Although a proposed rule change establishing the parameters of an “undisclosed dual agent” was voted down in the General Rule Change Forum on the first day of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Convention, the spirit of transparency and developing a code of ethics carried through the remainder of the meetings.
Currently, the Thoroughbred industry is in the midst of developing self-regulation procedures in response to a lawsuit filed in 2006 regarding dual agency. A Sales Integrity Task Force—of 36 Thoroughbred owners, breeders and other professionals—was charged with developing recommendations as a compromise for tabling legislation that would have regulated Thoroughbred sales through state law.
Several similar lawsuits in the hunter/ jumper industry in the past several years have provided the impetus for the U.S Equestrian Federation to take matters into their own hands, and the discussion continued during the association’s fourth annual convention, Dec. 11-14 in Phoenix, Ariz.
USHJA President Bill Moroney explained that the rule change was meant to offer protection to professional horsemen more than dictate a strict set of rules. (Above photo: Moroney (left) and USHJA Board of Dirctors member Geoff Teall (right) present Shelby French (center) with the USHJA Volunteer of the Year Award.)
“It’s not the intention of this rule for us to find out how much you pay for your horse or how much you pay your agent,” he said. “This is to establish a standard level of business practice. If something comes up and you get dragged into a legal situation, if you have complied with this, this [rule] offers protection. You can say, ‘I did it right, and I did what I was supposed to do.’ ”
Many trainers were opposed. “We need more education rather than another rule,” said show manager Oliver Kennedy. “It’s stupid to take things that happen outside the horse shows, such as horse sales, and take them to the Hearing Committee.”
Moroney replied, “Do you want states stepping in and saying 6 percent is your commission no matter what? We have to go down this road some way to show the public that we are governing ourselves.”
Even though the rule change was defeated—as was the linked rule change that added it was a violation of the USEF rules to act as an undisclosed dual agent—Moroney believes it’s time for the hunter/jumper
members to realize that if they don’t develop rules and regulations and follow in the footsteps of the Thoroughbred industry, another entity might just do it for them.
“Some states already have legislation or are in the process of regulating the sales of horses over a minimum amount,” said Moroney, indicating that legislation has passed in Florida and is pending in Colorado and Arizona. “Our industry has grown from a hobby sport to a business sport, and we’ve not kept abreast of standard business practices.”
Opponents to the USHJA rule change proposals (GR146.1 and GR702.1), developed by the Legal Review Committee, considered the changes too sweeping, with the organization “overseeing” the buying and selling of horses even outside the competition venue.
“Think long and hard before you do this,” advised trainer Susie Schoellkopf during the Owners Committee meeting. “If you do this, you must do it well, otherwise it could come back to bite you.”
Members of the Owners Committee voted to develop a formal Code Of Ethics for all members in 2008 as the next step toward self-regulation, and the open forum unanimously approved of this concept. This committee has already made the Sales Integrity Program a top priority in conjunction with their Owners Resource Guide.
“We as an organization must come up with a code of ethics,” said committee chairman Peggy O’Meara. “It’s a way to get in front of the train.”
Full Steam Ahead
The USHJA International Hunter Derby, developed by the High Performance Hunter Committee, is obviously on the right track. After an admittedly lukewarm reception last year during its development, now the concept is moving full steam ahead under the nurturing of Illinois-based trainer Diane Carney and her supporters.
The Derby, a two-round competition for hunters over natural obstacles, includes fences set at 3’6″ to 3’9″ for the inaugural year. Thereafter, the fence heights will be increased and eventually could reach 4’6″ to 4’9″.
“We hope to continue to raise the heights,” said former committee chairman Geoff Teall. “We’re getting back to real jumping and real riding.”
For the 2008 season, there are currently 15 competitions on the agenda with more horse show managers expressing interest in hosting the competition. Currently, there are six regions allowed to host eight competitions each for a maximum of 48.
The first Derby attracted a strong field of 27 contenders during the Lake St. Louis Holiday Series (Mo.) on Dec. 7.
Mike Rosser, who was on the judging panel, said he enjoyed presiding over the class. “The course was beautiful, and there were lots of options,” he noted. “The concept is great—we’re looking for the best jumper and the real athlete. There are no related distances except in the in-and-out, and there were many places where you could show your horse off. That was wonderful.”
The High Performance Hunter Committee, now led by chairman Ron Danta, plans to keep the class open to all juniors, amateurs and professionals in 2008. Riders may qualify for the finals on multiple horses but may only ride one mount in the final, tentatively planned for the Kentucky Horse Park.
“We’re moving forward very fast. In the perfect world we wouldn’t have a finals so soon,” said Teall. “But our ultimate goal is the 2010 World Equestrian Games where we hope to have a demonstration class. We don’t want 2010 to be our first major event.”
As the class grows, the committee plans to evolve the specs and then carefully select the venues where the class is held. Eventually, they would like it to be similar to the FEI World Cup Show Jumping program with
different leagues and a wide geographical
Levels And Beyond
Just as the jumper division specs continue to evolve—the Jumper Rule Change Forum approved the switch from levels to specific heights in meters, in keeping with European standards (JP120.21)—hunter supporters seem to be following suit.
The Open Hunter Task Force’s proposed rule change to designate green hunters through money won (a first year green hunter could remain in that division for one year or until his earnings exceeded $7,500) was voted down in the Hunter Rule Change Forum.
In the ensuing discussion, however, a lively debate arose regarding much needed changes to the hunter specs. Last year a proposed rule change to switch the hunter sections to levels was quickly voted down. The tide has changed, however, and attendees now seemed amenable to considering levels.
“I think people are realizing now that we have a broken system, and we need to fix it,” said Moroney. “Now the Open Hunter Task Force can embrace this potential fix and spend the time on this path. Last year many people were against the concept of levels, and when we offered them another road they now see that maybe levels is where we want to go.”
Another fix in the hunter and equitation divisions comes in the form of licensed course designers. Currently, anyone can design a hunter or equitation course at a rated competition. That situation will soon change because mandatory licensing—a program for r- and R-rated course designers—will begin implementation effective April 1, 2008, with a grandfathering process to ease in the transition for course designers and horse show managers.
“It’s time to stop having the jump crew setting our courses,” quipped one trainer.
The program is being developed under the USHJA Officials Education Committee, which received support from the U.S. Equestrian Federation to address liability issues for having unlicensed people designing courses.
“Patrick Rodes is the driving force behind this rule change, and he’s done a tremendous job,” added Moroney.
Liability issues, among other catalysts, are also behind the move for instructor certification in the hunter/jumper sport. Shelley Campf, chairman of the Instructor Certification Committee, presented an in-depth program on the progress made so far and future plans.
“Our goal is to have the program ready for implementation in the 2009 competition year,” said Campf.
At the outset, the program will be strictly voluntary and creates a unified educational program based on the American hunter/ jumper forward riding system, including recommended teaching and training goals and methods.
The program also provides continuing education opportunities for trainers and will increase instructor credibility. In addition, the program may offer insurance premium
discounts to certified instructors.
There will be three categories for certification, and each category is a building block from the previous category. Only the most elite instructors will reach the third level, while it’s expected that the bulk of instructors will remain at the first level.
“The level doesn’t dictate who you can and cannot teach,” stressed Campf. “The educational requirements are more specific and intense as you go up.”
Moroney said it’s likely that the USEF will require certification to become mandatory in the near future, perhaps as soon as five years. “It’s possible the USEF may step in and say an instructor must be certified to attend a USEF show,” he noted.
Although some trainers disapprove of the program, Campf insists that fear shouldn’t preclude people from participating.
“We’re hoping that when we get people into the program others will see how easy it is because you’re already so qualified,’” she said with her trademark smile. “We see it as a benefit, not a hardship. Some people might think, ‘I’m pretty good, I just had a horse at indoors, but what if I don’t pass?’ I hope to see that as we push people toward it and people go through the process and enjoy it that it will gain momentum and take off.”
Prize money allocation mandates and caps on entry fees in the hunter divisions continued to create lively debate among show managers, owners and trainers, who freely stepped up to the microphone to speak their minds. Once again, no resolution was reached, and after a lengthy discussion in the General Rule
Change Forum, the Open Hunter Task Force withdrew their proposed rule changes for further development.
A change in wording made all the difference: A-rated competitions must offer and award all prize money listed in the prize list in the A-rated hunter sections. In addition, A-rated competitions must offer and award a minimum of $4,500 in the A-rated hunter sections.
Currently, if an A-rated hunter section doesn’t fill, the show managers are not required to pay out prize money. With this rule change, they would be required to pay out all prize money to the A-rated divisions that did fill.
“Forcing management to spend the money helps raise the bar to the single A-rated horse show,” said Campf, a show manager based in Oregon. “I think some of those shows need to lose their rating and fall by the wayside and let nicer horse shows replace them.”
Florida-based trainer Christina Schluse-meyer agreed, “It’s time for shows to step up. It’s not that much money.”
Show manager John Rush disagreed. “The net effect is that this rule change penalizes horses that do show up because eventually it raises their entry fees,” he noted.
Trainer Don Stewart Jr., a huge proponent of capping entry fees, again led the Junior Hunter Task Force in proposing a rule change for a 10 percent cap on entry fees. The rule failed to pass during the Hunter Rule Change Forum, however, the topic was widely discussed.
“It’s simple. We’re jumping for the same prize money that was offered in 1965,” he said.
Trainer Kim Stewart added, “I think if the show managers aren’t making it on 10 percent then the dates should be opened up so other managers can try.”
New Rules In A Nutshell
The following rule change proposals passed the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Board of Directors and will now move forward to the U.S. Equestrian Federation Convention in January for final discussion and approval.
• GR301.7 – No animal may be led by an individual riding in/on or operating a motor vehicle while on the competition show grounds.
• GR1212.3e – At all competitions management must provide a hand-held communication device to at least one steward or TD.
• GR331.2F – Establishes Opportunity Classes and specs for hunter divisions with fences 2’6” and below.
• HU112 – A-rated hunter sections must offer an over fences class as a handy hunter (Exception: green pony).
• JP143.4 – In the jumper division, a second cumulative disobedience anywhere on course [results in] elimination. (Exception: classes designated for horses 5 years of age and under)
What’s New For 2008?
- The USHJA Affiliate Equitation Awards Program
Affiliate organizations receive recognition for their medal classes.
- The USHJA Outreach Membership Level
$15 membership includes a subscription to In Stride magazine, participation in the Affiliate Awards and the Affiliate Equitation programs and full access to USHJA resources.
- The USHJA Horse Retirement Directory
Listings for horse retirement facilities that have been researched and verified by the USHJA Horse Welfare Committee.
- The USHJA Horse Welfare Guide
Educational articles and research materials developed and promoted by the Horse Welfare Committee.
- USHJA Invitational Hunter Derby Program
A high-performance class for hunters.
- How To Become A USEF Licensed Official
A step-by-step guide to the process.
- USHJA Member Survey Results
The Marketing and Communications Committee developed and compiled the first
The 2007 USHJA In Numbers
- 35,744 – USHJA membership.
- 7% – Average annual growth of USHJA membership.
- 7 – Average number of horses owned by a USHJA member.
- 92% – Percentage of the USHJA membership who are female.
- 9 – Number of full-time employees of the USHJA.
- 194 – Number of Foundation Awards champions crowned in 12 Zones.
- 102 – Number of USHJA affiliated clinics held in 2007, up from 52 in 2006.
- 2 – Number of Trainer’s Symposiums held in 2007.
- 310 – Number of attendees at the two Trainers Symposiums, held in
San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and Wellington, Fla.
Special USHJA Awards
Amateur Sportsmanship Award
Youth Sportsman Charter
Volunteer of the Year
Jumper—W.M. Dobbs, Jim McNerney,
Rider Recognition Program
Hunter—Scott Stewart (He has earned more than $100,000)
Jumper—Margie Engle (She has
earned more than $500,000)
Regional Affiliate Winners
Ashley Di Bongrazio
R. Scot Evans
Mary Margaret Carroll
Mary Lisa Leffler
Adding A “Low” Amateur-Owner Hunter Division
For several years the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Amateur and Owners committees have pondered a way to provide national recognition to amateur riders who prefer to jump less than 3’6″. This year the Owners Committee proposed a 3’3″ nationally recognized amateur-owner hunter section that follows the requirements of its 3’6″ forbearer.
And after the dust had settled in the Hunter Rule Change Forum, a few tweaks to the wording were made and the committees had debated, the Board of Directors approved the new section.
The intention is to create a steppingstone between the adult amateur section at 3′ and the amateur-owner at 3’6″. Riders competing in the amateur-owner section at 3’6″ will be allowed to cross enter another horse in the 3’3″ division, allowing them to bring along a green horse or continue showing a veteran campaigner.
“We see this as a way to encourage adult amateurs to step up rather than the amateur-owners to move down,” said Owners Committee Vice-Chairman Peggy O’Meara, who noted that the section will only offer $500 prize money while the 3’6″ section will be double that at $1,000.
In order to retain the support of the show managers, who are generally reluctant to add additional divisions to their schedules, the wording in the rule allows managers the option to include the 3’3″ section, as it will be among the menu of A-rated divisions they may choose to include.
In an extraordinary rule change passed earlier this fall, the USHJA now allows junior and amateur-owner fence heights to be a maximum of 3″ lower in Zones 11 and 12 and at B- and C-rated competitions. Again, the purpose is to encourage more riders to move up who compete in the less populated areas and at the lower levels.
President’s Distinguished Service Awards
Committee Excellence Awards
Dr. Steve Soule