Eleven members of the USHJA Foundation Board—including president Jennifer Burger and chairman of the board, Craig Dobbs—resigned on July 7 when agreement over proposed amendments to the Foundation’s bylaws, put forth by its parent organization, the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, could not be reached.
Former USHJA President Bill Moroney asked new USHJA President Mary Babick to work on solving issues between the two groups when Babick took over the office in late 2016. In December, USHJA Nominating Committee chair Howard Pike was brought in as a mediator to facilitate conversations between Burger and Babick. In May, they took the discussion to the entirety of the Foundation’s board.
“As a supporting organization, part of the rules for [the Foundation] is that it has to be controlled by the entity that it supports,” said Babick. “To this day, I don’t actually understand why they had drifted away from that in their bylaws, but they did. We asked them to return to their previous status and readopt those portions of the bylaws from the beginning of their incorporation, and that didn’t sit well with them.”
The other nine board members who resigned are Jim Anderson, Lynn Jayne, Charlie Moorcroft, Cindi Perez, Jennifer Smith, Geoff Teall, Carl Weeden, Louise Serio and Bill Woodson. Cheryl Rubenstein, Babick, Marnye Langer and Yvetta Rechler-Newman remain on the board from the original group of 15.
“The Association wanted a level of control that we were advised by legal counsel was not required and in our opinion was not in the best interests of the Foundation, its donors or mission. The potential of litigation prevents me from discussing this subject further,” Teall said in a statement.
Babick noted that the USHJA wanted five points of control over its Foundation written into the bylaws.
“They didn’t like that, so I went down to one,” she said. “But the USHJA board wanted three points of control, so eventually we came back and said, ‘We want three things.’ We asked for 50 percent of the Foundation’s board plus one member to be appointed by USHJA—appointed by the USHJA president but voted on by the USHJA board, so that there always has to be one person who assembles this information. But then the other members of the board would have to vote that these people were acceptable. So we asked for that, which was [in] the original 2008 bylaws, [that] USHJA had a majority on the board, and that they agreed to.
“They also agreed to a section that said that they would not be able to amend the bylaws relative to that piece without USHJA’s written permission, so they could never drift away again. They also agreed to that,” Babick continued. “What they wouldn’t agree to was that USHJA would have the right to remove any of the USHJA-appointed directors with or without cause. And it was the words ‘without cause’ that were a sticking point for them.”
Anderson said that the former board members were threatened with legal action if they didn’t vote to change the bylaws.
“None of us wanted to go through that, so 11 of us resigned as a result,” said Anderson, adding that he was one of the original trustees of the American Hunter Jumper Foundation in the 1990s. The USHJA created its own foundation in 2008, and the AHJF merged with the USHJA in 2010.
“The [USHJA] Foundation still ran the original programs that the American Hunter Jumper Foundation started, which included the World Championship Hunter Rider program, the emergency relief fund, scholarship programs—things we originally intended to do as the American Hunter Jumper Foundation and wanted to continue doing as the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Foundation,” Anderson said.
“It really isn’t clear to me why the structure of those two organizations and their relationship, why the [USHJA] felt it wasn’t working,” he continued. “I, as a, trustee thought it was working beautifully. I’m not sure why they insisted upon a change to the Foundation’s bylaws, which gave them more control and took control away from the current trustees. For whatever reason, we just reached an impasse, and we decided we were better off as individuals not to go through the litigation they were threatening and to figure out what our next steps are.”
The USHJA Foundation awards a number of grants, including the Horseman’s Assistance Fund, the “Making A Dream” Grant, which gives riders opportunities outside of the hunter/jumper sport, the Gochman Family Grant, which is awarded to riders going to the U.S. Pony Finals, and the Hamel Scholarship for Further Education. The USHJA will continue to administer all the Foundation’s grants.