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Clarifying the Different Big Equitation Medal Classes

Submitted by member: Jen

I’d love to see some info highlighting the Medal/Maclays and the difference between them, Talent Search, and other big classes. What are the judges judging? What types of horses are right for each one? I think these classes, rightfully so, are on a pedestal of sorts and maybe if more trainers and riders could understand what they are and how to potentially “get there,” it would motivate our next generation of riders!

Answer by Julie Winkel

Medal and Maclay classes are an extension of equitation classes over fences, with the addition of testing. The ideal equitation horse has an adjustable stride, with the ability to easily jump 1.10 m, is brave and honest, and well educated on the flat. An attractive horse always adds a nice overall impression.

The USEF Medal, open to riders who have not reached their 18th birthday as of Dec. 1 of the competition year, is a long-standing, traditional medal. The class consists of qualifying events throughout the year, culminating in a national Medal Final at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg each October.

This final hosts nearly 300 riders and is quite prestigious to win, receive a ribbon, or even qualify for the second round.

The qualifying classes include a course set at 3’6” (see current specs in the USEF Rulebook in the EQ section). Two or more tests of the top 4 are required (more in larger classes) and the judge must use Tests 1-18.

The riders may either be called to test individually from the in-gate or may all be called into the ring together and then tested. If the latter is the case, all riders must remain in the ring until the results are announced.

As a rider, it’s important that if you’re standing by for the work-off to review the numbers of the jumps in the original course. Typically, the judge’s instructions will include tests over jumps in the original course. It’s imperative that you’re familiar with the jump numbers.

If you’re on standby to work-off, practice trot fences, the halt or counter canter, as well as any other tests you may be weak on so that you’re warmed up and prepared if you’re called back to test.

The ASPCA Maclay, open to riders who have not reached their 18th birthday as of Dec. 1 of the competition year, is the sister medal to the USEF Medal but slightly different in that the second phase is a flat phase, which counts 50 percent (see current specs in the USEF Rulebook in the EQ section). Typically, the flat phase involves more than just the walk, trot, and canter. The top 12 from the over fences phase are invited back to flat.

The Maclay Final was historically held in New York City’s Madison Square Garden and then moved around to the Meadowlands (New Jersey), The Pier in New York City and in Syracuse, New York, before landing at the Kentucky Horse Park held in early November during the National Horse Show.

There are Regionals used to qualify for the Maclay Final, and historically only 100 riders were accepted, so a narrower pool made this a more difficult final to qualify for and a more prestigious one to win. Now 150+ are accepted for the final.

The crown jewel of the Medal classes is the Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search, open to riders 21 years of age and under (including professionals). Whereas proper equitation and basics are the prerequisite for the Medal/Maclay, the importance of the Talent Search is placed on advanced skills necessary to compete in the jumper ring and, more specifically, for those seeking to represent the United States in international show jumping events or on Nations Cup teams.

So, not only is the Talent Search course bigger in height and width, but it also includes Liverpools, open water, double and triple combinations, and a time allowed. Judging begins in this competition when the tone is sounded, whereas all other medal classes are judged from the time you enter the ring.

In the Talent Search, the judge is looking for a rider who thoroughly understands the nuts and bolts of successfully competing over a technical jumper-type course within the time allowed. Additionally, there’s an intense flat phase, which requires shortening and lengthening of gaits, as well as counter-canter and other tests a judge could ask above and beyond tests 1-18, such as shoulder-in and haunches-in (be sure you understand the rules and requirements as this class requires a certificate of competency and includes a star system for different levels).

The ideal Talent Search horse needs to be capable of jumping a bigger and more technical track, competent over water, and very educated on the flat.

The Talent Search Final is based on a point system with an East Coast Final (historically in Gladstone, New Jersey) and a West Coast Final. The final is composed of a flat phase, gymnastics phase, jumping phase, and then the top 4 riders switch and compete on each horse over a modified course, much like the former World Equestrian Games format.

There are two judges for the Talent Search Final, and one is usually an experienced, international show jumping competitor.  

Categorized in these important medals is the WIHS, which is a unique medal in that there are two phases, using an open numerical system, without a mandatory work-off. The first phase is the Hunter Phase, which is judged over a hunter-type course and the rider is being evaluated on his or her ability to show a hunter. Judges look for smoothness, accuracy, riding on an even hunting pace, and creating a good jump with the rider in a lighter seat using invisible aids.

The WIHS Jumper Phase is similar to the Talent Search with the use of a Liverpool (which cannot be used in the Medal/Maclay), a triple combination, and over a jumper-style course with a time allowed. Note that both the Talent Search and the WIHS Jumper Phase have a tone, similar to a jumper class. The rider must wait for the tone to sound before he or she begins. What’s different from the Talent Search is that there’s no work-off, unless there’s a tie.

An open numerical scoring system is used in the WIHS Jumper Phase, subtracting 4 points for each rail down and 1 point for each second or fraction of a second over the time allowed. There’s no further work-off. The riders are not required to do both phases but must compete in both to receive an overall score. Points are accrued to qualify for the WIHS Final, which is held at the Washington International Horse Show in late October in Washington, D.C.

In the WIHS Final, the top 30 in the country are invited to compete in the Hunter and Jumper Phases. The top 10 then return for a third phase that involves trading horses from a random draw or formula.

I hope this helps to clarify the differences between the top medal classes in our country as well as the type of horse necessary to be successful. Stay in touch with the current rules in the EQ section of the USEF Rule Book because they change often ( Good luck!

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Julie Winkel

Julie Winkel has been a licensed Hunter, Equitation, Hunter Breeding and Jumper judge since 1984. She has officiated at prestigious events such as Devon, Harrisburg, Washington International, Capital Challenge, The Hampton Classic and Upperville Horse Shows. She has designed the courses and judged the ASPCA Maclay Finals, The USEF Medal Finals and The New England Equitation Finals.

For more information, visit her website:

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