BY Isabella Littlejohn
USHJA is voting to change the height of Small Junior Hunters from 16.0 hh to 16.1 hh. The proposed rule and justifications are outlined in the below proposal.
Up until now, Small Juniors were 16.0 hh or smaller and Large Juniors were above 16.0 hh. However, there is recent discussion of raising the Small Junior horse height to 16.1 hh. This change will not only affect the Small Junior Hunter Division but will also indirectly affect the Large Juniors as well. The incentive to increase the height of Small Junior horses appears to be rooted in breeding trends and division size. According to data found on USEF, the Large Junior Division is almost 3 times more popular than the Small Juniors. This juxtaposition will only grow due to data indicating that horses are getting larger. New breeding trends that are a root cause for this rule change also leave Small Juniors on the littler side at a disadvantage and are likely to be phased out of the division.
By raising the height of the Small Junior Hunters from 16.0 hh to 16.1 hh, it is probable that there will be a more even number of entries across the Small and Large Juniors. However, this will not apply at every horse show and may differ from East to West coast. As of today, there are 354 point earning Large Juniors and only 120 Small Juniors, according to 2023 USEF data. Therefore, this rule change will help to ensure that the Division is more equally divided and fills at more horse shows.
Raising the height of Small Juniors from 16.0 hh to 16.1 hh will promote a more inviting experience for younger riders, knowing they can compete on a larger horse. It is very common for younger riders to steer away from Small Junior Hunters and look for a Large Junior to help ease the transition into the Division. This trend is because Small Junior Hunters are reputed as slightly more challenging and competitive due to perks like large stridedness being associated with a Large Junior. Such factors could indicate reasons behind the Large Junior Hunter Division typically having more entries.
All this being said, the standard height measurements for Junior Hunters have been in place for decades with minimal issues, keeping in mind there are 120 Small Junior Hunters under 16.0 hh who are successfully competing. Also, the difference in horse height could create too much diversity in horse ability and inconsistency in the way the course rides. It is important to consider if the implementation of this rule is urgent or just something to keep an eye on in the years to come.