJA web site for the specifics and for application information.

Trainers Certification Program

Calling all trainers or those who aspire to be trainers – now there is a certification program brought to you and endorsed by some of the nation’s best trainers. It is a voluntary program, intended to enhance trainer credibility and offer ongoing education. The time for this concept to become a reality is way overdue.

In 2005, the USHJA formed the Trainer Certification Program Committee in response to an overwhelming interest from membership. Now that it’s coming to fruition, many have expressed skepticism regarding this new program… And the question is why? Are the critics afraid of how much that they know or don’t know? This group has spent countless volunteer hours over the last three years arguing, developing, changing, discussing, meeting and finally agreeing to create this program. Were they not thinking about what is best for the industry? For the horses and for the riders and for ultimately the trainers? Hopefully all will step up to the plate and participate. Yes, there are hundreds of trainers who should be ‘grandfathered in’ without having to pass Level 1 – but as George Morris expressed, why should they want to? For many trainers Level 1 should be easy to pass. So stay tuned – the USHJA Trainers Certification Program will begin June 2009. Applications and enrollment procedures will be released in May 2009.

Capital Campaign

Amongst all the other happenings, including creating the USHJA Foundation, USHJA’s staff has grown at an alarming rate. In order to make the transition as well as develop a nationally recognized headquarters at the Kentucky Horse Park, USHJA seeks to raise $6.5 million in the next 24 months. As we know raising capital is a challenge these days. Consider this an investment in your discipline’s future. They’ve developed creative ways to give, for example buying a brick or a bench for the garden. Sponsors

Although I could write more, I am going to conclude with thanking the sponsors and donors whom without we would not have High Performance Hunter Derbies or a new Courtyard and Gardens for USHJA. At the risk of forgetting one, we won’t name them all here. Suffice to say from A (ASG Software) to almost Z (World Equestrian Brands), thank you!