Are “Hunt & Go” Derbies a Yay or Nay?

Photo © Julia B


I did my first “Hunt & Go” Derby last week, which also happened to be a $15,000 USHJA International Derby. Because I did not read the specs on the class in the prize list, I was surprised by this when I walked the course. Wait… what? We continue on to the handy round?  

In a Hunt & Go derby, riders do a longer course of twelve to sixteen jumps that is half classic and half handy. It was designed to shorten the amount of time it takes to complete a derby class. I see these derbies popping up at many shows across California, but I am personally not a fan. I believe this format is not a good option to be run as a derby, here’s why:

Photo © Julia B

Part of the challenge of a derby is holding your composure to stay on top through the handy round, or maybe even get on top with a better second round. Consistency is a real test. Two rounds are also beneficial for the horses. I believe that young and senior horses do better—physically and mentally—when they have a break between rounds.

It costs a lot of money to go to a show and even more to compete in these derbies. They can cost $300-$500. If I’m paying that much money to go in a derby and only have the opportunity to ride in one round, it’s a huge bummer to me. Especially if I’ve traveled a great distance to go into this one class to try for a big purse being offered.

To many spectators, hunters can be kind of boring. But many feel the derby is the most exciting event in this discipline. The handy being the most thrilling part. Will the top horse stay in the lead? Will a rider choose a very risky turn to get on top? Will that successfully completed turn cause the top rider to choke or will they go show everyone that they truly deserved to win? I mean, the handy is the best part! When the handy round goes, so does a lot of the thrill and excitement. 

Photo © Julia B

Hunter derbies, especially the International ones, are the hunter version of a Grand Prix. But it would be practically unheard of for a jumper Grand Prix to run as II(c) (power and speed), so why would a derby? Derby riders are paying a premium to enter the derby, just like Grand Prix riders are to do a Grand Prix.

I do think these Hunt & Go derbies could be useful in a time pinch—meaning weather related issues like wind coming in or rain or running out of daylight. If extenuating circumstances mean you need to get through a class quickly, let’s Hunt & Go. But it’s not my preference as a regular hunter derby and especially not an International Derby.

This format could be a great option for a 2’, pony, or even a junior/amateur derby. The horses that compete in those often have a lot of classes throughout the show. One less round could be a great option for them. Also, many riders never get to do the handy round due to not making the top twelve. The Hunt & Go format allows everyone to handy, which is of course, the most fun part. One other benefit to this format is that riders with multiple horses in the handy don’t have the inconvenience of switching horses multiple time. But still, I feel a hunter derby is a special class. It deserves a prestigious format that is exciting and not just rushed through.

Photo © Julia B

If we want to utilize this format, let’s call it a Hunter Prix. Let’s make it sixteen to eighteen jumps long, maybe with the course going in and out of the arena. Even a timed handy portion would be blast to do! It’s not that I hate the “power and speed” philosophy of this class, but it’s not a derby. And I don’t think it should replace one.

Sami Milo is the owner and trainer of Cavallo Stables, LLC in Newcastle, Ca. She is wife to Mike, and Mom of two fearless jumper riders, Mason and Gianna. Milo owns and rides International Derby horse, Lulavani. Together, they have won six International Derbies and twenty-seven derbies in all.