Andrea Baxter, owner and trainer at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, California and member of the USEA Young Event Horse Committee, has been an avid participant in the USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) and Future Event Horse (FEH) classes from their inception. “I've been a longtime supporter of the program, not only as a committee member, but as a rider,” she said. “I've shown multiple horses each year in both the FEH/YEH programs that I have bred, bought for myself and for resale, and client’s horses.”
In 2017, the USEA FEH Program introduced a new 4-year-old division. This division was designed to give young horses who are not quite ready to compete in the USEA YEH 4-year-old division an opportunity to participate in the USEA Young Horse Programs.
Baxter admitted that she wasn’t sure about the idea of the FEH 4-year-old division when it was first proposed, but she began to better understand the value behind it last year when she had a horse in her program who wasn’t the right fit for the YEH 4-year-old division. “There are definitely two different paths for 4-year-olds to go down, neither of which is wrong or right, it just depends on timing,” she observed. “The 5-year-old path is much more straightforward in its purpose, but a 4-year-old can chime into the program at any point and learn to go with the flow.”
In the FEH 4-year-old division, horses demonstrate their gaits under saddle at the walk, trot, and canter before being stripped of their tack to have their conformation evaluated. Additionally, 4-year-olds also exhibit their skill over fences at the FEH Championships during the free jump portion of competition. The jump chute for the free jump competition contains a ground pole followed by three obstacles that may be set as high as 2'9", 3'3", and 3'7" in front, 3'9" in back, respectively. Horses are allowed to go through the chute up to five times, beginning with all poles on the ground and increasing gradually in height, allowing the horse do display their scope, technique, and willingness over fences. Click here to check out the complete rules for the FEH classes.
In comparison, the YEH 4-year-old class has a structure more similar to a traditional horse trials. The competition has two portions: the dressage test and the jumping test. During the dressage test, YEH 4-year-old horses perform a specially formulated test designed to allow the horse to demonstrate their training and gaits. The jumping test is derby style, containing exactly five show jumps and 10 cross-country jumps where each jumping effort is judged on a scale of 0-3. Click here to view the jumping specifications for the YEH classes. Horses complete the jumping test by showing off their gallop for the judges. At the YEH Championships, horses are stripped of their tack following the dressage test to be evaluated on their conformation.
This year, Baxter competed young horses in both the YEH and FEH 4-year-old divisions. “Melkenna [the horse I competed in the YEH 4-year-old Championships] was very slow to start as she needed mental time off and rebreaking from the track," Baxter said. "Once all that happened, she progressed flawlessly and the YEH 4-year-old Championships were an easy goal for her. That being said, she is 4 years old and ready to go Training level, but honestly there is no need to rush her. A horse with that much quality and ability should easily step up to the 5-year-old ask next year. I would say she's almost too ahead of the game, so I will try to keep myself from doing much with her next year. Ideally she will aim for a Training Three-Day by the end of next year and the YEH 5-year-old Championships.”
The FEH 4-year-old division first demonstrated its value to Baxter when she took on two 4-year-olds that came to her in the late spring that were just learning the basics of steering and contact. “Being able to aim them at a class that was low key and a great first experience was awesome,” she said.
The FEH 4-year-old division continued to be valuable this year for Baxter’s homebred stallion, Coronado. “Being a young stallion adds a whole other chapter to my responsibility to him, my staff, and myself. In order to keep him managed the best, it was not in his interest to have others handling him as a barely started 4-year-old while I was on the road competing [my upper level horse] Indy 500 at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event and the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. Once I got home from England, I was able to put a couple good weeks on him and the FEH class seemed like a perfect fit for him.”
“It's a mere test to see how they handle the atmosphere of a show,” Baxter elaborated. “All they need to do is walk, trot, and canter in a ring, show off their gaits, and remain calm. It's important to remember that a talented young horse with a good mind learns very quickly and the size of the jumps is the easy part. They need to develop their basic training tools and body strength first and foremost. Once you have those things on track, the rest comes much quicker than we realize.”
“Having done both FEH and YEH this year with two totally different horses, I expect to have both of them at the YEH 5-year-old Championships next year. I don't consider Coronado to be behind the curve having only done the FEH 4-year-old Championships. If anything, Melkenna may be ahead of the curve, as the 5-year-old Championship is going to seem ages away for her.”
“These young horses need to develop their bodies and their minds,” Baxter concluded. “Both paths are great experience and exposure, regardless of which one your horse is ready for. The most important thing to remember is to keep them happy in their job. If they are bored with flatwork, adding in jumping to keep them interested is a great thing. If they are started late or need extra time to develop, the flat class aspect of the FEH is a great opportunity to expose them in a positive way to horse show life.”
About the USEA Future Event Horse Program
The USEA introduced the Future Event Horse (FEH) Program in 2007 as a pilot program in response to the popularity of the already established USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) Program. Where the YEH program assesses 4- and 5-year-old prospective event horses based on their performance, the FEH program evaluates yearlings, 2-year-olds, and 3-year-olds for their potential for the sport based on conformation and type. Horses are presented in hand and divisions are separated by year and gender. At the Championships, 3-year-olds are also required to demonstrate their potential over fences in an additional free-jump division.
New in 2017 was the FEH 4-year-old division, designed for youngsters not quite ready for the rigors of the Young Event Horse program. These horses are presented under saddle at the walk, trot, and canter before being stripped of their tack and evaluated for their conformation. Additionally, 4-year-olds also participate in the free-jump divisions at Championships to show their potential over fences. Click here to learn more about the Future Event Horse Program.
About the USEA Young Event Horse Program
The Young Event Horse (YEH) Program was first established in 2004 as an eventing talent search. Much like similar programs in Europe, the YEH program was designed to identify young horses that possess the talent and disposition to, with proper training, excel at the uppermost levels of the sport. The ultimate goal of the program is to distinguish horses with the potential to compete at the three- and four-star levels, but many fine horses that excel at the lower levels are also showcased by the program.
The YEH program provides an opportunity for breeders and owners to exhibit the potential of their young horses while encouraging the breeding and development of top event horses for the future. The program rewards horses who are educated and prepared in a correct and progressive manner. At qualifying events, youngsters complete a dressage test and a jumping/galloping/general impression phase. At Championships, young horses are also evaluated on their conformation in addition to the dressage test and jumping/galloping/general impression phase. Click here to view the jumping standards and specifications.
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