The 2’6” Hunter Division is the Face of Income Inequality in America

Photo by Lauren Mauldin


As I sit through the United States Hunter Jumper (USHJA) Affiliate Meeting, we’re hearing a lot about outreach. There’s the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA), the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA), local shows who are USHJA Affiliates, local horse shows who are not USHJA Affiliates, and Affiliate and Outreach rings at USHJA shows. Whew! Are you confused? I often am, and I read about this stuff all day every day.

We hear about how Outreach divisions like the 2’ and 2’6” hunters get a free USHJA membership for 2019. The 2’6” hunter division? Wait, that’s me!

So, I can show under a free membership at an Outreach ring at a show, but I can also be a USHJA member and show in the USHJA 2’6” Hunters at any national or premiere rated show. Then, I can be a USHJA member and qualify for the USHJA National Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada, where my year-end goal can be to travel 2,500 miles to show in my 2’6” division. I could also go to a local horse show, which is virtually unregulated, for a small fraction of the cost. If I were younger, I could show at IEA or IHSA without owning or leasing a horse and it would cost even less money.

Confused? I don’t blame you. Where does the 2’6” division belong?

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

If you can pay to play, should you spend for a week at a winter circuit for this division? Is 2’6” part of the “sport” or part of the “industry?” Is it outreach and a pipeline or a final destination? Is it a valid goal? Should you be able to enjoy the upper level of our sport even though you don’t compete at the highest levels?

Naturally, some of these questions are driven by greed and money. The big national horse shows make their money on the “lesser” rings that sell round after round and do not offer any prize money. This includes the 2’6”, and those big shows not going to send it back to the local circuits. Unlike the smaller shows, the national ones have protected dates and are able to efficiently cannibalize entries. Smaller shows have no incentive to be part of the national governing body and have largely left and floated off.

Horse show managers are used to the USHJA and USEF pulpit protecting their financial interests. Between dates and letting them run the annual conventions, horse show managers have always had a pocketbook friend in the National Governing Body.

That is until the IEA came around. Over the last 16 years, USEF and USHJA continually failed to predict the success that showing organizations like the IEA and IHSA would achieve. They failed to see them as a threat, and failed to protect their dear horse show managers. It took a few years, and 45,000 members, but IEA went along and ate up many local shows. USHJA didn’t notice as they weren’t USHJA Affiliates and didn’t have the resources to notice or even have the ability to comprehend what was going on.

Without any dates or calendar regulation, IEA started to rear into the USHJA calendar, snapping up shows in regions all over the country.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

So, now we’re stuck with this dilemma. Are you supposed to draw a random horse for a few hundred bucks, or spend potentially up to thousands of dollars a week to show with a large horse show barn that travels with landscaping and a fountain? How do we decide who is “moving up the ranks”? Who rides the best? How do we determine riding ability versus financials? Are we just sitting here giving ribbons to everyone?

Let’s look at the cost of beginning of the year horse shows in the 2’6” division:

Schooling One-Day Show (Out of a Lesson Program)

  • Trailering: $10
  • Horse Rental: $50
  • Training: $50
  • Entries (Division plus warm-up): $60

Total: $170

IEA Show Cost

  • One Year of IEA Membership: $60
  • Show Entry and Office Fees: $80
  • Trainer Day Fees: $150 (varies by team)
  • One Tank of Gas for Travel: $65

Show Total: $355

Weekend Local Show in Texas

  • Local Circuit Membership: $35
  • Trailering: $150
  • Training & Coaching (3 days at $55/day): $165
  • Office Show Fees: $85
  • Entry fees for 2’6” Hunter Division: $115
  • Stabling (Stall, Bedding, Tack Split): $162
  • Hotel for two nights: $200
  • Trainer Expenses (split): $50

Show Total: $962

One Week at HITS Coachella

  • USEF Membership: Lifetime Horse: $300 (annual horse $95)
  • USEF Membership: $80
  • USHJA Membership Lifetime Horse: $75
  • USHJA Active Membership: $85
  • PCHA $3
  • USEF $8
  • USHJA $7
  • Drug CDFA $5
  • Drug $15
  • Entry fees for Desert Child Hunter (2’9”): $200
  • HITS Horse Fee: $85
  • Braiding Mane/Tail (4 days at $95/day): $380
  • Grooming (5 days at $100/day): $500
  • Training (5 days at $100/day): $500
  • Turnout Paddock: $300
  • Tent Stall: $250
  • Shavings: $96
  • Hay: $50
  • Setup Fee: $75
  • Pro Rides: $160
  • Tack Stalls (Split): $180
  • RV Hookup: $350
  • Hauling: $1500
  • Airfare: $500
  • Trainer & Staff Expenses: $300
  • Tips for Grooms, etc: $70
  • Optional – Table at VIP Tent: $2,500

Show Total: $6,074 – $8,574

In one sense, this is America right now. We have a larger span of income inequality than anytime in the last century. We have the families who don’t notice an inconvenience to spending a whole winter at HITS Coachella with a string of horses. We also have the kids who love horses and parents may or may not have much, and have noticed that IEA is the cheapest way to satisfy their child’s horse fix.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

How do we get out of here? What is the “right call” for how someone “should” participate in the 2’6” divisions?  We’re the largest division in the entire country. We are the people. Should we have choices? Sure. How do we have the information or decide what even is “right” for us. Who is honestly giving us all the options? USHJA doesn’t even know what unrated shows are out there. They don’t seem to know the IEA calendar. Who has that information? What costs are we even talking about?

Can we look at the construct of the 2’6” division and extrapolate important indicators for the show industry and our sport? The largest division nationally. Perhaps this is the one problem that will solve many others.

About the Author: Piper began her tenure as the Publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine in 2014. She received her B.S. with Honors in Chemistry from Trinity College [Hartford, CT] in 2009 and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012. She is an active member of the hunter/jumper community, owning a fleet of lease ponies and showing in adult hunter divisions.
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