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September 23, 2010

The USEF Belongs To Its Members

Photo by Tricia Booker.

Our columnist reflects on the responsibilities of the sport’s national governing body to its various parties.

The U.S. Equestrian Federation has existed in some form for more than 50 years with the purpose of governing equestrian sports. Originally started as an organization of horse shows, the federation has evolved into a member organization. With this evolution came a change in responsibilities, accountability and membership.

Today, the federation is comprised of approximately 90,000 members representing multiple breeds and disciplines at the national and international levels. Approximately 36,000—or 40 percent—of the 90,000 members are hunter/jumper participants.

As chairman of the Federation Planning Committee, I have been spending considerable time delving into the construction of the federation. To begin the process, I started with what the federation means to me and what I believe it should stand for in our community. The federation has several responsibilities in our sport, and depending on the audience, people can be very passionate in arguing that some of the components are far more important than others.

The federation is responsible for providing a fair and consistent regulatory process, providing a fair and level field of play including drug testing, licensing competitions, educating and licensing officials and fielding international teams. Accomplishing these tasks builds the foundation of member value, and member value is fundamental to the long-term sustainability of the federation.

Member Value

The “federal” component of the federation is its regulatory process and responsibility. Members rely on the federation to require that members uphold the rules regardless of their level of participation in our sport. When the regulatory process breaks down, member dissatisfaction rises, as regulation is a core value for the membership. In order for the federation to provide a consistent and responsible regulatory function, we as members must always think about how rules we propose and approve function in this system. We cannot make rules that cannot be enforced.

The federation relies upon its members to help police the sport by reporting possible rule infractions. With this reliance comes serious scrutiny by members brave enough to speak up with regards to how the federation deals with the issues at hand. I firmly believe that if members are willing to sign their names to a report of potential violations, then the federation must take these members seriously by providing them support and thoroughly investigating the matter. This builds important member value and respect for the federation.

Regulation, drug testing and a fair and level field of play all go hand in hand. Members find value in the drug testing program, but our program needs more oversight. I am probably in the minority in believing that the Drugs and Medications program can function with a reasonable deficit between revenue and expense. The reason I feel this way is that D & M is a fundamental program for providing a fair and level field of play. Just like the hearing process in the regulation department, the D & M program needs to become more transparent in its proceedings. We no longer live in a world where components of the federation can function behind closed doors.

If there are issues in our sport that need to be addressed, then this must be done in a timely manner and with the background data in place to support the initiatives of the D & M program. We can accept no less from this program. I understand that a certain amount of autonomy is needed, just as it is for the hearing process, but that does not mean that we cannot ask questions and require answers.

Drug testing occurs at USEF-licensed competitions, and licensing of competitions is another core value of the federation and a member value. Each breed and discipline has standards for their particular competitions, some very detailed and some not so much. To support this structure, the federation has rules that are consistent across the sport for the licensing of competitions. In the past, many members felt that competition dates were “owned” by competition managers, when in actuality, the federation has always “owned” these dates.

Now there are competition licenses, which provide licensees with dates on which to operate federation competitions. This transition is an ongoing process and over the next decade will continue to be refined as competition standards and evaluations start to play a more important role in the licensing process.

In the hunter/jumper discipline, a set of rules implementing standards for the different categories of competitions were recently approved by the USEF Board of Directors. These proposals were the result of years of research and hundreds of hours of meetings and discussions. I believe the competition standards are a significant step in the right direction for the majority of our sport and will need to be monitored and updated on a regular basis. The application of standards to competitions provides the federation with a process by which to evaluate the performance of its licensed competitions.

Fixing The Steward System

To succeed in the evaluation process, we need competent, educated and knowledgeable licensed officials who will provide data to the federation. An obvious choice is our stewards, but judges, schooling supervisors and members also need to know what to expect, how to report non-compliance, and our federation needs to act on reported issues.

For years, anyone you talked to in our sport has said that our stewards are partially to blame for poor competitions because they are in the “pocket” of management due to being paid by management. I agree that this relationship presents an inherent conflict of interest, but what we really need to fix is our system for identifying and educating our stewards, and we need to give them authority at the competition with a clear directive as to their duties.

Take a few minutes to review the rule change proposals which will create a new set of requirements for candidates to be considered as stewards, will bring about a new curriculum for educating stewards and will define the scope of authority and duties of our stewards. Several rule changes were approved last January that clearly spell out the scope of the Licensed Officials Committee in dealing with officials whose performance is substandard. As a member of the LOC, I can tell you that this committee does not receive many evaluations of officials, positive or negative. So when you are at competitions and you don’t feel like the officials are doing their job properly, pick up an evaluation form at the competition office, go to the USEF website and download the form or just send a letter marked “confidential” to the LOC. By the way, these reports are kept confidential.

Confidentiality and transparency are extremely important with regards to hearings, LOC proceedings and selection of teams for international competition. Yes, it is possible to have confidentiality and transparency. Transparency is attained by providing everyone with access to the procedures, and confidentiality of discussions must be maintained so that people can voice their feelings in an environment free of recrimination and repercussion.

Both of these values are extremely important to the selection of teams. Funding of teams is probably one of the most controversial budget items for the federation. The critical issue is finding the balance between the value for the membership in supporting a minority of members in international competition and making sure that the needs of the majority of the membership at the national level are being properly addressed.

I believe that it is incumbent on all of us to support the development and fielding of teams for international competition. That said, because of the commitment the Board of Directors has made to this effort, these programs must adhere to the highest fiscal standards. To be able to provide our athletes with programs to develop future horses and riders, we must make sure that the funds allocated to these programs are being spent wisely.

The federation is not an entity unto itself; it is the product of its members and the property of its members. As elected and/or appointed leaders in equestrian sports, the federation directors are responsible for representing their breed or discipline constituents but also tempering that responsibility with what is best for the sport and federation overall. Sometimes, this puts us at odds with our own affiliate organization memberships. That is governance, knowing when to do what is right to move the sport forward in a positive manner with as little unintended consequence as possible. I have told you what I feel are the responsibilities of our federation. I encourage you to think about what the federation means to you. 

Bill Moroney, Keedysville, Md., is president of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, a member of the U.S. Equestrian Federation Board of Directors and a USEF R-rated judge. He started writing Between Rounds columns in 2004.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "The USEF Belongs To Its Members ran in the September 24 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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