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How It Works: International and National Horse of the Year and Equestrian of the Year Awards

by Leslie Potter | Dec 20, 2021, 5:00 PM EST

The SmartPak/USEF National and International Horse of the Year Awards and USEF Equestrian of the Year Awards are among the highest honors for achievement in equestrian sports. Many members are familiar with these awards through the voting process; all USEF members are able to participate in online voting to select the ultimate winners of these titles. But there is a multi-step process that takes place before the finalists make it to the ballot. Its purpose is to provide an opportunity for nominees from across all USEF breeds and disciplines.

©Adam Brennan/picturesbyab.com

The criteria and selection process for these awards, as well as the other annual awards given out by US Equestrian, are managed by the USEF Awards Committee. This committee also reviews the criteria and, if necessary, makes changes to ensure the awards fit the current needs of the industry.

While the Horse of the Year designation is also used for USEF’s point-based awards program—the SmartPak/USEF Horse of the Year Awards Program—this article looks specifically at the National and International Horse of the Year Awards, which are a separate entity.

USEF Horse of the Year

The USEF Horse of the Year Award started as a single award in 2005 and has been presented as two separate titles since 2011. International Horse of the Year nominees come from the eight sports recognized by the Fédération Équestre Internationale, while National Horse of the Year nominees are from the remaining USEF-recognized national breeds and disciplines.

Nominations: Each affiliate organization of USEF may nominate one horse or pony for consideration. Each USEF breed and discipline committee may also nominate one horse or pony from their segment of the sport. Under a recent change to the nomination criteria, USEF staff from the Sport and Marketing departments may nominate a horse if there are no nominations from a particular breed or discipline’s affiliate or committee. This change was in response to member feedback and provides an additional opportunity for deserving horses to be nominated. All nominees go through the Awards Committee for review, regardless of where they originated.

Nominations are accepted from September through early November. This timeframe is intended to allow for fall championships, while still providing the Awards Committee with enough time to process nominations before member voting opens in December. Breeds and disciplines with late-fall championships may arrange late nominations with the USEF Senior Manager of Awards.

Criteria: While a horse’s full career highlights may be included in the nomination, the primary requirement for an International or National Horse of the Year candidate is an exceptional competition record in the current year. With a few exceptions, a nominated horse must have won a national championship at a USEF-licensed competition, won a three-star or four-star FEI competition, or medaled in an FEI championship during that year. Nominated horses must be at least three years old. USEF staff verify the information provided in the nomination and then forward the eligible nominees to the Awards Committee.

Voting: The Awards Committee, which comprises representatives from across USEF breeds and disciplines, meets to analyze the nominees. It selects up to six finalists—three from the FEI disciplines and three from the national breeds and disciplines—to go to members for voting. All Fans and Competing members are eligible to vote and must be logged in with their USEF ID number in order to submit their ballot.

Public voting on the final slate of nominees opens in early December and, in 2021, runs through December 30, 2021. Voters submit a ranked ballot, on which they choose their first, second, and third choice for each Horse of the Year award. Each ranked vote is given a point value: five points for first choice, three for second choice, and one for third choice. The International and National Horse of the Year nominees with the highest point totals at the close of voting will be named International and National Horse of the Year, respectively, with the award presented at the Horse of the Year Awards Dinner at the US Equestrian Annual Meeting.

USEF Equestrian of the Year

The USEF Equestrian of the Year Award dates back to 1990 and since 2019 has been awarded to one National and one International honoree.

Criteria: As with Horse of the Year, Equestrian of the Year nominees are evaluated on their achievements in equestrian competition for the current year, though nominations will also include supporting information such as the nominee’s volunteer work and past achievements.

Nomination: The finalists for the Equestrian of the Year award are the winners of the eight Equestrian of Honor trophies. These trophies cover different disciplines and there can be more than one winner of any of the trophies each year.

National affiliate organizations, USEF breed and discipline committees, and the USEF Sport and Communications departments may nominate multiple individuals for the applicable Equestrian of Honor award up until the early November deadline. USEF staff may contact nominees to provide biographical information and highlights of their achievements in equestrian competition for the current year if more information is needed beyond what is on the nomination form.

USEF staff will verify the information and forward eligible nominations to the Awards Committee, which then meets to select the winners of the eight Equestrians of Honor Awards. Those eight awards are categorized by sport or discipline and are as follows:

  • William C. Steinkraus Trophy: International dressage, eventing, or jumping
  • Becky Grand Hart Trophy: International driving, endurance, reining, vaulting, or para-equestrian
  • Bill Robinson Trophy: National harness/driving performance
  • Emerson Burr Trophy: National hunter over fences
  • C.J. June” Cronan Trophy: National, non-hunter, non-show hack, non-western under saddle disciplines
  • Barbara Worth Oakford Trophy: National non-reining western disciplines
  • Norman K. Dunn Trophy: National in-hand/halter
  • Vaughan Smith Trophy: National hunter pleasure, hunter on the flat, show hack, hunter hack, dressage hack, costume, side saddle, or western dressage

Voting: The voting process for Equestrian of the Year is essentially the same as Horse of the Year. The Equestrians of Honor trophy winners will be announced in early December as the finalists for the Equestrian of the Year award. Members submit their ranked ballots online, and the finalists with the highest point tallies are recognized as National and International Equestrians of the Year. The winner is announced at the Pegasus Awards Dinner at the US Equestrian Annual Meeting.

Getting Involved

If there is a horse or equestrian that you want to see on the ballot, the best place to start is with the national affiliate organization for the applicable breed or discipline. Review the award criteria, which can be downloaded from usef.org/compete/rankings-results/pegasus-awards. Providing relevant supporting info for your nomination will make it easier for the affiliate to move forward in the process. You can also reach out to your breed, discipline, or sport committee to recommend a nominee. Find the committee rosters at usef.org/about-us/councils-committees.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of US Equestrian magazine.