How a 9-year-old Equestrian Helped Change a USEF Rule at Horse Shows

Kendall Deeney and Gayfields Encanto at the State College Classic 2023

Young equestrian Kendall Deeney from Fairport, NY, took a stance to change the sport for junior members across the nation when she got wind of a horse show rule that she didn’t think was fair. 

Deeney found out that her pony, Gayfields Encanto, was not eligible to have an adult school him and blue/red him at horse shows in rated divisions simply because he was a pony and not a horse (USEF rule HU101).

Kendall knew that without this training, she and “Bruno” could face future challenges with their confidence and safety. After making the connection that other green teams were probably facing similar struggles, Kendall decided to write to the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) and express her concerns. She promptly received an email back inviting her to a town hall meeting with fellow USHJA members on July 31st, 2023. In this virtual forum, Kendall was given the opportunity to read a letter that she wrote to the community.

Her letter read: 

“My name is Kendall Deeney, and I am an 8-year-old junior member in Zone 2. I think we need to change a rule at horse shows and I need your help. My trainer is a professional and she is not allowed to blue/red my pony, but she can blue/red the horses. I don’t think it’s fair that ponies and horses can’t get the same training. Do you think it’s fair? Gayfields Encanto is my pony, and he is green. Everyone says that means he is new to shows. I love him so much! But sometimes he needs confidence before I ride him, so that he doesn’t get scared. If he gets worried, sometimes I get worried—even when I try to be brave. I don’t want him to spook at a jump with me because I could fall off and get hurt. I need my trainer, Jen to help prep him so we can be safe and have fun at shows. I think other kids and ponies probably need this help too! Can you please help us change this not fair rule? Thank you!”

Kendall received positive feedback from members across the country commending her for her effort to change this controversial rule. One of the members even commented, “I absolutely support Kendall about trainers riding ponies and bravo for her for speaking up!”

Kendall and her pony Gayfields Encanto, “Bruno” in 2023 at the Chemung Summer Series in Elmira, NY

Kendall was fueled to continue her mission after the town hall meeting. As a junior member, she was unable to submit a formal rule change proposal to the USEF (United States Equestrian Federation) or the USHJA. Her trainer and the owner of JLD Equine, Jennifer Duncan, stepped in to help. They worked together to submit a rule change proposal for HU101 to both organizations, requesting that adults be allowed to prep ponies for juniors. Again, members commented predominately in their favor and the momentum was building. 

On December 3rd 2023, Kendall virtually attended the annual USHJA meeting to advocate for rule change HU101. Again, the majority of participants were in favor of allowing (appropriately sized) adults to school ponies to prepare them for their less experienced and vulnerable teammates.

They motioned to disapprove this rule change as it was written because they wanted to include the equitation divisions. A new, re-worded version was submitted to the USEF by the USHJA in January of 2024 to include EQ 103.6 and HU101.

Kendall attending the annual USHJA meeting on December 3rd, 2023

It stated, “The intent of this rule change is to allow an appropriately sized adult to school and more fully prepare ponies, particular green ponies to be safely ridden by the junior, a resource already used and valued for the junior hunters and amateur hunters.”

If approved, the rules would state:

EQ. 103.6 Eligibility to Compete:

6. Ponies shown in Adult Hunter/Jumping Seat Equitation classes (suitability to count) may cross enter into WIHS Pony Equitation or USEF Pony Medal or any rated Pony Hunter section. See also HU101.

HU101 Ponies Shown by Juniors:

Ponies shown by a junior in any rated pony hunter sections (i.e., Children’s Hunter Pony, Green Pony Hunter, Regular Pony Hunter), WIHS Pony Equitation, or USEF Pony Medal may be shown by an adult at the same competition. (See also EQ 103.4).

At the USEF mid-year meeting, on June 17, 2024, the board of directors motioned to approve these rule changes and they will go into effect December 1st of 2024. 

This felt like a huge victory for Kendall and all of the green teams that she spent the past year advocating for. Kendall says she hopes that this change will “help me and other kids stay safe and have fun at horse shows,” and she is thrilled that “ponies can have the same training as horses now.” 

Whether you agree or disagree with these changes, it is inarguable that HU101 and EQ103.6 are now more properly aligned with the mission of the USEF, which is “To provide access to and increase participation in equestrian sports at all levels by ensuring fairness, safety, and enjoyment.”

Kendall Deeney receiving training from Jennifer Duncan at Lehman Farms in Pittsford, NY

Kendall invites other green teams to contact her about how this rule change affects them in the future. She can be reached at greenponyteams@gmail.com