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!

Conversations With Equestrians: Steve McAllister

By Tammy Chipko

I caught up with Steve McAllister of Martin McAllister Training to speak with him about their training system. Steve and Jenni have made some changes recently and are gearing up for a very exciting year.

TAMMY CHIPKO: Have you always been involved in the Hunter/Jumper industry?
Steve McAllister:No, I actually come from a Western background. I was heavily involved with the AQHA including showmanship, horsemanship, reining, and pleasure. I was also a blacksmith at the time and became increasingly fascinated with Jumpers. I wanted to bring the training system that I believed in to the Hunter/Jumper discipline and in 1984 I decided to open a barn in Connecticut to train horses.

TC: When did Jenni become part of the team?
SM: I met Jenni shortly after opening the barn. I needed a rider and we shared the same philosophy and goals. When everyone agrees, then you have the potential for success.

TC: What brought you to CA?
SM: We continued to grow, showing in Ocala, West Palm and The American Trials on the east coast, and then we decided to try showing in California. We fell in love with the west coast and never went back east.

TC: Tell me about the training system you specialize in.
SM: I was doing some research on a problem horse I had and came across this system, a German training system, which only a few trainers knew about. It is a method that promotes rhythm, looseness, and connection along with acceptance of the bit, impulsion, straightness, and collection. Each horse is unique and so we developed different exercises for different horses in order to achieve all these things. If a horse is sore in one particular area they will compensate for that in other areas. I found by doing various exercises I was able to increase muscle development using the right applications, which leads to a happy horse.

TC: How do you decide which exercises are best?
SM: When a horse first comes to us we do a physical and emotional evaluation. I take everything into consideration. Does the horse pin its ears or ring its tail? ‘Ears tell you almost everything and the tail tells you the rest’. I believe in a balanced horse and what I mean by that is that if you have good feet, good teeth, and a good rider for that particular horse, you are in balance. These three things go hand and hand. This is not something you can get overnight but may take months, especially if you have shoeing or other specific problems. Time and patience is sometimes all it takes to gain success.

TC: Do you teach this system to your clients?
SM: Absolutely. Riders are sometimes more difficult than the horses but when you watch someone learn these exercises and progress in their own riding it is very rewarding. In teaching the exercises to the rider correctly, you have both a rider who learns and a horse that learns. You put that together and you have a good combination. Our focus in the past has been to make horses, but now we are focusing on making riders as well. It gives me a chance to share my knowledge with people and promote a system that I feel strongly about.

TC: Jenni is spending time in Europe – has that helped the business?
SM: Jenni is working for M&K Equestrian outside of Brussels and it is a great experience for her. She needed someone from outside of our business who could help her select horses to further her riding career. M&K have sold a lot of good horses to the States. The approach is great for Jenni and when she comes back, she brings all that knowledge to our business. She spends approx 2/3 of her time in Europe and 1/3 of her time in the U.S. She is very committed and has given up a lot to do this.

We both believe that to gain something you have to give up something. Jenni is working on developing a string of horses in Europe as well as in the U.S. and ultimately would like to ride for the U.S. Team. It is a path of progression for both our careers. It is exciting when you think about what time spent with European trainers can offer the Americans. If you improve the industry, you improve the business for everyone. Having a trainer who rides in Europe is inspiring and we hope to put some small tours together for amateurs to share in the experience.

TC: It’s interesting to hear the details of your plan – good luck!