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January 29, 2010

We’re Moving Our Sport Forward

...with BILL MORONEY

Our columnist finds the U.S. Equestrian Federation Annual Meeting a resounding success.

While attending the Pegasus Awards event at the USEF Annual Meeting, I had the opportunity to introduce new USEF Board of Directors member Geoff Teall (hunter) to one of my best friends, Janine Malone (dressage).

During this introduction, a little-known fact regarding the origin of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association came to light. While Beth Miner and Alvin Topping are to be credited with igniting the spark upon which the USHJA was founded, Janine was the USEF director who succinctly summed up the conversation when USHJA was named the recognized affiliate. We owe a debt of gratitude to Janine, but even more importantly, this conversation led to Janine sharing her philosophy about what we are all trying to accomplish.

In her words, “Our job is to move the sport forward to a new level with the minimum amount of disruption.” I don’t think anyone can say it any better.

This is the heart of what those of us involved in the governance of our sport are trying to do and the principle that we must all keep in mind while we lead the sport into the future. No one completely embraces change, and, believe it or not, for years, I was one of the worst about change. It took me some time and some life changes to realize that this kind of thinking only limits your ability to gain knowledge and make advancements in your own life. This is true for our sport as well. While traditions and the past are a necessary part of the process involved in moving forward, they should never be used to stifle that movement.

Over the past six years, the USHJA has been moving our sport forward. Some think too fast, some think too slow, but I think we have followed Janine’s philosophy pretty well so far.

Our committees have spent considerable time and effort to bring forth initiatives, programs and rule changes that have increased opportunity for participation and recognition at all levels. They’ve increased the number of new equestrians involved in working on changing our sport, created new interest and excitement about equestrian sports, increased the number of educational opportunities for equestrians and brought forth programs only dreamed about in the past. Interested equestrians of all levels have benefited by these changes and the advancement of our sport.

Hunter Restructure Begins

Most recently, significant changes to the hunter discipline proposed by the USHJA Hunter Restructure Committee have been approved to begin with the 2011 competition year.

We must all remember that there are more than 1,300 USEF licensed hunter/ jumper competitions in this country every year, and most of them are not AA-rated competitions.

The regular working hunter of the past will soon be known as the High Performance hunters. Our working hunters should receive the recognition they so fully deserve as the grand prix of the hunters, and this new nomenclature brings with it the connection to the premier class of the hunter world, the USHJA International Hunter Derby.

Supporting the top of our professional divisions, you will find two new sections, performance hunter 3'6" to 3'9" and performance hunter 3'3". All three divisions will allow riders to enter individual classes and will receive recognition in the USEF national and zone horse of the year programs.

So we have preserved our premier hunters while offering opportunity for the owners of horses not ready or capable of moving up in height to continue to show with professional riders in sections appropriate to their education and athletic abilities. This change is a win-win situation for all equestrians and our equine partners.

Just to be clear, the High Performance will still continue to be a required offering at AA- and A-rated competitions, and when 2011 arrives, it will have to offer the greatest amount of prize money of all hunter sections at the competition.

Our conformation section has been in trouble for years, and changes have been approved to help solve the issues. The requirements for offering the green and regular sections remains in the rule, but we have also made some changes that we feel will create more interest in showing in this section.

First year green horses will show at 3'6" and all others at 3'9". We have all recognized that the 4-foot conformation sections are not filling at most of the competitions where they’re offered. In addition, the conformation percentage will change to 30 percent regardless of whether green or regular sections are conducted separately or combined.

The proposals for allowing a first year green hunter to start its competition career at any time during a standard competition year has been referred to the USEF summer BOD meeting to allow for more education, study, feedback and further amendments if necessary.

This is one of the changes that concerns equestrians and needs the next few weeks and months to sort out. This change has the opportunity to revolutionize our sport and removes the stress of feeling forced to start a horse at 3'6" before he or she is really ready to take on that challenge.

As now proposed, the rule would only allow a horse to stay in the 3'6" green section for one year and the same with the 3'9" green section, same as today. The idea that horses starting later will have a greater advantage at qualifying competitions is mitigated by the fact that each horse will only have one opportunity to compete at each of these competitions, and any perceived advantage with this change already exists. We need to go forward with this change if for no other reason than it protects the horses from competing before they are ready.

In our new world, competition organizers will still be able to offer hunter classics using a designated hunter class as the first round. However, if organizers offer classics as separate two-round classes, the minimum prize money offered must be doubled, but competitors will receive double points as well.

The cultural shift to holding stand-alone two round classics will obviously be exhibitor driven, and the rewards for doing this can provide incentives. Most of the other hunter changes are related to clarifying the rules and addressing situations we have all recognized and discussed but have never gotten around to changing.

While many of the jumper discipline changes are also related to clarifications to the rules, there are two very significant changes that are to be applauded by all.

First, the addition of requirements for jumper certified schooling supervisors and a licensing and training program for them has finally arrived.

For years we’ve needed competent, educated and un-conflicted officials to monitor the schooling areas for our jumper constituents. Stewards and technical delegates cannot be everywhere at once, and more staff is needed at specific levels.

The other change is one that will revolutionize our sport and lead it in a more transparent and accountable direction. A rule was approved to allow a competitor showing in the amateur-owner jumper section to compete on one horse not owned by the rider in classes not restricted to amateur-owners at the same competition.

We must now follow up with making the same change in the hunter discipline, and recently the Owner and Amateur committees of the USHJA approved making this change to keep consistency in our sport.

The leadership and members of the USEF National Jumper, the USHJA Owners and USHJA Amateurs committees are to be commended for working together to lead our sport in a new direction for the better.

Maybe the false sales and leases will now stop and our sport will become cleaner. The Owner and Amateur committees will be sending a letter to the USEF Hearing Committee requesting that once these changes are effective, individuals found to be in non-compliance will be more severely penalized since they will now have no reason to circumvent the rules.

The competition-related proposals have been referred to the USEF summer meeting as discussed at the USHJA Annual Meeting. This will allow the process we created in St. Petersburg to continue as we move these proposals forward for approval later this year.

The Competitions Working Group has been enlarged with three new additions each from Competition Management, Competition Standards and the B/C Task Force. Competition Management and Competition Standards will be holding meetings over the next few weeks to provide the Competition Working Group with additional feedback and suggestions regarding the proposals.

Their work, coupled with that received at the USHJA Annual Meeting, will be used to create the agendas for the two upcoming Working Group retreats. One will be held in Dallas, Texas, and one in Wellington, Fla., over the next two months. Updates to the rules will be posted on-line following the second retreat in March.

Hard Work And Compromise

I have left the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug rules for last. Not because they are any less important than the other rule changes, but because of the emotion involved with this topic.

The USEF Drugs and Medications Committee proposed moving to one NSAID beginning with the 2011 competition year. The USHJA proposed leaving the rule at two NSAIDs but requiring that a medication report be filed for the administration of the second NSAID. Both sides ended up compromising on their positions and found a middle ground that will bring us to the goal line in a prudent and judicious manner that will allow equestrians to make any necessary changes to our sport while not compromising the welfare of our horses due to unforeseen repercussions of the rule change.

No one can honestly determine the number of horses that may be affected by moving to one NSAID, so a prudent and thoughtful approach is required.

During and since the USHJA Annual Meeting in December, I’ve received a lot of input regarding processes and suggestions for ways to educate the membership on rule changes.

Each year we hold an annual meeting recap to discuss what went right and what went wrong and find the solutions to resolve the problems. Communication was No. 1 on the priority list. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be instituting changes to help our members find rule change proposals and the philosophy behind them.

Starting with 2010, the USHJA will create a link on our website home page that will take you directly to proposed rule changes. We will also add reminders and alerts to our news outlets including InStride magazine and USHJA E-News to draw members’ attention to rule change proposals and amendments as they develop.

In addition, as a condition of submitting a rule change proposal, we will require USHJA committees to include a short narrative on their webpage regarding the reasons for the rule change and its purpose.

With these additional resources available, members will have a greater opportunity to avail themselves of the yearly rule change proposals and to contact committee chairmen with their comments as their contact information is also on the committee webpages.

I sincerely believe that this year’s USHJA Annual Meeting was a resounding success. We had many significant proposals coming forward, and all of you who attended contributed to moving the sport forward by taking part inthe process.

Whether you are part of a committee proposing change, attended scheduled meetings and forums, held impromptu meetings with members and committees to work on proposals or just listened and learned, you came, you saw and you made a difference.

To all of you who filled out the forms indicating your interest in working on committees, we are now in the process of filling the newly vacated seats resulting from enforcing the minimum attendance requirements. While we would like to find a place for all of you, the reality is that we don’t have enough vacancies to put everyone on a committee.

Our bylaws require that we keep geographical balance and sport participation levels in mind when populating committees. For those not seated, we are sending lists of interested members to the committees so that they can call on you when needing help with projects.

People have wondered why organizations such as the USHJA and the USEF cannot keep them abreast of every moment at every convention. To those of you who do not attend the meetings and think this, I say just attend one of these events, especially when significant sport-changing rules are proposed, and you will see that it’s an issue of time, not secrecy.

I was just one of many, many people who worked the floor from 6 a.m. to midnight every day getting the business done for our constituents. When at our own discipline-specific annual meeting, we spend time explaining, discussing and listening to our own membership. However, when we attend the USEF Annual Meeting, we have to do the same to delegates from all of the other breeds and disciplines all over again. In this field of play and on major sport-changing issues, we need to build consensus to get our business accomplished.

While we may never satisfy everyone, we will continue our efforts to make it happen by adhering to the words of our friend Janine Malone, “Our job is to move the sport forward to a new level with the minimum amount of disruption.”

Bill Moroney 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. In between officiating, he’s head trainer at Salamander Farm in Middleburg, Va. He started writing Between Rounds columns in 2004.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "We’re Moving Our Sport Forward" ran in the January 22, 2010 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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