The USEF Licensed Officials Committee works tirelessly behind the scenes, and our columnist explains who they are and exactly what they do.
Over the years I’ve had the honor of working on many committees and task forces for the U.S. Equestrian Federation (formerly the American Horse Shows Association) and the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association.
My first appointment was on the AHSA Equitation Committee back in the early 1980s when the federation resided in New York City. I was young and naive. It was eye opening to be among the big shots of our industry.
I basically listened and learned how meetings were conducted. I rarely had anything interesting or constructive to contribute, so I kept my mouth shut. But I loved the idea of being involved.
Since the formation of the USHJA, I’ve served as a director on the board, chair of various judges and officials committees, was and/or am a member of the USHJA Equitation Task Force, Trainer Certification Program, Emerging Athletes Program, Zone 10 Jumper Committee, as well as chairing the USEF Continuing Education Committee.
Twenty-five years after my first gig, I landed a spot on the prestigious USEF Licensed Officials Committee. This very important committee is responsible for the licensing of judges, stewards, course designers and technical delegates of all the breeds and disciplines in the United States.
It was fascinating to learn from all these great horsemen on the committee how each group interpreted their rules and how their officials should behave, adjudicate and whether they should be promoted to higher licenses with more responsibilities.
Then a few years into my service, the powers that be decided to cut the committee down to 35 members. I panicked, sure that I would be cut, since I was fairly new. When the dreaded email came from USEF, I was caught off guard. They were asking if I would be interested in becoming the co-chair along with Robert Peebles, who comes from the National Show Horse and Saddlebred world.
I was in shock, with disbelief that I would even get to stay, let alone be put in charge! I gladly accepted. I had no idea how much time and responsibility came with the job.
How The Committee Works
While the Licensed Officials Committee does meet several times each year by conference call, our primary meetings are the ones we have three times a year in person in Lexington, Ky., either at the USEF office or during the annual convention.
Each in-person meeting involves two long days of going over applications for licenses or promotions, clinic and officiating extensions, discussion of protocol, policy and reviews of denied applicants, who may come themselves to present their case. Information on applications is confidential, and we take that responsibility very seriously in all matters related to officials.
In 2015 the LOC weighed in on close to 400 USEF and Fédération Equestre Internationale applications and took action on more than 150 extension/reinstatement requests, nearly 50 procedural, requirement and other miscellaneous requests, 62 proposed rule changes and a dozen reviews.
Current Committee Members
In addition to my co-chair Peebles and myself, our LOC consists of: Ralph Alfano, Danute Bright, Robin Brueckmann, Gretchen Butts, Mary Ann Cronan, Teresa Cross, Carol Dean-Porter, Fran Dotoli, Richard Griffith, Chuck Herbert, Cecile Hetzel Dunn, Heather Irvine, Mary Jordan, Anna Marie Knipp, Pete Kyle, Allen Mitchels, Fred Moretti, Stan Morey, James O’Rourke, Danny Robertshaw, Gary Rockwell, Patrick Rodes, Charlotte Skinner-Robson, Margaret Sleeper, Mike Tomlinson, Robert Weber, Cathy Wieschhoff, John Williams, George Williams, Ed Young, Lois Yukins and Linda Zang.
These awesome committee members have endless experience, wisdom and knowledge in the equine show world. They have the high officiating and behavioral standards you’d expect of a licensed official representing USEF.
As a committee, we get a lot of backlash when people feel someone should or shouldn’t have received their license or promotion. But I can assure you every candidate is carefully reviewed, and all background and evaluations received on these individuals are carefully looked at and discussed.
We look at the positives as well as the negatives and have needed discussion on each one to best make an informed decision. Some days are more exhausting than others, but it always feels like we’ve made informed decisions and are constantly trying to improve our policies for the good of the sport.
We have around 2,000 licensed officials currently in the system.
Your Voice Is Heard
The LOC also has a subcommittee that reviews complaints received about officials.
The USEF’s licensed officials department received more than 200 members’ confidential evaluations in 2015. About 75 percent were negative, while 25 percent were positive comments on our officials.
When several are received about the same official, or if one is received that is considered “extreme,” the official is asked to weigh in with his or her side of the story, and the sub-committee considers that response when making a decision on what action, if any, should be taken.
In addition to our committee work, Peebles and I receive numerous emails, sometimes on a daily basis, asking us to weigh in on presidential modifications and any other topic that requires our input as co-chairmen.
Safe Sport Policy
In 2014, the USEF implemented Part 1 of a two-part series called Safe Sport. As a requirement of Part 1, all national licensed officials were mandated to pass a background check.
Part 2 of the Safe Sport Program was implemented for the 2016 competition year and requires all licensed officials to participate in Safe Sport Training. This module was developed by the U.S. Olympic Committee and is used in all Olympic sports.
All national officials are required to complete the Safe Sport Training before they can renew their licenses for 2016, and they are required to complete background checks every two years.
With the help of USEF’s licensed officials department—managing director Sally Ike, director Samantha Kline and licensing coordinators Lindsey Sanquenetti and Sarah Beth Hollowed—we’ve made leaps and bounds on so many levels. We couldn’t do it without this amazing team.
The LOC has greatly improved and updated the application and renewal process through new technology, and we’ve clarified the requirements and procedures necessary to apply to be a licensed official.
For All The Money
Here’s the kicker: This prestigious group of accomplished horsemen and women who serve on this committee and give so much time and effort are volunteers and do it for free. Correction—they pay to work this hard!
My last trip to the LOC meeting was in January during the USEF Annual Meeting in downtown Lexington. My flight from Reno, Nev., to Chicago landed on time, even though there was a significant snowstorm there. We had to wait for a gate to open, so we sat on the runway for 45 minutes.
Once we arrived at our assigned gate, the jet bridge was frozen and wouldn’t open. Another 20 minutes transpired before the ground crew could get the door open. Needless to say, I missed the Lexington flight, by five minutes. The next flight to Lexington would get me there at 3:30 p.m. the following day. Our meeting started at noon, so that wasn’t going to work.
The airline agreed to send me to Cincinnati on a 7 a.m. flight that would arrive at 9:30 a.m. If I rented a car ($250 due to different airport drop) I might make it—if I drove fast enough. No vouchers for the hotel because the airline claimed it was weather-related. The distress rate at the Airport Hilton was $400 a night. No other hotels in the area had rooms available.
So after a few hours of sleep, I boarded the morning flight, landed in a snowy Cincinnati, decided Uber might be a better idea than a rental car, as well as less costly. I arrived in Lexington at 11:45 a.m., checked in, ran to my room and changed into a suit. I’m 5 minutes late, but I’m there. Our meeting continues until 5 p.m., then we all carry on at a dinner for the group until late.
The next morning we start at 7:30 a.m. with business left over from the day before. Our agenda takes us through the noon hour, at which time we all run to catch flights or head home in our vehicles, until we meet again in April. Typically my LOC trips cost $1,000 to $1,200 a meeting, although this one cost a lot more! I can’t speak for the others, but most of the members come from a good distance away.
The LOC feels like a big family. We enjoy and respect each other. But we work hard for the good of our officials and for the good of our sport.
I hope this article clarifies the process through which licensed officials are managed and especially how seriously the LOC takes each and every applicant, official and problem that arises.
Julie Winkel has been a licensed hunter, equitation, hunter breeding and jumper judge since 1984. She has officiated at prestigious events such as Devon (Pa.), the Pennsylvania National, Washington (D.C.) International, Capital Challenge (Md.), the Hampton Classic (N.Y.) and Upperville (Va.). She has designed the courses and judged the equitation finals.
She has trained and shown hunters and jumpers to the top level and was a winner of multiple grand prix competitions and many hunter championships.
Winkel serves as co-chair of the USEF Licensed Officials Committee and chairman of the USEF Continuing Education Committee, chairman of the USHJA Judges Task Force and the USHJA Officials Education Committee. She serves on the USHJA Emerging Athletes Program committee, Trainer Certification and Zone 10 Jumper Committee. She also sits on the Young Jumper Championship board of directors.
Winkel owns and operates Maplewood, Inc., a 150-acre training, sales and breeding facility, standing grand prix jumpers Osilvis and Cartouche Z. in Reno, Nev. Maplewood Inc. also offers a year-round internship program for aspiring horse industry professionals.
She writes a monthly column for Practical Horseman’s “Conformation Clinic” and is a contributing columnist to Warmbloods Today magazine as well as an EquestrianCoach blogger.