Legendary trainer George Morris has often called today's show hunter "hothouse petunias." He and others have complained that predictable courses--outside, diagonal, diagonal, outside--over similarly decorated fences with invitingly round shapes and omnipresent ground lines are less challenging than the courses of old. To address these concerns and breathe new life into the sport, the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association High Performance Hunter Committee has created a showcase event: The ASG Software Solutions/USHJA International Hunter Derby.
The new Derby jumps resemble obstacles you'd find in the hunt field, such as banks, ditches, gates, walls, hedges, coops and natural post-and-rail fences. With more truly vertical fences (without extra elements such as brush and flower boxes that give "verticals" in typical hunter classes more of an ascending, triple-bar shape) and minimal to no ground lines, the jumps require more exact riding than typical hunter fences. The track is more creative, too, including bending lines, unrelated distances, serpentines, inside turns and long gallops to fences. Every course also includes up to four 4-foot fences. So each rider is challenged to choose the best strategy to produce the most brilliance from his or her horse.
To get an idea of what the Derby is about, watch these three videos from the inaugural Hunter Derby at the Lake St. Louis show in December 2007. All are from Round 2, the Handy-Hunter course, which can include a walk or trot jump, clever jump approaches and tight turns. Compare the different approaches and tracks each rider takes.
Winner Tammy Provost riding Daquiri
Second-place winner That'll Do ridden by Brenda Mueller
Winston ridden by Catherine Rinehart, who took third
Read the full article in the June 2008 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.