While a majority of rule changes are not that thrilling and pertain to eliminating outdated languages or practices (like jumps being required to be 20' wide...). There are always a few changes that speak to the intent of the sport, or a change in mindset.
Most notably, the recent changes in use of injections prior to showing is fairly huge and hopefully a rule update that significantly lessens the use of sedatives in the Hunter Ring.
If you want to read a shit-storm of commentary on the injection rules head over to COTH or your internet forum of choice. Plenty has been said on them, so I'll steer clear of that particular hot potato and just mention a few of the USHJA rule changes that piqued my interest this year.
HU125.1 - HU125.3
1. Snaffles, pelhams and full bridles, all with cavesson nose bands, are required.
a. Judges may penalize, but may not eliminate, a horse or pony that competes in an unconventional snaffle, pelham, or full bridle. Unconventional snaffles, pelhams, or full bridles include, but are not limited to, hunter gags, kimberwickes, etc.
b. Judges must eliminate a horse or pony that competes in bits other than snaffles, pelhams or full bridles, and nosebands other than cavesson nosebands. Illegal bits include, but are not limited to, three rings, gags (other than the hunter gag), et cetera… Illegal nosebands include, but are not limited to, drop, flash and figure eight nosebands.
2. Horses must return to the ring for conformation or soundness wearing a snaffle, pelham or full bridle with a cavesson noseband.
3. Martingales of any type are prohibited in Under Saddle, hack and tie-breaking classes. Standing and running martingales used in the conventional manner are allowed for all over fences classes. All other martingales are considered illegal. A judge must eliminate a horse or pony that competes in a martingale other than a standing or running martingale used in the
Things that I think are interesting here:
Kimberwickes are "unconventional" but pelhams with a single rein converter are not, someone please explain that.
Also, Running Martingales are now legal tack. I can only imagine they are still considered (wildly) unconventional, but it's nice to see that they are no longer banned. I'm pretty sure they announce that change in a separate section, but I couldn't find it so I'm mentioning it here.
One of my favorite rule changes involves the ponies:
HU110 Pony Hunter
6. Ponies shown by a junior cannot be shown by an adult at the same competition, except in breeding classes in-hand and in accordance with HU108.
Much like the recent restriction on injections, I think this rule change will actually impact a lot of general practices. Granted I don't have a pony (...yet), but from my casual observations it seems like very normal practice for trainers to show ponies (in some cases, a lot) before the little kiddos get on them. Obviously this happens a lot for the Adult Ammies as well, so it's a bit of a double standard. But there's something about actually making the kids ride that is appealing to me. For one thing I think it reduces (but doesn't eliminate) the impact of spending an obscene amount of money on something cute, then paying a trainer to lunge/ride/school the snot out of it so a kid can quietly sit for a couple rounds without falling off.
Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing a similar rule change for Amateurs, but I don't think it'll ever happen since people want to see their horse shown in Open divisions with Pros and from a logistics perspective those classes often happen while most Ammies are working their 9-5's during the week.
However, good junior riders often become good adult riders, so perhaps starting with the change in the pony division will set the tone (a little).
This next change I find hysterical (on a couple levels)
1. In case of a tie score the Championship and/or Reserve is awarded to the horse that accumulated the most points over fences. If horses have an equal number of points over fences and no points under saddle, the tied horses will be asked to compete in a hack off, or independent under saddle class, to be judged on soundness and performance at the walk, trot and canter. Competitors may be asked to hand gallop at the discretion of the judge. (Exception: Green Hunters.)
Any competitor may concede to the other if they choose not to hack off, or if both competitors agree, they may choose to break the tie with a coin toss
First of all, having to compete in a Hack Off may be on my bucket list. I have never heard of something that sounds so dramatic, and yet so ridiculous at the same time. Competing head-to-head in any circumstance always involves a bit of bravado and flair, but doing so with polished up, braided show horses at the walk, trot and canter is... well.. not very intimidating.
I have watched one Hack Off, and it was fun! Watching an extra round over fences would more fun, but I get that from a logistics standpoint, a flat class is easier.
Hack Offs aren't actually new, but the addition of the Coin Toss clause is.
A coin toss.
I mean, one can argue that most placings are essentially a coin toss anyway, but seriously, a literal coin toss???
When you consider the cash, time and energy spent to get to a show, let alone be tied for a Championship, I cannot imagine ever thinking "ahhhh shucks, let's just flip for it."
I guess it will never be an issue for me since I will never, ever agree to a coin toss. I'd prefer to take my cue from Zoolander and go for the Walk, errrr Hack Off.
There are about ga-zillion rule other changes that were approved, most of them having to do with things I don't care about like how divisions get split or combined and measurement cards and whatnot.
Some of the changes were made with the intent of increasing interest in dwindling divisions, or adding prize money to motivate certain awards. The addition of a rated Thoroughbred Hunter division is pretty cool I think and should very quickly be popular.
Mostly I have to say that while I don't pay much attention to what the USHJA actually spends time doing, I think the rule changes are definitely reflective of a governing body that is listening to it's populace, trying to stay as relevant as possible, and working to increase the fairness and sportsmanship in an inherently subjective (and expensive) sport.
But a coin toss.... lol.