Originally printed in the May/June 2017 Print Issue
By Prue Draper Osborn
Every spring a light is shined on the great names and faces in our sport’s history at the annual National Show Hunter Hall of Fame awards dinner. The NSHHF was the brainchild of Carol Maloney and friends, including renowned hunter breeder, trainer and judge Walter J. “Jimmy” Lee who has chaired the organization almost since its inception in 1995. He says the goal was “to honor people who have set the bar in our sport, people that have made great contributions to our sport as trainers, as horsemen, as owners and, of course, to recognize the special horses over all the years.” In more mainstream sports, young players know the big names of the past – Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Mohammed Ali. In the horse show world, many young riders know little of the earlier legends. “Unfortunately in our sport, history is rather fleeting,” Lee laments. The board of the NSHHF felt it important to have a reference, a website to provide show hunter history. There is an “Old Timers” committee to nominate those who should not be forgotten. Lee’s most invaluable resource on legitimacy and eligibility is Olympic gold medal winner and former president of the U.S. Equestrian Team William Steinkraus who can recall the greats as far back as the 1940s.
On May 30, 2017 riders, trainers and owners will again dash from their last class at the Devon Horse Show to the Merion Cricket Club in Haverford, Pa to celebrate the latest inductees and congratulate the winners of the Annual Trainers’ Choice Awards. The NSHHF invites all those in the equestrian community to nominate individuals and horses. To be eligible, “a horse must have distinguished itself in show hunter competition and been retired or deceased for at least five years. Horsemen and horsewomen must have participated in the show horse industry for a minimum of 15 years and distinguished themselves by the nature of their contributions or achievements.” Individuals wishing to make nominations pay a $40 fee and are thereby entitled to vote and attend the ceremony. Those with the most nominations will be placed on the ballot. Usually two horses and two or three people are inducted into the Show Hunter Hall of Fame each year. Nominations also are made for best horse show and hunter derby of the year.
The NSHHF also presents the Trainers’ Choice Horse of the Year Awards to horses in the Junior, Amateur Owner, First Year Green, Second Year Green, Green Conformation and High Performance Hunter Divisions, as well as the overall horse, rider and owner of the year. Lee explains these are a tribute to the owners by the trainers. “Who knows better who the genuinely good horses are better than the trainers?” The trainers of champions in each division from the 10 shows and derbies selected by voters that year nominate the nation’s best horse in that division, and vote for the overall winners. At the ceremony Lee opens an envelope for each division in a manner similar to the Academy Awards. He opts to remain in the dark as to the winner and enjoy the surprise as much as the recipients. The acceptance speeches often run the gamut of emotion. Lee remembers a ceremony several years ago when a little girl came to him, wanting to talk to the crowd about an inductee, trainer Hugh Kerrigan. How could he say no? On tiptoes at the microphone, she unfolded reams of paper from which to read, making Lee very nervous. But, as she told funny and touching stories and imitated the trainer’s Irish brogue, she brought the house down. Their choice of Kerrigan was clearly a great one.
To learn our sport’s history and to make a nomination, visit nationalshowhunterhalloffame.com. Educate yourself about the past in order to create a better future for our sport.