By Piper Klemm
I believe that the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships needs to jog prior to competition to ensure fair play, horse welfare, and increase the public’s trust in these championships.
A screenshot selection (Friday August 18, 2023) from Section IV from the USHJA 2023 International Hunter Derby Championship Specifications. Read the full document here.
The jog did not happen at this championship. The IHD specifications were changed August 15, 2023 (but not on IHD website; competitors were notified) after this show had already begun and many of these horses started competing for the week. Interviews conducted declared this to be a paperwork error and the intention of the USHJA board since the beginning of the year. Since this was a specification and not a rule, it could change during the competition.
So, paperwork aside, let’s get into what actually matters: the horses.
The pros for the jog are plentiful. Horses are determined to be sound before jumping any jumps. There is a steward and a veterinarian evaluating the horses. Horses who are not sound have opportunities to rejog. Up close, horses can be evaluated for, say, spur rubs, bug bites, and wounds that judges might not be able to see from several hundred feet away in the box. Drug testers can be on site before competition even starts. The public can have trust and faith that this competition at least gets off on an even hoof.
The cons for the jog include: the horses waiting in line, and it takes people’s time during a busy week when derby horses have many, many other classes to show in (that’s a whole other issue). The horses also jog in a straight line, which means they might not account for all issues.
The jog is not a cure-all—obviously, there are many other things that need to occur on the ramp at the in-gate, like noseband, bit, and mouth checks. People can prepare for the jog in all manner of ways. It is not perfect.
The horses are all trotting a circle at the end of their courses for soundness, at which time judges eliminate them for unsoundness. Can the trot for soundness handle all these issues with less effort? The horses should trot for soundness in addition to a prior jog. This has value to show the horses are sound after jumping. It should absolutely be included in addition to the jog.
The judges can see the horse trot in a circle, which provides additional data points and value to ensure soundness. We must also be very clear that, emotionally, it is a lot harder to throw out a horse after it goes than before. Arguably, the competitor’s or owner’s lawyers have more of a case against a judge that allows a horse to jump. Unless US Equestrian steps up and protects their judgements, judges have to think about people’s lives and livelihoods while in the box.
USHJA leadership strives for consistency in this class compared to the rest of the year, but this is not a consistent class. This is a championship class. With championship horses. Horses who deserve the best protection that we can give them. The jog isn’t perfect, but it’s a good place to start.