By Andre Dignelli
Earlier this winter season, the National Horse Show announced another set of changes to the Maclay Finals qualifying criteria.
Since 2020, the traditional qualifying criteria for the ASPCA Maclay National Championship—based on placings at one of the Regional Championships—has changed drastically. Regionals are now optional; any rider that meets the point requirements of their “official state of residence” can go straight to Maclay Finals.
Is this a good or bad thing for our sport? There are a few ways to look at this.
The Regional Championships were meant to downsize. Venues like Madison Square Garden simply could not accommodate 250 Maclay riders. As Maclay Finals found its way to all of its different homes, we’ve had to adjust to the times. The Finals are now at a facility where it can accommodate all of the riders and horses, with ample stabling and riding areas.
We get a unique perspective at WEF, where every week, we watch riders try to qualify for the Grand Prix. We have gotten more comfortable with an eliminator of sorts. Are we looking to repeat Harrisburg, where there is something for everyone and you can show all day, or are we looking for something reserved for the most elite riders?
On the other hand, over the last couple of years, there’s a feeling that we have gone so far down the result list at Regionals for qualifying that it seemed unnecessary to have spent the month of September eliminating riders that in the end, got to go to the Finals. The time has come where it is no longer necessary to eliminate. We don’t really need more events; it only asks the horses to work harder.
One of the issues that I found with the Regional Championships was that there was no continuity between them. There are places in the country where they love their Regionals; they were beautifully presented, and the class did exactly what it was supposed to do. There were other places where the facility was not suitable; the Regional was just another class at the horse show. There was no standardization when it came to the number of warm-up classes, etc. The more Regional Championships there are and the less standardization there is, the poorer the quality will be.
We also have the NHS 3’3” Medal Final now, which gives riders a place to compete if they are not quite ready for Maclay Finals. The Regionals did that before. Now with two Championships, you can pick your level.
I’ve been to almost every Maclay Regional around the country since I competed in them myself in 1985. The support of the Maclay Finals—and for many junior riders to be able to go to this historic event, to see it and be a part of it—is good for the industry.
Andre Dignelli is the owner and head trainer at Heritage Farm, New York based institution that has produced national hunter, jumper and equitation champions for nearly three decades. In his junior years, he won the 1985 USET finals and later went on to win the bronze medal at the 1991 Pan Am Games. Since then, Andre has coached numerous equitation, hunter and jumper champions at the nation’s top shows. His program has helped develop top riders including Kent Farrington, Kirsten Coe, Maggie McAlary, Reed Kessler, Lillie Keenan and many others. Follow Heritage at @HeritageFarm.
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