Should Fairness Govern Horse Shows? USHJA Amateur Jumpers Weigh In

Ariane and Eclips V, in the Medium Amateur Owner Jumpers. Photo © Photographic Solutions.

By Ariane Stiegler

Today, amateur jumper riders represent the largest group of equestrians who compete across the country. We support our sport and its Grand Prix riders. I myself serve on the USHJA Amateur Task Force, and care deeply about amateurs in this sport. From Florida to New York, Pennsylvania, and California, I asked amateur jumpers about what they would like to see improve our sport today. 

Jean Van Gysel, who is based in Wellington and competes at the High Amateurs, feels money is often an issue. “To compete in the High Amateurs at 1.45m 150m classics you need a very good horse—therefore an expensive one. Courses are not only big but extremely technical. I have competed this year in some 1.45m GP, where the money is twice as much as it is at certain shows in the Amateur classes. And [I believe] that’s not fair. As Amateurs, we spend a lot of money, time, and effort doing our sport. It is oftentimes frustrating to win so little prize money. 

The other frustrating issue in the mediums and low A/O jumpers is the number of participants. Sometimes over 60 horses will compete! These divisions should be split at 40, which is already a lot. We are the largest divisions at shows and sponsor riders and horses, but yet are not recognized.”

Agathe Langlois, Jean’s wife who also competes in the Highs and Medium Amateurs, agrees with Van Gysel. She acknowledges it’s true that if you only have one horse in these divisions at the bigger shows, your chances of winning or even getting a ribbon are slim. Agathe also thinks horses should jump in nice venues, as they make tremendous efforts in these classes.

Photo © Ann Gittins

Brianne Link of Long Island is the president of Equisite, a line of equestrian clothing. Her opinion is if there are a tremendous amount of amateurs in a class they should be split by age like the adult jumpers are.

Saly Glassman of Blue Bell, PA is the president of Kindle Foundation, a 501c3 that helps the public treat PTSD, anxiety, and depression through equine-assisted therapy and learning. Saly has been an avid competitor in the amateur ring for many years. She notes that many amateur jumper classes combine riders with ages spanning over four decades. “Riding against 18-year-olds is not fair,” Glassman explains. “We adults have many more responsibilities, along with the challenges of aging. The exhibitor numbers at some shows are so great that the end result can be a discouraging experience for both horses and riders.”

“We can help make this more equitable by raising the junior age. We can also split classes by age, well before the entries get to 80-100, so riders have more chances to be competitive and will stay motivated. The reality is very harsh. Many capable and enthusiastic riders can no longer afford this sport, and may have to limit shows and horses entered so they can still participate in some way,” Glassman continues. “It creates inequity and underscores the sentiment that wealthy people control the sport today.”

She also has ideas about how details outside of the ring can improve the experience for riders. “The quality of food at shows is important, and healthy options should be present at a reasonable price,” she says. “Courses could be posted the night before because we are often doing work-related tasks right up to the moment we get to the ring. Something small, like posting courses in larger print and at eye level is a big deal for those of us who wear reading glasses!“

On the subject of expenses, she notes that some shows offer little prize money but maintain high costs. Prize money is rapidly eaten up by nominating fees, stalls, administrative fees, etc. The result is “completely uneconomic.” 

Another idea Glassman suggests is that the mileage rule could be made more flexible, so more people could show within a region and travel costs could be minimized. There should be an equitable exchange between competitors and organizers to promote the sport. In her opinion, a lot of amateurs who compete are feeling both physically and emotionally drained. Indeed, going double clear is not enough today in these divisions. You have to take unnecessary risks with your horse to win. 

All of these points are valid concerns today in the amateur ring. Those of us on the Amateur Committee at the USHJA continue to work hard at finding solutions to them.

Ariane Stiegler is a writer and has been an avid competitor in the A/O jumper ring for over 20 years. She formed an association for amateur riders, the Amateur Rider Association of America, to give riders a voice in this sport and make it safer for both horses and riders. Ariane was invited by the USHJA to serve on the amateur committee where she strives to improve the sport across the country for amateurs. She is based in Wellington and CT at her farm, Double A Stables.