A “DIY AO” Rider’s Reaction to the USHJA International Derby Enrollment Rule Change

Photo © Lauren Mauldin


Included in the USHJA’s recent rule changes is a change to International Derbies:  

Enrollment in the USHJA International Hunter Derby program is now mandatory to compete in an International Hunter Derby class.

So, now those of us who want to do a single International Derby for fun or goal purposes—not finals—are forced to pay the enrollment fee? That is a big dislike! This really just makes me feel like the USHJA is telling me that, “If you can’t afford the enrollment fee, you probably don’t have an expensive or fancy enough horse to be in these Derbies anyhow.”

And you know what, that could very well be true for many riders, but it’s not for the association to decide. By showing up to compete, we’re asking the judges to do the judging here—not USHJA. USHJA can’t know if seven of the fancier horses entered in the class have a major mistake that day, and my decent round on my average horse magically earns me a spot in the ribbons. That very small chance should be left for me to hope for!

But who am I? I’m a DIY AO rider. My horses live at home, and I built my hunter from scratch. I haul, braid, groom, and do everything myself to be able to afford quality training and attendance at quality show facilities. I seek out places that pay out prize money in my divisions (Mostly: WEC Ohio), whilst also earning points in an effort to affordably & hopefully qualify for Indoors. My horse isn’t the fanciest or most expensive, but if I can give him a great ride we can get in the mix at the big shows.

Red Roc & Kiera Phlipot. Photo by Andrew Ryback 

One of my career goals with my AO hunter is to make it to the handy round of an International Derby. How cool would that be on a horse I made myself? With the shows I schedule and budget to attend, I can enter exactly one International Derby per year. Even with this careful budgeting, the money for the derby Entry Fee usually comes from the generosity of my husband who considers it my Birthday/Anniversary present.

Even if I planned this International Derby entry early in the year and was able to get in on the lower $350 enrollment fee, the costs stack up quickly. The class entry fee is usually between $500-$750, plus there is a $50 USHJA fee, and then I’m in $1,000 for one class. One class! And that’s before I add in training or stabling or anything else for that week. 

That $350 might not make a big difference to some riders, but it does to me. If you’re standing in my shoes, $1,000 is a huge amount of money. It’s not just money, but translates into what could have been two works of precious points in other classes or shows to try and qualify to Devon or Indoors. 

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

I’m not arguing to change the class fee. That is what it is. But let’s look at the derby enrollment fee through the eyes of a budget-conscious amateur. 

  • The early enrollment fee of $350 could be a week’s worth of training fees. 
  • If you miss a deadline, the fee jumps to $550. That amount of money just makes me eligible to pay to enter a class. For me, $550 could easily equal what I pay to the office to show my jumper for an entire week. So I’m potentially sacrificing an entire week’s worth of ring time and classes for an enrollment fee. 
  • Let’s say I wasn’t sure my horse would be ready earlier in the year, but I’m able to work hard all year and make it to a single International Derby. The enrollment fee becomes a $750 late fee in the show season. That $750 is close to what I paid this year in entry fees for Equitation Weekend at the Capital Challenge Horse Show. Hmmm, an enrollment fee or Capital Challenge? That’s not a hard decision. 

Now keep in mind you wouldn’t get any of the enrollment fees back if your horse doesn’t show in an International Derby. One bad step or life event, and it’s all gone. Plus, is USHJA going to waive their additional $50 fee usually tacked onto the Entry Fee since now everyone has to be enrolled?

Logistically for myself, it looks like the International Derby ribbon dream is going to be just that—a dream. It’s already a pie in the sky goal for most amateurs, but now USHJA’s greed has it further from the reach of many. 

The Enrollment Fee isn’t a justifiable expense for me. I am not looking to go to Derby Finals. I just want a chance to test myself over the same courses that those riders I idolize do so flawlessly. And hopefully get a really cool picture over a big dressed up jump out of it. But I’m also being rational with myself. I’m not willing to sacrifice a week of training with my awesome trainer, or surrender a show’s worth of ring time on my jumper, or sacrifice another goal of Capital Challenge just to Enroll in a program I won’t be utilizing.

Now, USHJA charges a Non-Member Fee for those who would like to compete at an A show, and don’t want to pay the entire membership. The Non-Member Fee is $30 per show. This is usually utilized by those who just do one or two A-shows a year. Why can’t we pay a Non-Enrollment Fee to the USHJA of $30 to compete in an International Derby?

I understand the USHJA reaching for more money for the Derby Program, but I’m sure they acquire a lot of that with the usual last-minute Buy-In Fees for Derby Finals. But if the USHJA needs more: Get Sponsors! More Sponsors, Bigger Sponsors. Everyone watches the Livestream of Derby Finals. Find a way to utilize that marketing platform better. 

Nickel and diming the one-timers is not the way to try and get more money for the program. It’s probably going to earn them less money in the long run with the amount of people who won’t enter because of this new rule and extensive fees.

Keira Phlipot graduated from the University of Findlay in 2010, and is married and living on a farm in Michigan. She compete in the hunters, equitation & jumpers with her two horses Paddy (Red Roc) & Goldfish.