Bridging the Gap: Emergence of the 3’3 Equitation


In the midst of the medal finals madness, horse shows offer competition for graduates of the 3’ height but also those who are not quite ready to move up to 3’6. As many 3’ and 3’6 riders are preparing for their respective equitation finals during the October and November months, it is easy to forget about the 3’3 competitors. Equitation classes offered at the 3’3 height have grown in number since the beginning of this decade, both hunter and jumper-seat alike. They give riders a taste of the tough courses offered at the 3’6 “big equitation” level without the added challenge of the jump height, preparing riders for what is to come at the higher level. Since the jump from classes like the Taylor Harris Insurance Services Children’s Medal to those like the coveted USEF Talent Search is so drastic, the 3’3 height is available to fill the hole for up-and-coming junior riders. Listed below are a few examples of these new classes and their eligibility requirements.

The USHJA 3’3 Jumping Seat Medal

Introduced this show season, the technical medal was designed to prepare riders for the high-level competition found in the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Medal and the USEF Talent Search. Open to junior riders who belong to the USEF and USHJA organizations, the class is judged on a rider’s style around the course, their effort to make the time allowed, and ability to execute an efficient track to each jump. Fences such as the liverpool, natural jumps, and additional water obstacles may be present in the arena. The course simulates that of a low junior or amateur jumper class, as it is a jumper-seat medal. Four points are taken off the final score for every rail down, and one is taken off for every second a rider exceeds the time allowed. Any respective USHJA zone has the option to host a 3’3 Jumping Seat Medal Championship with the same rules as the regular class, as long as they apply to the USHJA beforehand.

A rider prepares for her halt in an equitation class. Photo by Full Gallop Captures

The NCEA 3’3 Junior Hunt Seat Medal

The The National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) 3’3 Junior Medal was introduced last year with the intention of familiarizing junior riders with college equestrian competition, targeting those who wish to compete for a college or university in the future.You do not need to be a member of the NCEA to compete in the class, but you do need a membership to the NCEA association obtained through Rygate Show Services to accumulate points in the class. The first round of the class may either be jumper or hunter style, but does not allow water obstacles of any kind (like those that you may see in a jumper-seat medal). After the jumping phase of competition, the top ten riders from the round come back for the flat phase, which includes dressage movements at the walk, trot, and canter. Each score counts for 50 percent of a rider’s total amount of points earned in the class. The top 50 riders who have accumulated the most points in the East Coast, West Coast, and Midwest regions are eligible to compete in the NCEA finals, held at a show in each region respectively.

A rider rounds the turn to her next fence in an equitation round. Photo by Full Gallop Captures

The National Horse Show 3’3 Medal

The National Horse Show (NHS) 3’3 Medal is a class that consists of a three-round competition similar to the Maclay medal. The class is judged on a rider’s position, the way they carry their hands, and their ability to control their horse around the course and over the jumps. Liverpools and water jumps are forbidden, however narrow jumps, triple bars, and hogs-backs are allowed. The second round is a competition on-the-flat for a minimum of fifteen competitors. Next comes an additional over-fences round for the same number of riders, the format similar to the first round. Judges may test the top six riders from these phases. Although no previous classes were needed to qualify for the championship this year at the National Horse Show, starting September first of this year horse shows began to offer 3’3 NHS classes in order to qualify for next year’s championship.

An equitation rider looks in the air for her next fence on course. Photo by Full Gallop Captures

Although these are some of the major additions to the 3’3 equitation circuit, this list is not the limit to the amount of these classes available across the country. Many shows offer 3’3 medals specific to a certain state such as the Pickwick Medal, the PCHA Horsemanship Medal, and the CPHA Foundation Medal found in California. Many of these classes are also available to amateur riders as well as juniors, filling an even bigger gap in the world of adult equitation. Often riders can compete in the 3’ and 3’3 at the same show, providing additional opportunities to gain practice before making the (quite literal) jump to 3’6. Ultimately, the goal of the 3’3 equitation is to best prepare riders for the demands of the big equitation and their grueling finals, developing skilled horsemen and horsewomen along the way.