What is The Hunter Derby?

By TPH Intern Caroline Gabus, Photos by Adam Hill

The Plaid Horse is proud to sponsor a special award for the Top Scoring Junior Rider and the Top Handy Round Score at all the USHJA Derbies at Blenheim Equisports horse shows in Southern California.

The USHJA Hunter Derby Program was initiated to enhance horsemanship in the hunter disciplines by offering the Pony Derby, National Derby, and International Derby. Each of these show at different heights and each offers a unique challenge to the horses and riders participating. The format consists of two rounds. The first is a Classic round, judged on quality, movement, jumping style, manners and way of going, with pace and brilliance rewarded. Bonus points are given for higher fence options. Round 2, also known as the Handy Hunter round, is judged with the above criteria and bonus points for a handy track and higher options. Each type of derby offers prize money ranging from $2,500 to $280,000.

The Pony Derby is relatively new. Like a horse derby, it has two rounds, Classic and Handy.

But, instead of it just having one fence height with a certain high option height, ponies get three different fence heights based on the ponies’ size. If it is a small pony, the fence height is 2’3, the medium ponies jump 2’6, and large ponies jump 2’9 to 3’0. In a Pony Derby, there are no high option fences included and Pony Derbies will have two judges.  

With fence heights set at 3′ and high options set at 3’5, the National Hunter Derby invites a wide variety of riders and horses. Green horses and younger riders are able to get experience in these more challenging tracks.  Each round will have four high option fences. After the first Classic round has gone, only the top 12 riders and horses come back for the Handy round. In the first round, the base score is given and then a single point is added for each high option. For the Handy, the same thing happens, base score is given and one extra point per high option is added. After both rounds are complete, the two judges add the scores together to give the overall score. At HITS Coachella the National Derby’s prize money is $50,000.  

The International Derby consists of the Classic Round and Handy Round. Sometimes these derbies go all in one day. Others run for two days with the  Classic round on the first day and the Handy round the next day. They also consist of a jog to see if the horse is sound or unsound. The fence heights range for 3’6 to 4’0 with the high option at 4’3 or higher. 50% or less of the fences need to be set at 3’6. Also, unlike a National or Pony Derby, International Derbies consist of four judges in two separate booths. International Hunter Derby Finals is held in Lexington, Kentucky and this year it is August 17-19. The prize money was for International Hunter Derby Finals was $280,000 in 2016.