Over the years the ASPCA Maclay Finals have been termed the ‘proving ground of champions’ and the ultimate test for America's young riders. And in the case of this classic test of horsemanship skills, that's certainly more fact than hype.
The “Maclay” as most call it, was the very first of the “big equitation” finals to be established in the United States. Initiated in 1933, four years prior to the AHSA (USEF) Medal Finals, Alfred B. Maclay conceived of a trophy that would inspire young riders to develop the best horsemanship skills and instill in them respect and compassion for their equine partners. It was, and still is, considered a “horsemanship” class. The initial class specifications stated: “This contest has for its purpose the development of skill in jumping, combined with kindness and gentleness in handling the reins.” The first Maclay Class held in 1933 was called the “Horsemanship Cup, presented by the ASPCA and donated by Alfred B. Maclay, Esquire.” Only 29 riders competed in that first final, which was won by Audrey Hasler Chesney
Every year, hundreds of junior riders seek to qualify for the ASPCA Maclay Finals held at the National Horse Show in November of each year. To reach the Finals, riders must first begin by becoming members of the ASPCA and the NHSAA (National Horse Show Association of America.) Juniors all over the country enter the ASPCA Horsemanship Class, which is held at hundreds of USEF sanctioned horse shows, in order to qualify for the ASPCA Maclay Regional Finals. The Maclay class is unique in its format of qualifying for the Championship through eight regional competitions in September. The format of 50% jumping performance and 50% flat performance is grounded in Mr. Maclay’s original objective of improving the overall ride.
Only one rider per horse. The course for each Maclay Regional Championship shall be designed by a USEF Course Designer who must be selected and/or approved by the National Horse Show Association. The course for each Maclay Regional Championship should be of sufficient difficulty, typifying the Maclay National Championship Finals and thereby reflecting the importance of the class. While the courses must not be identical, they should reflect equal difficulty and challenge. The course must be 3’6” with or without wings and include at least one change of lead, a combination including an oxer and 1/3 of the obstacles must be oxers. In addition, all courses must include at least three of the following: a. bending line b. narrow jump (6’-8’) c. roll-back turn d. end fence e. long approach to a single jump. A Regional competition must have at minimum 6 competitors for the class to be held. A rider in any Regional competition must complete the course to be eligible for acceptance to the National Finals. Two refusals will eliminate a rider from Regional competition.
A minimum of ten (10) more riders than one-half the number of riders competing in the Regional (not more than twenty (20) at a time), if available, are required to show at a walk, trot and canter. In addition, at the sole discretion of the judges, additional flat work may be called for, but all groups must be asked to perform the same tests. After the under saddle phase, if additional workouts are required, the call-back must be limited to only the best ten (10) riders if available. Riders are to be judged on seat, hands, guidance and control of horse. The under saddle performance of those riders selected to show under saddle shall count 50%. For more information on qualifying and regionals, click here.
Each fall, the series of “Big Eq” Finals culminates at the National Horse Show with the coveted ASPCA Maclay Final Championships. Since 2015, the finals have been held over the course of two days. The finals begin with an initial first round over fences after which the judges select a smaller number of entries to proceed to the next phase, equitation on the flat. Another “cut” is made following the flat phase, and the remaining riders are asked back to ride over a second course over fences. It is up to the discretion of the judges whether there will be further testing after the second round. The list of former ASPCA Maclay Finals Champions reads like a “who’s who” of equestrian superstars.