In a letter directed to U.S. Equestrian Federation members, USEF President Murray Kessler expanded upon the new horse welfare and abuse guidelines the organization released Aug. 18. The new guidelines became effective Sept. 1.
“The press release describing the purpose of these ‘guidelines’ has caused some confusion. So, let me try to clear things up,” stated Kessler in the letter. “The new guidelines are NOT rule changes. They are also NOT a new direction for stewards. They are specifically designed for the hearing committee to have guidance on how to assign penalties on horse welfare cases that they adjudicate in a consistent and fair manner. These are only guidelines and any penalty given is still at the discretion of the hearing committee. The same rules that govern actions of abuse remain in effect that have been in effect for years. There is no reason to fear that there will be witch-hunts targeting members who play by the rules, which is almost everyone. There is also no reason to fear if you are a victim of an accident in the normal course of competition and preparation; that is simply not the intent of the Board.”
Kessler then addressed the two topics about which he’s heard the most discussion.
“First, what if my horse dies in competition from an accident? Is that unintentional death under the guidelines?” he wrote. “The answer is, of course not, unless you committed an act that violates U.S. Equestrian welfare and abuse rules that caused the death of the horse. For example, IF you injected a horse with a prohibited substance right before competition, with the intent of quieting and the horse died of a heart attack directly as a result, that would be a violation of the US Equestrian welfare and abuse rules. I hope you can easily see the difference. But to repeat, unintentional death does not refer to accidents and U.S. Equestrian is not aware of any fatalities in the last decade that would be considered under these guidelines. Thus, no such cases of this sort have been brought before the hearing committee in recent years.
“Second, who determines what is excessive or intentional use of whip or spurs or improper use of a bit to cause harm or pain to horse/pony?” he continued. “Again, the same rules for U.S. Equestrian apply as before. Stewards determine whether there is a violation and whether it warrants action significant enough to recommend a hearing by U.S. Equestrian. There have been only a few cases to go to hearing in this area, albeit the ones that have were of relatively high profile. I have confidence in our stewards in assessing these often highly emotional situations.”