by Marilyn Payne, chair of the YEH committee

As the USEA Young Event Horse program continues to expand, more breeders and competitors are participating, or at least thinking about dipping a toe in the water. Many of them may never have seen a YEH competition. Even if they have, they need more information about how to participate, what makes a YEH event special, and how it helps their youngsters develop into successful event horses. Here are some of the questions that frequently come up, and some answers I hope will clarify what the concept is all about. Our committee will expand on this information in future articles, so keep your questions coming. We need to know what you want to know!

What will the YEH experience teach my young horse?

YEH competitions are a fabulous learning opportunity for young stock. First, they can get used to the dressage arena in a low pressure situation. Competitors are encouraged to ride freely forward to show off their gaits, horses are not penalized if they’re a bit playful, and there is no emphasis on accuracy – though they do need to stay in the arena!

The jumping phase is also a perfect schooling opportunity. The course typically begins with a few straightforward show jumps, which feed directly into several inviting cross-country fences. If there is a water crossing, the four-year-old group is invited to school it together before the jumping competition begins.

Overall, a YEH event is the ideal transition from schooling at home to getting a taste of what it’s like to compete. It’s a great way to give your horse exposure, without the physical and mental stress of a “real” event.

What is the format? Are YEH competitions always run the same way?

Every YEH qualifying event has a dressage and jumping test/gallop section. The schedule may vary, depending on the organizer. The dressage phase must come first, with the jumping/gallop test following sometime afterwards, either the same day, or the following day. At Championships, there will also be a conformation section. The Championships will have dressage and conformation on the first day, with the jumping/gallop test the following day.

How long does the competition last? How long will I be on my horse's back?

The entire competition for each individual horse lasts no more than a few hours; the exact time depends on the number of entries. Each horse is judged individually, so you and your horse can leave right after he is assessed. The dressage test takes less than five minutes to perform. Horses can then go directly to jumping, where you can jump a few warm-up fences. The jumping phase itself also takes less than five minutes. At Championships, the conformation test takes less than ten minutes.

Some events have different judges for each phase, and a horse could easily be finished in less than an hour. If the same person judges all phases, there will be breaks between each phase.

Are other horses close by, or will my baby horse be all alone during this experience?

Lots of horses will be around throughout the competition, so your youngster will have company. We also try to design the courses so they begin by heading toward the other horses. And we do our best to situate the more challenging cross-country fences so your horse will be coming back toward the warm-up area.

Ability is obviously very important, but what about the horse's attitude?

Attitude has a high priority in YEH competitions. Judges are looking for a bold horse who is thinking clearly, and is a willing partner. It is acceptable for a horse to have a refusal, as long as he then takes a look, figures it out, and willingly jumps the second time. A horse who has enormous talent will never succeed unless he has the right attitude, so judges evaluate this quality with great care.

What level of competence/training is expected of the 4-year-olds? 5-year-olds?

Four-year-olds should be competent at the Novice level. Early in the season, we encourage organizers to provide very inviting courses that are closer to Beginner Novice. By the end of the year, courses should be comparable to a strong Novice event, and include a few Training level obstacles. The YEH Championship will have up to four Training level fences for the 4-year-olds, and the 5-year-olds will have up to four Preliminary level fences.

Five-year-old courses at the beginning of the season are comparable to a challenging Novice, or a straightforward Training level. These horses end the season with solid Training level courses that also include some straightforward Preliminary fences.

What types of fences are likely to be used?

Four-year-olds will be presented with very inviting fences. The show jumping section of the course may even start with a crossrail and gradually build from there. The cross-country section may begin with a simple log fence, and then go on to a small ditch, a bank, or a simple water crossing.

Five-year-olds may see a simple double combination in the show jumping section, and the cross-country section may include obstacles like a simple Trakehner, a log into water, or a simple ditch combination.

What's the cost of a YEH entry?

The USEA does not put a set cost on entry fees that is up to each individual organizer. We do ask that they try to keep the entry fee as low as possible to encourage all who want to try their hand at competition so it won’t cost them an arm and a leg. The USEA has instituted just a $10 Starter Fee for all YEH entries.

Do I get to see the judge's sheet?

Absolutely! That’s one of the most important aspects of YEH! You will receive scores and comments on your dressage test, and also for the conformation and jumping tests. Your horse will be placed according to those scores, but more importantly, you’ll be given the reasons for the scores.

Will the scores by part of my horse's permanent record? Can the scores be viewed online, like other competitions?

Young Event Horse scores are added to the horse’s permanent competition record and are available to be viewed online with the rest of the horse’s record. These competitions are denoted "YEH" to distinguish from normal horse trials.

Are bloodlines listed online?

The USEA now requires a dam and sire to be listed for each horse registered with the USEA. If the breeding of the horse is not known, you may select "Unknown." This was put into effect as an effort to enhance visibility on breeding and pedigree in the sport of eventing. This information can be viewed by logging into your Online Services account and looking the horse up by name.

Has the USEA considered using the same format as YEH dressage and jumping to create an introductory level eventing division? Can YEH organizers include intro levels divisions for riders, career change classes for horses coming in from other disciplines, etc.?

We encourage organizers to hold additional classes as well as the 4- and 5-year-old YEH divisions. Some possibilities include a class for Off-The-Track Thoroughbreds, Introduction To Eventing classes for those who have never evented, and Career Change classes for hunters, jumpers, and dressage horses who want to try their hand (and hoof) at eventing. The New Event Horse (NEH) program is also a great supplement. Other ideas are more than welcome!

Educational clinics can also be offered, with a professional instructor helping riders out. All these classes are a great way to introduce horses and riders to our sport in a low-pressure, educational environment. Equally important, they can help increase revenue for organizers, who have already made an investment by creating the 4- and 5-year-old jumping courses, hiring one or more judges for YEH, and all the other costs and responsibilities of holding a competition.

Please contact Kate Lokey, (703) 779-9897 with any questions, comments or suggestions.

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