They come around every year, just about at the same time. The weather gets cooler and the quarter sheets come out while the leaves change and the outdoor horse shows pack up and head inside. From Washington International, to the West Coast USET Talent Search, equitation finals litter the fall show calendar for many juniors across the country. The “medal” classes have been around for quite a while, too. The first winners of the ASPCA Maclay date back to 1933; if you’re wondering, there were only 15 entries, and the winner was Audrey Hasler Chesney. For a bit, it was the only equitation “final” around, until 1937 with the inception of the USEF Medal. Originally, with these classes riders were awarded medals for winning a class. The nickname “medal class” has stuck, some odd 80 years later!
The ASPCA Maclay is the oldest equitation “medal” final, held at the National Horse Show, which is recently located in Lexington, Kentucky. The Maclay final is composed of fences 3’6” in height, and what counts is 50 percent over-fences work, and an additional 50 percent the following flat phase. There is a workoff, meaning that the top competitors will have to prove themselves through a final test. This can be and often is completing a course of jumps on another competitor’s horse (think back to 2014 when Tori Colvin got on Hunter Holloway’s Any Given Sunday, and Holloway on Patrick). Many previous winners of the Maclay Final have gone on to have impressive careers, proving that the medal really is earned based on merit and horsemanship. Past winners include Peter Wylde, Bernard Taurig, George Morris, Frank Chapot, Lillie Keenan, Tori Colvin, and Brianne Goutal.
The USEF Medal was the next class to become a coveted final. In 1937, the class was originally the American Horse Show Association Junior’s Cup. Held in Harrisburg at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, the AHSA Junior’s Cup morphed into the USEF Medal in 2004. Fences are also at the 3’6” height, just like the Maclay. To qualify, junior competitors must obtain a certain amount of points; the amount of points is tailored to the area the competitor comes from. Someone showing in a rural state wouldn’t need as many points, considering there wouldn’t be as many competitors! Just like in the Maclay Final, winners of the USEF Medal often ride on to win other equitation finals and progress to a professional level after their junior careers. You might recognize names like Ronnie Multch, George Morris, Kent Farrington, Brianne Goutal, Maggie McAlary, and Jessica Springsteen? All winners of the USEF Medal.
Low and behold, in 1958 the equitation medals were joined by a jumper-style “medal” final. The USEF Talent Search originated as the United States Equestrian Team Equitation Challenge Cup, and was held at the National Horseshow. In 1994-2003, the challenge was renamed the USET Show Jumping Talent Search before it morphed into the medal we know today as the USEF Talent Search. According to the mission of the class, the goal of the medal is to encourage equitation basics, but with a solid jumper seat. Held in both the East at Gladstone, and the West in San Juan Capistrano, the Talent Search turns out incredible riders who have gone on to ride for the United States Olympic team. Mclain Ward, Andre Dignelli, Meredith Michaels, Brianne Goutal, and Tori Colvin all won the USEF Talent search. The Talent Search has both an over-fences component, as well as a flat phase. USEF Tests 1-9 are additional tests that may be administered. Qualifying for this equitation final is different from the other finals in that it requires a win at a three star Talent Search Class level or, alternatively in the East 90 points and in the West 30 points as well as a win in a two star talent search class. And the kicker? Riders are eligible until they’re 21.
Washington International Horse Show has hosted the WIHS Equitation Classic since 1992. This class is another equitation final, requiring competitors to jump a course of 3’6” fences, ride two phases, and the top 10 riders of the final phase swap horses. What’s unique to this class is that qualifiers come from the “east league” or the “West league” depending on their zone. Zones 1-5 are considered the “East League” and zones 6-12 are considered the “West League”. From the East,the top 30 competitors are invited to compete in the final and the top 10 competitors are invited from the West. Don’t doubt this Medal just because it’s newer! Winners of the WIHS Equitation Classic range from Mclain Ward, Sarah Willeman and Kent Farrington, to Brianne Goutal, Lillie Keenan, and Tori Colvin.
The final “Big” equitation or indoor medal is at the Capital Challenge Horse Show. Called the North American Equitation and born in 1995, there is no unique qualifying method for this equitation class; junior competitors don’t have to worry about points, here! There is a testing component of this medal which just like the others uses the USEF Tests 1-9 (they include backing up, changing of lead, and others). Though there is no qualifications for this class, that doesn’t mean the competition is easy! In 2013 and 2014, Victoria Colvin came out on top with the blue. Other riders frequenting the equitation ring have been present at the Capital Challenge; winners include Lillie Keenan, and Brianne Goutal.
The fall is an exciting time. Pumpkin spice, the leaves changing, sweater-weather and indoors. While a fantastic display of supreme horsemanship, stellar equitation, and showmanship, the equitation medals represent the heart of our sport: by finding a solid foundation, a good relationship with our partner and dedication comes great achievement.