The U.S. Eventing Association has named Rob Burk CEO, and today he’s taking over the position that was held for 17 years by Jo Whitehouse.
Burk was hired in 2013 as the senior director of programs for USEA, but he said the opportunity for the CEO position was discussed as a possibility for the future. He was named COO last year and began transitioning to his new job when Whitehouse announced her retirement this year after more than 25 years with the organization.
“I’m extremely excited,” he said. “Eventing has been a part of my life since as long back as I can remember. Being able to work in something you love, not everybody gets to do that, so I feel privileged.”
Burk came to the USEA after working as an executive director and senior advisor within the U.S. Department of Agriculture and as an executive director at the Maryland Horse Industry Board.
He started his eventing career in California and is a graduate H-A Pony Clubber. He graduated from Otterbein University (Ohio) with a bachelor of science degree in pre-veterinary medicine/pre-graduate equine studies and earned a master’s degree from Virginia Tech. He’s also served as coach to the Otterbein equestrian team and the U.S. Naval Academy (Md.) Equestrian Team.
Burk’s wife, Dr. Amy Burk, is an associate professor with the University of Maryland’s Equine Studies program, and they have two daughters.
Rob is excited to take on a new challenge but knows there’s a lot of work to do.
“As the CEO my job is to work with the USEA staff to enact the programs and policies set by the USEA membership,” he said. “So while I see safety, affordability and ease of access to the sport as some of the biggest challenges we face moving forward, it’s my job to work with the USEA Board of Governors to address those challenges.”
Rob said the state of the sport and the association is on an upward trend, with an increase in membership and starters this year. While growing membership will be important, he said his No. 1 priority is safety in the sport for horse and rider.
“Beyond that, I want to focus on the goals that our founders focused on—affordability of the sport, attracting new people to the sport. These are all exactly what those founders laid out in our framework,” he said. “The obstacles in front of us aren’t small, but then to the same extent I think we’ve come a long way, and we should be very proud of where we are, and I think we’ve kept up [with the] times.
“The sport has obviously changed a lot since I began competing in it, and I think it’s in our best interest to continue the sport’s past,” he continued. “We are the only country in the world where the classic format still exists, and that’s very important to us, and to the same extent I think we need to look at the future and where the sport is going around the world.”