Derby this, Incentive that.

Derby and Incentive Finals!

When the Monday following the 2017 Green Incentive and International Derby Finals rolled around I was able to ask Katie Francella her thoughts on the experience. She assisted Katie Cooper and Sandlot (Star baby Star) and in their first International Derby Final. I was very interested in her take on it, and in general she thought it was great. She also had thoughts for improvements. Additionally, Katie Cooper showed Dapper earlier in the Green Incentive Finals, as well as having a few other horses along for the ride to show in the regular horse show put on by Kentucky Horse Shows, LLC (Hugh Kincannon). There is no denying the extraordinary prize money in this USHJA program for hunters, with nearly 2 million for Green Incentive horses and 11 million for International Derby horses distributed since it’s inception, a remarkable feat in this country for Hunters.

Side note: Despite my personal feelings on this event, I am totally interested in how the week works for other people, and if they like it, I like it for them, and I also can appreciate the amount of  work which goes into a Championship Final.  

During my conversation with Katie Francella, she asked what is stopping this from being an exclusive USHJA/USE Special Event? With Pony Finals occurring the week before, why can’t we pull in Junior Hunter Finals to have an absolute all World Hunter Finale? Remove the actual ongoing horse show and have all of the horses and people attending be focused on the one ring show. Pony Finals can end Saturday, Junior Hunters can move in Sunday, show Monday and Tuesday, Hunterdon Cup Tuesday Night (Equitation), then Incentive Finals Wednesday and Thursday, Friday morning if necessary, then Derby Friday and Saturday, ending with a big gala Saturday night following the class. (Denim and Diamonds anyone?). Saturday would also have room for a NATIONAL Derby Final, maybe with top 30 money earners invited. Sunday is for traveling home and recovering from the party so you can be fresh for Monday. (ha!)

**Francella’s Hunter Week Schedule – A Prototype: (Following Pony Finals)**

Sunday: Ticketed Warm up, Horses shipping in

Monday: Junior Hunter Day one

Tuesday: Junior Hunter Day two, 3pm Hunterdon Cup, *WELCOME PARTY*

Wednesday: Walnut ring – Green Incentive Round one, ticketed warmups Claiborne/Stonelea

Thursday: Walnut ring – Green Incentive Round two, Rolex  stadium – 3’3”, 3’6” performance hunters

Friday: 8 am Rolex Stadium: Derby Classic Round. 3 pm Walnut ring – Incentive Final, *EXHIBITOR PARTY*

Saturday: 8-12 Rolex Stadium – Invitational NATIONAL Hunter Derby, 1:30 Challenge Round Int’l Derby, 3 pm Tier B, 4:30 pm Tier A

8:30 pm *GALA*

Two weeks of all the fancy hunters in the country showing in Kentucky. With big parties.

With next year having the addition of 3’6” and 3’9” horses, there will be plenty of horses for the horse show to make money on. And hopefully with the addition of two new heights, prize money can be distributed further to the top 30-40 horses, not just 20. Nix the Grand Prix (or offer it in the Alltech arena, complete with stabling). Offer a Performance Hunter division or class in the Rolex Stadium so we don’t see any horses completely freak out before they make it to the first jump. I know I know it is a championship, but seriously, it is heart breaking to see a horse not get to the first jump. There are loads of other places on a course which will be scrutinized, what is exactly the harm in a Performance hunter class to acclimate the hunters to a ring they only show in once a year? Equitation finals offer a warm up, no?

Kentucky is considered one of the best facilities in the country, right? Footing is great, stabling plentiful, camper space adequate, they have running water, electricity and speakers in every tent, even cameras. Is there a reason we can’t take advantage of this facility for all of these events? It is hard to find people to complain about the horse shows in Kentucky. The Horse Park is just spectacular and if you have never been, you are missing out. There is a museum right there, all breeds of horses, trail riding, it is a massive facility, permanent stabling, (mostly) and worthy of attracting extra spectators, especially with additional parties. I like parties.

Still room for improvement.

Secure Stabling. The secure stabling for the horses was very close to the two schooling rings. However the schooling rings were not exclusive to the horses in secure stabling, which made it crowded with random horses from the horse show also schooling. It would also be encouraging to fence in the adjacent field for the horses to have an area to hand gallop. Or graze under tack. These horses are special they worked hard to get there, they should be treated special if they are in special classes, no? However, with ALL of the horses being at the show for these special classes, there would be less confusion, all of the horses could be treated equally. The “Secure” stabling really is in need of being addressed. Any petition floating around is usually a pretty clear indication of ‘Halp!’

Schooling in the Stadium. Because the regular show was crimping on available ring time, the Derby horses could only hack in the Rolex Stadium DURING the Incentive finals. Uh no. I don’t like this. Sorry, but pulling that many people AWAY from the Incentive finals is really not a good idea. Everyone needs to be watching those classes as much a possible! However, there was no choice, because the jumpers needed the ring back for their own classes. Another reason maybe the jumpers could just wait till next week to show, there are how many Grand Prix Classes each summer in Kentucky?

This brings me to Katie Cooper’s experience and perspective, which she was happy to share with us and you.


Katie Cooper aboard Sandlot (Cherry Knoll Farm) PC Shawn McMillen ’17

“That Katie Francella – She’s so smart! She is exactly right. I echo all of her sentiments. 

I wanted to take Star (Sandlot) for a walk on the xc course and I wasn’t allowed to graze him while I sat on him – that’s a key part of our program!

I was honored to be at derby finals and to participate in such a special week in both green incentive and derby finals. Dapper and I enjoyed the galloping course in Walnut once we got our bearings! Star was enthusiastic at derby finals and we are coming home having learned a lot – and certainly it was the experience itself that offered those lessons.  

The facility is incredible – the course was difficult but appropriately so. 

The format was slightly confusing with the A and B sections (tiers) but I was grateful to have the opportunity to join the night class with the handicapping of the B section. 

Being amidst such amazing riders, trainers, and horses made me appreciate this sport all the more. And – appreciate my very special team of both people and horses who work hard for us to compete amidst the best. 

The USHJA is putting forth great effort and it is exactly what this industry needs – a boost for developing horses and an event that will gain exposure and interest. I agree with Katie Francella in that it would be a benefit to have a limited or nonexistent show schedule outside of these feature events. And therefore less restrictive stabling perhaps – we were claustrophobic with only one schooling area and a limited patch of grass to graze while being on the most impressive and horse-friendly facility in the country! 

The cash prizes are hugely important in gaining legitimacy and interest. But to further these efforts, some greater organization would help. We would love to have the opportunity for our clients to show the week before or after – but perhaps not during the very class that we came to do. It was financially a hardship to qualify and attend – we are not an operation that can afford to staff a groom per horse. And beyond that, we cannot be in two places at once.  Yes, this is a common challenge for competition, but is the one saving grace at indoors and feature events – this event deserves the same attention.” 


Side note: During the rider’s meeting it was announced a small patch of grass adjacent to the Rolex Stadium would be cordoned off for grazing horses stabled nearby. It is easy to miss announcements, however, and although I don’t express views of EVERY competitor, one of the few joys people who love horses is being allowed to find a lush patch of green for a horse show horse. 

Will we ever get to a total ‘Utopian Event’? One has to rely on a little bit of hope, no? It seems so close…..Show managers across the country may have a hard time losing their own hold on National Championships, however, logic may have to prevail in the end for the better of the entire industry. It is the BIG picture which is most important.


Alan in the tower

I also asked Course Designer Alan Lohman what his thoughts were, too. He was impressed..

I thought that it all went well. It is amazing to see everything that goes into making the whole event happen. I got to see it from both views. They [Kentucky Horse Shows, LLC and USHJA] are extremely detailed oriented.”

Alan rode earlier in the week in the Incentive Finals aboard Kristin Silon’s Four Score to a 55th place finish out of 148 starters. As an owner, Kristin was treated with lots of goodies which definitely made her feel special as an owner who has made a considerable financial commitment to get here. She bemused it was definitely the toughest course her horse had seen all year, but appreciated it was a Championship Final so it should be. She also echoed my sentiments from two years ago that splitting the 3′ and 3’3″ would allow more horses make it to the Day 3 Final round, and maybe two sections of the Final round would really be beneficial. 

This is still my biggest concern as we are about to see more horses included in next year’s final with the addition of 3’6″ and 3’9″ horses….that’s a large field.


Alan Lohman and Kristin Silon’s Four Score (pc Shawn McMillen’17)

Deciphering what is USHJA and what is US Equestrian.

Here is the everyday question. US Equestrian is our penalty and points keeper. USHJA is our program and education keeper. Points need to be updated and kept very current so that these events invite the appropriate people. If US Equestrian is BEHIND on point tracking, it is up to volunteers within the USHJA to call horse shows, seek results, and calculate by hand who should be attending these finals events. No one wants to hear that US Equestrian was four months behind on point tracking and an army of unpaid and kind volunteers were putting their own businesses and lives on hold to verify data by calling around asking for results…. I feel like saying really US Equestrian? You had one job, just do it. Stop wasting time worrying about Depo, penalty guidelines and all the other crap. Keep our points current and correct, duh, otherwise we should be handling that job ourselves. It is really beginning to feel as though we can handle A LOT of the responsibilities ourselves these days, without the assistance of an arrogant Federation, but maybe that’s just me. Every day that rolls by is just one more day people are calculating whether or not the USHJA can pull away from US Equestrian.

Cost of media.

I didn’t pay. The Katie’s didn’t have to, they were there. SO MANY feathers were ruffled at the decision to charge for watching this event. But who should pay? Should the USHJA or US Eq pay, a sponsor? What is the answer here? I sent an email to EqSportsNet to ask for a statement regarding the fallout. I asked how much does it exactly cost to provide coverage for a week, house their staff, lug their cameras around, set up scaffolding, feed employees, replace broken equipment, fuel, vehicles, and how much hate mail they received, (just kidding) and was it worth it… (still awaiting response. I would imagine they are still trying to fill video orders). There are only a few shows left offering free live coverage, and I feel like we are split down the middle about what should be free and what should be a nominal fee. In hindsight 50% discount on $10 doesn’t seem all that terrible, but at the time I was thinking ‘no way’, I’m going to have to read about the results later.

Maybe this would have been less painful had we had some warning and explanation before the event actually started, but once again, we all felt a little late to the party. We also felt a little stung from recent membership dues increasing, so the timing of it all simply sucked. This is most likely the new norm, so I would say be prepared to pay in the future.

I would think that overall this is a pretty well received event. The organizers, the show management, volunteers all put in crazy hours to pull this off. I am sure behind the scenes there was a lot more aggravation which doesn’t always make me smile, but as far as the way forward, the template seems to be working. Each year should get better, each year should get easier.


Johnny Barker offering Sara Taylor on Carento (Sherri Crawford) a high five under a rather large camera… pc Louise Taylor/ USHJA Archives 


future champions? meeting Jenny Karazissis aboard Legacy (Emily Sukart)  PC Louise Taylor/USHJA archives 

Special thank you to contributors to this piece, Katie Francella, Katie Cooper, Alan Lohman, Kristin Silon, Louise Taylor, and more…xx

Forgive me FEI

This feels like a squash the bug year for any kind of members of Equestrian organizations. The US Equestrian is operating in a squash the bug mentality. Squashing the cheaters, squashing opportunity with raised dues, and inherently squashing their own proclaimed ‘Joy’ in sport. Then we nervously watched board members in the USHJA Foundation be squashed and were left wondering what could have possibly led to that complete upheaval in apparent negotiations? Two words? Ouch.

Meanwhile, in their own unique fashion, the FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale)  insists on squashing bugs who treat their show jumping horses with compassion, but ignores the absolute unacceptable tolerance of abuse among endurance horses in the far East. What on Earth kind of double standard is that? God forbid you use Neosporin to treat a minor cut, but nawww boys and girls, it’s totally ok to have a horse saunter in on three legs at the finish line of an FEI sanctioned Endurance race with zero repercussions. Because….. jurisdiction. Forgive me if I am slightly bitter.

Forgive me if I find tolerance of running FEI Endurance sanctioned races at the exact same time and on the same course as National sanctioned races, when meanwhile, in the West, a rider is handed a yellow card for her groom handing over a piece of useless equipment over the fence of the stabling area instead of walking an extra 200 feet in the 90 degree temperatures to go through the front gate. Forgive me if these tired as f**k grooms are just trying to get through the day on little to no sleep, food, or wages, just so you can back up an over zealous steward who cannot wait for some insignificant infraction to report, but still turn a blind eye to multiple dead and missing horses in Endurance racing. Forgive me for making a comparison.

We are just bugs trying to abide by your rules right? I wonder if your rules of Zero Tolerance seem a little less applicable to Arab countries because maybe they are about to host the FEI General Assembly next year? Oh snap…. I’ve seen that rodeo before….


But back to the weird year we have witnessed. Your Zero Tolerance couldn’t prevent a hay vendor in Portugal (France, Switzerland, Germany, or a field in between) from unknowingly skimping on pesticides, gathering up some random weed while cutting hay, which eventually gets ordered by a show manager at a major competition then sold to a rider from Holland, Belgium or the U.K., who didn’t have an extra lorry to ship his own 6 week supply from abroad and BAM, his jumper tests positive for some mystery ‘performance enhancing’ substance? FOUND IN HAY? Sparteine is not performance enhancing, especially in trace amounts.  So let me get this right, we should be prepared to test our feed, our hay, not use Triple Anti-biotic creme, or, let’s face it, just don’t treat wounds when you travel halfway around the world when your horse wasn’t wrapped in bubble wrap and arrived with broken skin somewhere, and really they should just starve.


Broom carries Sparteine

When a person looks at the table of suspensions and sees 7 horses from the UAE testing positive for four different drugs at the same time (Paraxanthine, Caffeine, Theobromine, Theophylline), then sees only a 3 month suspension issued for each of those horses and makes a comparison to a horse who is also serving a 3 month suspension for ingesting a weed in hay (Sparteine), it makes a person really think on it. I had to google all of these drugs by the way, and I have a hard time believing in a possible contamination with 4 stimulating drugs at the same time, but maybe you can come to a different conclusion.

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So why do I click on the report? Because you can imagine my concern of 7 horses with the same four illegal substances found in them…


In the middle of the report however, where it tells me to click “here” for case details, I get one of these lovely messages….

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I thought it was 2017, no? Anonymous can hack into any website in the world, and here we have a ‘missing webpage’. interesting.


This Zero Tolerance is bullshit. These multiple year penalties are bs, too. All you are doing is encouraging horrific horsemanship and fear among people who actually care about their animals. Why do Show Jumpers care? Because it is SO extremely hard to compete at the top level of sport, it is so competitive, and the animals are now treated BETTER than they were 20 years ago. You think these show jumping riders are doing anything they can to torture their animals? Doesn’t that sound absurd when you say it out loud? This isn’t 1990 anymore. Good 1.60m horses are hard to come by.  The scary thing is that US Equestrian seems to really want to copy the standards of FEI. My concern is that we have never had the proper education offered to get there. How many of you knew about Pramoxine? How many of you know how many products Pramoxine is found in? Caladryl, Aveeno, Callergy, any poison ivy cream, or even anti-itch medicated shampoos. How did you feel when you heard about Paige Johnson facing a year long suspension for  her horse testing positive for Pramoxine? This isn’t about slaying the groom and saying that Team Johnson should have known better. This reality where treating a wound with Triple Anti-Biotic Cream and the FEI regarding it as a performance enhancing offense is completely and utterly unacceptable.

I get moving drug classifications around is supposed to alleviate some of these silly offenses, but FEI needs to take a hard look at itself and reconsider the damage it is doing in THIS discipline. Because if you punish all the people so severely over nothing, where do you think eventually riders are going to go? Where do you think the divide will be widened? Do you know if Paige will think twice before joining a Nations Cup Team? I don’t know her, I have never met her, but I have watched her grow up here, and she has always presented herself on extremely nice horses, has been very well educated from the ponies on up, and we all know is part of a well funded and highly supportive family. I just for the life of me cannot picture her as a criminal here. I just can’t.

What makes this groom blunder situation even more alarming is that in an Arab country a groom’s blunder is also noted with a one year ban, however that groom INJECTED a horse with MULTIPLE DRUGS (phenylbutazone, oxyphenbutazone, and dexamethasone) and “forgot” to inform the rider before a race. So Paige’s groom who SMEARED A CREAM on a wound is actually the same thing as Ibrahim’s groom who INJECTS DRUGS into the vein of a “sick” horse a few hours before the race??  Am I crazy here? Did anyone else pick up on the “one member tribunal panel”? Forgive me for not being satisfied with this outcome.

Will the riders who proved hay contamination from a weed in Portugal or Germany, France, or Switzerland (where the hay was made, maybe) regard their commitment to FEI differently now? I would. You don’t see Jan Tops behaving in any similar manner, that’s for sure. I cannot even imagine what was going through his mind when Scott Brash was eliminated for a barely visible spur mark this year at one of his shows. I met Jan one time, and instantly realized he was one of the most calculating human beings I had ever seen. And that was well over two decades ago. How much have the wheels been turning since Scott’s incident?

I still compare the spur marks from Scott and even Irish rider Bertram Allen to the multiple dead horses we had to witness and read about this spring. What will come about the next season over there? Will the letter from the World Arabian Organization be enough? I thought the Prez’s response was a bit weak, but that’s just me. As of now 6 countries have disallowed their endurance riders to compete in the FEI Group 7 Countries? Shouldn’t an organization be alarmed by this?

Funny, I have yet to see an Endurance horse retire with a tearful ceremony at the age of 18 or older.



Cedric adored and loved by everyone, in his retirement ceremony.

So let’s be realistic, let’s try separate rules for Endurance horses. You want Zero tolerance? Then put it on Endurance horses and continue to force them to clean up their act. Because what is happening in that world is inexcusable. What is happening in the show jumping world is not inexcusable. Yes, spur marks suck, but spur marks are not the same thing as a broken leg or disappearing horse in a competition. Vehicles on course is also NOT PERMITTED in sanctioned events. At the VERY least, maybe you could clear the course of multiple vehicles kicking up sand in horses faces. Let’s also not use the excuse of more media coverage for tighter FEI sanctions on show jumpers. I won’t buy that. Just because show jumping has figured out a way to stay in the media limelight doesn’t just give permission to hand out harsher and more ridiculous penalties. Spend the energy where the horses are really suffering. And prove you can make a difference. Separate the rules between disciplines.


Why does it seem like we keep spinning? So far this years events have created more void, more unhappiness, confusion and more instability than ever before. Is that what we want? Are the bugs going to be constantly meeting the windshield here? I feel like we are so capable, but yet it’s one step forward, two steps back, and forgive me, I am tired of that tango. I don’t even expect to see transparency in the future. It is not seeming like a realistic goal. But what I don’t want to see is a top international equestrian organization on the struggle bus, then see our own national federations trying to jump right on board. This makes no sense to me. We have to be better than that. We have to avoid using the FEI as the ultimate standard, because it is not. Until the president can stand up to the money train, prove he is capable of managing disciplines which appear to treat horses as disposable commodities, then I can offer no respect for such an organization. It needs to be fixed. Am I arrogant in suggesting the Show Jumping discipline should have a different set of FEI standards than Endurance or even Dressage or Eventing? Maybe I am, or maybe it is just time to consider such a  possibility.



I had to make a decision to withhold more photos from endurance races in this post because most of the relevant ones I uncovered were too gruesome to share.