The History Of The Big Eq

By Erna L. Adelson

The Search for the Best is Back

As the qualification period for the USEF Talent Search gets underway, rankings reveal the top of the nation’s leading equitation contenders. Each day spent training, preparing and competing will culminate, for some, in a mark on the storied history of the sport. Equitation has certainly evolved over the years, from the days of Jackie Kennedy Onassis to last year’s Sophie Benjamin and Hannah Selleck, though competitors remain true to the heart of the sport—the bond between horse and rider. It is this special bond that defines the membership of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). Since 1917, the Federation has been dedicated to pursuing excellence, promoting growth and providing a safe and level playing field for both its equine and human athletes. In this tradition, the 2009 USEF Talent Search will, of course, reveal the potential bearers of the crimson coat in international competition, but it will also indicate something more, something innate that materializes with the chemistry unique to horses and riders.

The OG of the Big Eq
Before the name George Morris was synonymous with horsemanship, the second president of the Association of American Horse Shows, Mr. Alfred Maclay, was the authority on the rules and regulations used to license members and venues. In 1927, these policies filled a six-page pamphlet. Though now they are much more extensive, the original sentiment is still referred to upon evaluation of candidates today—and Maclay’s legacy as a horseman lives on in the medal final that bears his name.

Much of the terminology surrounding the Talent Search stems from the days of Maclay’s tenure. The nickname for equitation classes as ‘Medal Classes’ has stuck almost 80 years since riders were first awarded medals for their achievement in winning an equitation class. The newer nomenclature, the “big eqs” refers to the classes in which riders show to qualify for several national championships, especially the historic and coveted USEF Talent Search, USEF Medal and ASPCA Maclay Championships.

The Star Search is Born
The USEF has several fundamental responsibilities as the governing body of US equestrian sport: The USEF trains, selects, and funds our United States Equestrian Team, licenses equestrian competitions of all levels across the United States each year, and encourages growth among newcomers as well as the coming generation. The Talent Search was started in 1956 by the U.S. Equestrian Team (now the USET Foundation) as a USET Medal Program in order to fulfill the cultivation aspect of their duties. In 1982, the Medal Program incorporated year-end finals as a further goal. In 1994, the USET decided to combine the USET Medal Program with the USET Show Jumping Talent Search Program. This name change better reflected the focus of the program by asking developing riders to meet a more difficult set of standards than required in other competitions, thus helping to prepare them for berths on future international show jumping squads.

The Show Jumping Talent Search Program became part of the USEF’s Show Jumping High Performance Program in 2005. The Platinum Performance / USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals attracts the nation’s top Juniors and Young Riders in head-to-head competition. The Finals are open to U.S. citizens 21 years old and younger who have qualified through their placement in Platinum Performance / USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Classes and include a matrix of phases to test entrants’ skills in the show jumping arena, including equitation, speed over difficult courses and gymnastics, derby-style terrain, and a ride-off.

Graduates of the program include some of the top competitors and trainers on the circuit today, each doing their part to inspire and train the next generation of equestrians.

In this week’s final 37 riders will vie for the title. Last year’s West Coast winner, Hannah Selleck, just returned from the Spruce Masters where she competed against the best and brought home prizes. On the East Coast qualified riders will compete on the weekend of October 4th-5th in Gladstone, NJ. Now a sophomore at Princeton, California-based Sophie Benjamin won the coveted East Coast Finals in 2008.

Highlights From 2009 Woodside Spring Classic

By Marnye Langer

Consistency proved to be key at the Woodside Spring Classic (April 30-May 3) as several riders demonstrated during the two weeks of USEF A rated shows. Julia Nagler was probably one of the most consistent performers after winning both the USEF Hunt Seat and the USEF Talent Search each of the two weeks. “Julia has been riding with me for the last five years,” said Benson Carroll who trains the talented junior rider. “She has a great style and she knows her horse really well,” said Carroll of Nagler’s success. “I’ve seen a lot of growth in Julia recently, and I enjoy working with her. She has ice in her veins and keeps her cool and focuses.” Carroll enjoys the hunter/jumper shows at Woodside. “I love the main hunter ring. It is such a great place for the hunters, and love all the space to work your horses. Every time I come here I see improvements. Woodside is the ‘Showpark’ of Northern California.”

Like Nagler, Buddy Brown was consistent in the jumpers aboard Nola 4, claiming second in the $7,500 Woodside Jumper Classic both weeks. “She is a sensitive mare and wants to please,” said Brown of the big, bay mare. “I think she is a good horse trying to work her way out. We’ve built a nice relationship and we trust one another. I have a good feeling about next year with her.” Although rain visited the Woodside Spring Classic over the weekend, the footing held up and the show went on. A confident group of jumper riders rode in the $7,500 Woodside Jumper Classic and seven horses jumped clear over Michael Roy Curtis’ course that included the open water and the grob. Brown and three of his students all geared up for the rain. “The footing was messy, but it wasn’t dangerous,” said Brown as he and his three students all jumped clear.

Kristen Hardin, ever the fierce competitor, threw the gauntlet down in the jump off. Aboard her own entry, Platinum’s Pedro, Hardin took the inside turn to the grob and made a tight rollback to the final vertical, thus setting the standard for anyone else to beat. Lucie Wharton qualified both her horses for the jump off, and NZ Socialite, the greener of her two horses got stuck in the turn to the grob, so Wharton elected to circle and the pair finished seventh. With Bandit she jumped a clear jump off and finished fourth. Brown challenged Hardin by also taking the inside turn to the grob, but he chose a slightly wider track from Hardin’s very daring rollback to the final vertical. “Second two weeks in a row is pretty good,” laughed the veteran grand prix rider.

Beverly Jovais’ Chestnut Hills’ horses and riders also had a winning week. Kathryn Taylor’s Kingsford clinched the First Year Green Hunter Championship after winning three of the classes, and stablemate Olympic (Grace McLaughlin) finished as reserve champion. McLaughlin took up the reins over the weekend and won both the NorCal 3’0″ and Taylor Harris medal classes.

Gry McFarlane, another trainer who attends many of the Woodside shows also had a good week with her students and horses. Perhaps the highlight was when her son, Ian, won the Onondarka medal class aboard Simone Coxe’s Fortuna. The young McFarlane has been showing in the jumpers, but he made his debut in the equitation ring with great acclaim and won the prestigious Onondarka for twelve and under riders. “Maybe we’ll see him in the medal finals,” mused his mother, Gry. Morgan Caplane, Sara Pulchawski, and Katherine Civian all rode in various jumper classes and had a great time throughout the week. “Every time we come to the Woodside Horse Park show there are major facility improvements,” said Gry McFarlane, who operates her Windfall Farm. “The footing in the new, larger Jumper 2 stood up to the weather, and the new food concession is terrific. This is getting to be a great place to show in Northern California.”

Improvements continue at the Horse Park at Woodside via a collaborative effort between the Horse Park and Langer Equestrian Group. Sweet Shop is the new, popular food concession at the facility and they were received with great enthusiasm. The Bay View Club continues to improve and is proving popular with trainers and competitors. Jake’s Place, Carousel Saddlery, and Equitex are all sponsors of the seven hunter/jumper shows at Woodside.

Next on the schedule is the three week Woodside Summer Circuit, beginning with the Woodside Circuit Opener (June 17-21), followed by the Bay Area Festival (June 24-28), and concluding with the Golden Gate Classic (July 1-5). For more information, visit the LEG website.

To read highlights from the Woodside Spring Preview, please click here.

This Woodside News Section is supported by Norden Equine Worldwide… insurance that goes the distance. Visit them at

Collective Thoughts On Equitation

By Laura Ware

Laura Ware, winner of the LAHJA Junior Medal in November, 2007. Photo © AC Custom Photo

Riding in the equitation as a junior is almost like a rite of passage. All the top junior riders, regardless of how many horses they own or show, choose to keep their feet in the equitation ring, as equitation is what prepares juniors to have success in the other show rings, and eventually in the high level show jumping classes such as Amateur Owner or Grand Prix. Looking at the previous junior winners of both local and national medal finals and seeing how many of them are now top Grand Prix riders is indeed impressive.

Although waking up at the crack of dawn to chase down medal points gets old (I think there’s a USEF law somewhere that states that all major medal classes must begin at or before 8 AM!), riding in the equitation ring teaches us discipline, proper position, and the ability to maintain poise and composure regardless of what is happening underneath us.

I cannot speak for all the other riders out there, but I think that practicing position gets tedious, and, although my equitation is far from perfect, it would definitely be significantly worse if I were not being judged on it multiple times at each horse show! I am a competitive person, and being scored on my style gives me the much-needed motivation to practice it.
Several riders who exhibit strength in the equitation, as well as in the hunter and/or jumper rings, were kind enough to tell me about their opinions on and experiences in the equitation and medal classes.

Junior rider Hilary Neff: Competing in equitation takes a lot of discipline and patience, but most importantly, it is always fun. Because this division is subjective, it can sometimes be frustrating. It is easy to feel like a judge “ripped you off”, but in the end, good ribbons and bad ribbons even out. I try to remember that the judge knows best 99.9% of the time.
It takes a long time to become a competent equitation rider, but every second is worth it in the end. Also, you have to have a strong relationship with your horse in order to be successful, which to me, is the best part of the sport.

Amateur rider Hannah Selleck: Competing as an adult in Amateur Equitation is similar to competing as a junior, except Adult Equitation is much less competitive. There’s not the pressure to go in and get WIHS points or to have to get a certain number of points to make it to Indoors. Now I just go and ride my best, and have a good time! I’m almost enjoying the equitation more now than I ever have before. I still love doing the USEF Talent Search and I do have a goal to get my gold medal. Even though this is a pretty important goal for me, I still just go into the ring and really enjoy myself. Having the perspective of formerly competing in the equitation as a junior and now as an amateur, I can really see how important equitation is to give riders a strong foundation of basic skills like position and form. I have definitely transferred these skills from the equitation classes to the jumper ring and have found the experience of the medal finals invaluable. Note from Laura: I’m especially curious about this, as my amateur days are looming near. Yikes!

Junior rider Tina DiLandri: By riding in the equitation, you find your best position and learn how to manipulate certain situations in the ring – it is the base of riding. Riding in the equitation classes has taught me patience. It definitely helps me succeed in the hunters and the jumpers as well.

From competing in the equitation ring I have learned that everything is not as easy as it looks. There needs to be a true connection from the horse to the rider. You can have one of the best horses in the world, but if you don’t know how to ride it’s not going to work.

During the George Morris seminar in Florida, he told me not to be an emotional rider. It is so true that if you overreact your horse is also going to overreact and not stay calm. If something happens, fix it in a nonchalant way and stay calm. Overall, just have fun!
Junior Rider (and article author) Laura Ware: I agree with this premise; equitation has taught me to maintain a proper position which will encourage my horse, whether hunter or jumper, to jump in the best form possible.

A Flat Jump: However the growth of the equitation division has created an irony. An ideal equitation horse is one that jumps flat and has little feel in the air so a rider can maintain the most conventional and attractive position. This is fine; it’s nice to be able to leave the ground and feel almost nothing in the air, but having a flat-jumping horse will probably not bring success in other arenas of this sport. This is kind of ironic because the whole purpose of equitation is to prepare riders for other arenas, which demand a good-jumping horse. Plus, if you ask me, detracting from the horse’s form eliminates part of the thrill of this sport. There is no better sensation than cantering up to a perfect distance and feeling your horse explode in the air. And shouldn’t good riders be able to maintain a solid position when a horse jumps well?

Rails: A very controversial issue that gets all of us riders and trainers and parents in a fit is the question of whether or not to penalize a downed rail in an equitation class or final. There are those who believe that a rail is a major error (the whole point of this sport is to jump over the fences without a fault) and should be penalized accordingly. Then there are those who feel that the rail should only be penalized if it is the rider’s error, since these classes do focus on the rider. I’ve always found this a bit confusing. A jumper receives four faults for a rail and a hunter will score no higher than a 50, regardless of whose fault it was. Why can’t there be a solution as simple as this for the equitation ring?

I could go on all day about the pros and cons of this division, but the challenge of a job well done and then being judged subjectively is part of what makes it fun. Having to guess as to the results of each class keeps us on our toes (and in our heels), eager to improve our performances.

So like my colleagues above say, remember that the good and bad ribbons even out, have goals but also have fun, learn to get connected with your horse and don’t be an emotional rider. Most of all, don’t let the subjectivity get to you – it’s all part of the lessons we learn time and again.

Laura Listens is brought to you by Laura Ware. Winner of the 2007 LAHSA Junior Medal Finals and a recipient of the 2008 WCAR Jumper Rider Grant, Laura rides with First Field Farm and often trains with Archie Cox. She is very successful in the all three disciplines on her own mounts as well as catch riding other horses.

Can You Ride In The Rain?

By Zazou Hoffman

Bad weather is not fun… or is it? Can we make it fun? Playing in the mud was fun when we were kids, splish-splosh, splish-splosh. So if we can learn to ride in all kinds of weather we can not only potentially have fun but can also have the upper hand in a competitive situation.

During Week I of HITS Thermal, we were deluged with rain on Sunday. Many exhibitors scratched, but after watching a couple of hunter rounds I thought that the footing was still good and that as long as the trainer and the owner of the horse I was riding gave the okay, it was a go. Here in California there are so few opportunities to show in the rain and wind, it’s important to get the experience whenever you can.

George Morris told us in the Horsemastership Sessions to “practice what’s not comfortable in order to get better at it.” On the East Coast riders often have to ride under sloppy, cold conditions. I have benefited from showing on the East Coast where “the show goes on” unless there is a dangerous electrical storm (see final paragraph for more about lightning). Every rider’s tack trunk is stocked with raingear and the barn manager and staff all assume that getting drenched and covered with mud is a job requirement. They think it’s fun. My barnmates at Missy Clark’s North Run actually giggled when I told them I had never heard of Helly pants, (in case you don’t know either, they are water proof pants with zippers on the sides) which they put over their show breeches. Just zip them off before you go in the ring.

So, it is to a certain degree a mindset. You CAN ride in the rain – the horse does not mind. So why do I, the rider, want to get all wet and dirty? Because after working all year to qualify for a Medal Final which takes place on the East Coast in the Fall where you can be 99% sure that it WILL rain you do not want to let bad weather psyche you out of putting in a great round. But, you might ask, “Since they are called Indoor Medal Finals, why would I get wet?” Yes, they are Indoors but the layover farms and warm-up rings where you prepare are outdoors. You never know what weather you might encounter on the East Coast in the fall.

Try this mantra: “I love the rain, I can ride in the wind, and getting muddy is fun. Most importantly my horse doesn’t mind.”

This is the best reason to practice whenever there is rain and wind at home. I try to expose my young mare to puddles on the ground and muddy footing so that she will become desensitized to these things. Nothing is worse than getting to a show and having your horse turn into a clean-freak white-gloved party princess. Try to visualize your worst nightmare, the Junior Hunter Under Saddle Hack with twenty run-away horses in a windstorm or in pouring rain and sloppy footing. If you know your horse can behave under these circumstances, you will remain confident and your horse will feel it, too.

This confidence comes from all the training at home. Earplugs can definitely help your horse to focus at a show, but you should practice riding without them at home. Save them for situations where you really need them.

Okay, mantra said, you had your fun in the mud. Now you are back at the hotel after showing in the rain. Your boots and breeches are sopping wet and covered in mud. Your hunt coat smells like a wet sheep dog and you have to show tomorrow.

A few things you can do:

• Hang up the wet huntcoat, spot clean it and place it in a warm but not too hot area. You don’t want it to shrink.

• After getting the mud off of your boots, rub some lotion on the inside of your boots to prevent them from drying into stiff cardboard.

• Next, crinkle some tissue paper and shove it into the foot. The boots can regain their shape, yet breathe and dry. Put boot trees or rolled magazines into the leg area.

• If you have mud-stained white breeches you can rub toothpaste on the dirty spots and take them into the shower with you. I found that if you throw them in a laundry basket with globs of mud, the mud stains the fabric and the breeches are ruined.

A bit on lightning – remember that lightning is electricity. If you are on your horse get back to the barn as quickly as possible. If you have returned the horse to a stall that has pull-down or shutter windows, do not close them. This is because those shutters are often made of metal and even touching them in an electrical storm could get you electrocuted, particularly if the roof of the barn is metal. Just leave them open and get yourself to the center aisle. Regardless of how it strikes, once in a structure, the lightning can travel through the electrical and plumbing fixtures. Lightning can also travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.

Final note: Lightning storm – head inside. Rain falls – as long as the footing is safe, have fun in the mud! Wind blows – if the jumps are blowing down, call it a day. If you can see, go with the flow. Remember your mantra and those words from George…

Zazou Hoffman is a 16-year-old from Santa Monica, CA. As a 13-year-old, having only shown locally, she decided to apply for the Ronnie Mutch Working Student Scholarship. She won, which led to working with respected East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan. Through hard work and commitment, by Jan. ’07 Zazou was one of seven elite riders chosen to work with Olympic Chef d’Equipe George Morris in Wellington, FL. She has competed in the Medal Finals for the past three years. She counts her win at the Maclay Regional, her 4th in “the Medal” at Harrisburg, her 5th in the USET Talent Search East at Gladstone, and her 3rd in the WCE amongst her notable accomplishments.