The popularity of the International Hunter Derby Program prompted USHJA to develop a separate series of competitions modeled after the Derby but geared toward the up-and-coming horses and riders. The National Hunter Derby Program was launched in 2010 to provide both horses and riders a place to gain experience in Derby competition at a lower height and difficulty level. The program has enjoyed continued success and growth throughout the current competition year.
USHJA National Hunter Derby classes offered at Premier (AA) and National (A) competitions and competitions with Special Competition status must offer a minimum of $2,500 in prize money; classes held at Regional I (B) competitions must offer a minimum of $1,000 in prize money; and classes held at Regional II (C) competitions must offer a minimum of $500 in prize money.
In the two-round format, a minimum of two judges utilize the open numerical system to score competitors in the Classic Hunter Round (first round) on performance, hunter pace, jumping style, quality and substance, and movement. In addition, the base score in the Handy Hunter Round (second round) reflects brilliance of pace and handiness. In each round, after the judges' base score is given, one point will be added for each high-option fence jumped up to a maximum of four. The point must be added even if there is a refusal, rail down or loss of good jumping style at that fence, providing that the horse-and-rider combination does jump the higher height fence option.
Obstacles are reminiscent of the hunt field and must offer a variety of appearances, such as natural post and rail, stone wall, white board fence or gate, coop, aiken, hedge, oxer, brush, logs and natural foliage. Natural obstacles such as banks and ditches are allowed. The Handy Hunter Round should simulate riding over hunt country and incorporate options such as tight turns, clever options for jump approaches, hand galloping and trotting a fence. Fences are set at 3', with four high-option fences set at 3'5".
The 12 highest-scoring horse-and-rider combinations after the first round are eligible to return for the second round. The pair with the highest two-round score is declared the class winner. The top eight horse-and-rider combinations are expected to ride for ribbons and prize money.
USHJA National Hunter Derbies are open to any horse or pony registered with USHJA. In order to receive Zone Horse of the Year bonus points, horses, ponies and owners must be actively recorded with USEF and registered with USHJA, and riders must fill out the official USHJA Declaration Form in the horse show office.
Whether an end goal or a stepping stone toward competing in an International Hunter Derby, the USHJA National Hunter Derbies have often proven some of the most exciting and coveted classes at competitions nationwide, while educating athletes, both human and equine, in the time-honored tradition of showing hunters.