WSHJA: Bringing Education and Opportunities to the Northwest

WSHJA annually offers the Dianne Johnson Legacy grant is for those junior and amateurs who exemplify hard work, dedication to the sport of equestrian, good sportsmanship, and leadership.

By Tyler Bui

The Washington State Hunter Jumper Association (WSHJA) was created to promote the hunter jumper sport in Washington and to provide its members and professionals with opportunities to further their involvement in the sport. This year, the organization celebrates its 70th anniversary.

WSHJA is a state-run organization by volunteers that runs and owns six USEF-sanctioned horse shows offered throughout each season. Nora Thomas is the President of WSHJA, and serves alongside a board along with representatives, members at large, and volunteers. 

Thomas and her husband Morgan are the head trainers at Parkside Stables in Bellevue, WA. Thomas has been a professional in the industry for over 30 years, and brings an extensive amount of knowledge and experience to WSHJA. 

WSHJA has been working to improve the overall horse show experience for its members. They have recently installed new GGT Footing, in hopes to not only provide a better environment for their horses and riders, but to also bring in a higher level of competitors. WSHJA has had their WCHR status for decades, though it was lost briefly before acquiring their new GGT footing. 

“We worked hard over the years to get the Evergreen State Fairgrounds to let us bring in this footing. I’m so proud of the fact that we got our WCHR status back and that we got this new footing,” says Thomas. “I couldn’t do it without such a great group of individuals on our board and our members. I’m hoping we can bring in more upper level-riders back to the northwest by having this quality footing.” 

Combining WSHJA’s USEF-sanctioned shows and their outreach horse shows, the organization offers a total of 10 shows each season for their members. 

“We have two shows in April, they’re both AA rated, and one is WCHR,” says Thomas. “We offer hunters, equitation, and jumpers, and hopefully with the new footing we will offer higher-level jumper classes.”

In May, they offer their Pacific Northwest horse show, followed by their Evergreen show in August and their Northwest Autumn Classic in September. 

“Evergreen is a nostalgic show— it’s held sometimes at different venues. Our show in September is probably our biggest horse show, it’s where Maclay Regionals and USHJA Zone 9 Hunter Finals are held. We have a really fun show in October, with a costume class, it’s a super fun horse show for the kids especially.”

The USHJA Outreach Program horse shows provide WSHJA members with a more introductory experience into horse showing.

“The Outreach Program is geared towards those kids, clients, and adults that don’t want to compete at a national or state level,” she says. “The outreach shows provide them with more of a relaxed, fun way and much lower cost avenue to attend horse shows. Hopefully, participants will be interested in getting into horse showing more seriously or competitively and if not, it’s just a nice lower level to introduce the sport that’s not so cost-prohibitive.”

Whether a rider is just starting their first lessons or is an active competitor, being a WSHJA member provides individuals with opportunities suited for all levels of riding. 

“Our website makes it easy to join either online or by calling Mary Cristy directly. She’s extremely friendly and helpful with getting people involved not only with memberships, but with the tons of volunteering opportunities as well,” says Thomas. “Volunteers are key to keeping our industry going. It’s important to do something for the good of the sport, and that’s why we feel passionate that the kids need to donate their time. When the young riders donate a certain number of hours, they’re eligible for these grants that are available to them.”

The Diane Johnson Legacy Grant honors Diane Johnson, a prominent figure in the equestrian community. She received the USHJA Lifetime Achievement award in 2017 and the WSHJA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. Johnson served as the USHJA Vice President and Chair of the USHJA Hunter Working Group. She remains actively involved in the sport and continues to share her passion for horses. The grant is given to one junior rider and one amateur rider and consists of $1,200 in credit for one horse at each of the WSHJA shows for the following season. 

“Diane has given so much to the sport—she has formally managed the WSHJA horse shows for decades, she’s served on many USEF committees, and just continues to be a voice in the sport,” says Thomas. “The grant came because we just really wanted to honor her. At the same time, we wanted to make it so that we can give opportunities to kids and adults in the sport. It is so neat to read all the [applications.] We really wanted it to be need-based so that it can go to the right people who will thoroughly enjoy it and that maybe could not do it otherwise.”

In addition to the grant, WSHJA also offers National Finals Event Scholarships for riders who will compete in national finals, such as the ASPCA Maclay Final, the Pessoa USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final, the Ariat Adult Medal Final, WCHR Finals, and USEF Pony Hunter Finals. 

WSHJA acknowledges the importance of education in the sport, and works to provide ample opportunities for their members to gain more knowledge and exposure. 

“We hold clinics, bringing in professionals and riders who are really qualified in the sport, to get their perspective and insight,” says Thomas. “One of the clinics we have coming up is for kids who are considering intercollegiate riding. We will have a panel of NCEA and IHSA student-athletes, and students can call in and ask questions to see if they’re interested in the program. It’s great for them to see what the whole process is, what it’s like being on a team, how they balance their schoolwork, questions like that.”

Another unique learning opportunity that WSHJA offers is during Maclay Regionals, where they hold a Q&A session with the judges the night before the final competition. Riders and spectators are able to ask questions and receive feedback from nationally-recognized judges and riders. 

“As a professional doing this my entire life, I still feel like you never stop learning with this industry and to me, that’s what keeps me going,” says Thomas. “I feel like there’s always something new to learn and that’s how you grow and improve and become a better person. There’s so many different opportunities and WSHJA as an organization, we want to provide more to keep educating our membership.” 

To learn more about WSHJA, become a member, or donate, visit

2022 WSHJA Shows 

  • Pacific Northwest: May 11-15, 2022 (WCHR)
  • May Outreach: May 14-15, 2022
  • Evergreen Classic: August 4-7, 2022
  • Northwest Autumn Classic: September 14-18, 2022 (WCHR)
  • October Classic: October 12-16, 2022
  • October Outreach: October 15-16, 2022

A Team Effort

“As president, I get to work alongside a great board,” says Thomas. “Our vice president, Laina Summers, oversees the horse show logistics. Julie Kotler is a member at large and is my right hand man. Nicole Stern, our secretary, is in charge of education committees, so she helps come up with our educational seminars. Quan Ralkowski is in charge of marketing communications, and she’s invaluable as far as the contribution she provides with all of our social media. Mary Cristy is the committee chair for the points and membership services, and she’s very passionate about it. The banquets and awards are fun, but in addition to that, we really are passionate about education as well.”

*This story was originally published in the May/June 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!

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