Hunter Derbies for Grassroots Riders
Not ju•t for the elite anymore
Top placers at this year’s USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship— Tori Colvin, Liza Boyd and Holly Shepherd— share insights and training tips for trying out a hunter derby for the first time.
Ten years ago, the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association introduced the hunter derby, a two-round class designed to bring more athleticism, bravery and brilliance into the hunter ring, initially just at the international level. It has been so popular that USHJA has since created similar opportunities for riders at other levels, ranging from introductory, or “outreach,” derbies to pony derbies and national derbies. This year alone, more than 2,300 horses and ponies were entered in USHJAsanctioned hunter derbies. Why so much growth in derby competitions? For professionals, these competitions offer large cash purses and can be a good venue to showcase and sell talented hunter prospects. Derbies offer juniors and amateurs an intriguing format that encourages them to learn new skills and ride more challenging courses. Like the international derbies, national and pony events held at rated shows offer prize money, which engenders more excitement for riders and spectators alike.
In 2019, pony riders will have the opportunity to compete at one of two championships offered on either coast. The USHJA Pony Hunter Derby East and West Coast Championships will be held at the Kentucky Summer Classic, July 30 to August 4, in Lexington, Kentucky, and the Blenheim Fall Tournament, September 11 to 15, in San Juan Capistrano, California, respectively.
What is A Hunter Derby?
Most hunter derbies are run as a tworound competition. Both rounds typically include natural fences reminiscent of the hunt field, such as stone walls, logs, brush jumps, white board fences, post-and-rail jumps, gates, coops, banks and ditches. Longer than a standard hunter course, the classic round incorporates in-and-outs, bending lines, lines on unrelated distances and fences with long approaches.
The top-scoring competitors in the classic round come back to ride the handy round, which includes a trot fence, rollbacks and tight turns to show off the horse’s rideability. Riders earn extra points for demonstrating handiness. In both rounds, they can select jumps with higher height options to earn additional bonus points. The combination of scores from the two rounds determines the winner.
The pony and outreach derbies offer slightly modified versions of this format. Pony courses do not have high options. Outreach derbies, held at both rated and unrated local shows, combine the two rounds into a single round that incorporates both classic and handy elements.
Fences in pony derbies are set at 2-foot-3, 2-foot-6 and 2-foot-9 to 3-foot for small, medium and large ponies, respectively. Outreach derbies are set at 2-foot-6 with three high-option fences set at 2-foot-9. National derbies are set at 3-foot, with four high options at 3-foot-5, and international derbies are 3-foot-6 to 4-foot, with up to four high-option fences at 4-foot-3.
Tips from the Top
Hunter derbies are great training grounds for all riders. In this year’s Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship in Kentucky, returning champion Tori Colvin won on Brad Wolf’s Private Practice; Liza Boyd was reserve champion on Clemens, owned by Westerly Farm and her family’s Finally Farm, and third on Maggie Hill’s Tradition. Holly Shepherd won the classic round and finished fourth overall on Tybee, owned by Helen Brown. All three of these elite riders say the skills you develop to navigate a derby will make you a better competitor in the regular hunter divisions. If you’re considering giving a derby a try, here are their thoughts and tips.
How are derbies different from regular hunter classes?
“Derbies are a great mix between the hunters and jumpers,” says Tori. “Some of the jumps can be spooky. And the tworound format brings more of a jumper feel to the ring.”
Liza adds: “The first round is single fences, lines and bending lines—the same things you would see in a hunter classic, maybe just more of them. The handy round is similar to a handy round in a hunter class, but longer and asking more questions and adding more difficulty.”
Liza Boyd believes that practicing wider oxers and triple bars at home helped Clemens (and third-place Tradition) stretch a bit over the wide oxers in the classic round at this year’s derby final.