Is The Great Divide Really That Wide?

Dec 12, 2014 - 10:42 AM
Photo by Lindsay Berreth

One of the most common issues that continuously arises in eventing is the perceived gap between the lower level riders, who make up more than 90 percent of the U.S. Eventing Association, and the upper level riders.

When two rule change proposals prepared by the USEA’s Board of Governors that would make the lower levels more difficult were published on the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s website this fall, online discussion lit up, including a 30-plus page thread on the Chronicle’s online discussion forum.

People complained of the USEA being out of touch with its members and accused upper level riders of being behind the changes to benefit their horses who sometimes fast-track up the levels.

Soon after, the USEA solicited input from members and it was the hottest topic at this year’s Annual Meeting and Convention in Fort Worth Texas.

As a longtime member of the USEA, having competed through preliminary, I was excited to attend my first convention as a member of the media.

I went into the weekend expecting a fiery debate on the rule change proposals, but they were ultimately tabled for further discussion after the outpouring of emails and letters the USEA received.

While I do think the USEA made a mistake in not announcing the rule change proposals and soliciting input from members immediately, I’m happy they took to heart what they heard and have pledged to rewrite them over the next few months with continued input from the membership.

Their idea was to more clearly define the levels, instead of just referring course designers and members to the Cross-Country Guidelines, but I think they just swung the pendulum a little too far (corners and drops into water at novice?).

It’s easy to be sucked into the Us vs. Them mentality in this sport, but what I found over the weekend is that the lower level riders are an extremely high priority to those who govern and that we really are all in this together considering it’s such a small sport.

I was happy to hear from upper level rider and chair of the Competitions, Calendar and Rules Committee Mike Huber, as he passionately expressed his support for a 3’5” division for the second year in a row, noting a “level creep” that he thinks needs to be stopped, an idea perpetuated in the controversial rule change proposals.

Several professionals chimed in with support, many pledging to enter their students.

Advanced rider Matt Brown made a good point when he spoke up during one meeting.

“Do we want to expand our base or contract our base?” he asked. “I think what needs to be talked about is whether a huge group of amateur riders that are really supporting our sport start to feel that they aren’t being supported and are asked to do something that makes them nervous when they have to jump bigger.”

Brown has a point and the numbers don’t lie—the number of starters in USEA-recognized competitions has stayed about the same recently, around 42,000 this year.

Growing the sport, which begins at the base, and keeping members happy should be a huge priority, and adding a new division, amending the rule change proposals and enacting new rules for a more relaxed dress code (EV114) is certainly a place to start.

Huber was met with more support for his modified division from the Board of Governors, who asked him to prepare more details, so it looks like the idea might become a reality in the near future.

Whether you’re in favor of a 3’5” division, more relaxed dress rules or changing the requirements on cross-country for the lower levels, it was hard to deny this weekend that the majority of the USEA’s membership was on everyone’s minds.       

You can find a lot more information about what was discussed and decided at the USEA Convention in my report in the Dec. 15 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine.

Want to join the conversations about the relaxed dress code, increased speeds and other rules changes or issues facing the sport? Check out the Eventing board on the Chronicle’s discussion forums.

Lindsay Berreth is a graduate of George Mason University (Va.) interned for the Chronicle in the fall of 2010 and returned in 2012 as a full-time staff member. She grew up in Fredericksburg, Va., and currently lives there on a farm with her retired event horse, two miniature horses, three cats, a 4-year-old OTTB project horse and the love of her life, Oh So Extreme, an off-the-track Thoroughbred that she’s brought along herself to the preliminary level. She’s currently aiming towards a CCI* and enjoys playing with Oh So at second and third level in pure dressage. She writes primarily about eventing and dressage.

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