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June 19, 2014

White Fences Dressage Petitions USEF Over Dates

Susanne Hamilton competes Stedemann at a White Fences competition in Loxahatchee, Fla. Photo by Susan J. Stickle.

Adam Pollak, organizer of U.S. Equestrian Federation-licensed dressage shows at the White Fences Equestrian Center in Loxahatchee, Fla., has started a petition asking the U.S. Equestrian Federation for a “healthy dressage show environment in the Wellington/Loxahatchee area.”

While there are multiple organizers and dressage shows in the Wellington, Fla., area, Wellington Classic, the Palm Beach Dressage Derby, International Horse Sports and Gold Coast Dressage have all moved their shows to the Adequan Global Dressage Festival facility in Wellington over the last few years. 

“There are really five show companies operating as one venture and then us,” Pollak said. “When there are so few options for venues, the prices can go up, and for a lot of adult amateurs, it becomes out of reach for them.”

One of Pollak’s main complaints is that the USEF licensed two AGDF shows—a national show and CDI Feb. 21-23, on the same weekend as White Fences, and a national show March 19-20, the Wednesday and Thursday before a White Fences weekend show, earlier this year.

National dressage competitions are usually protected by a “mileage rule,” which is applied based on the U.S. Dressage Federation region in which they’re located. White Fences is approximately 12 miles from the AGDF grounds.

However, a show can apply to host a CDI, which is not subject to the mileage rule, for the same weekend as another national show nearby. If approved, the CDI may host a national competition as well. As the number of CDIs has expanded in southern Florida, Pollak said some AGDF shows have received licensing priority over White Fences due to also holding international classes.

“When my previous shows were licensed over, I was never asked for any input as the existing licensee,” he said. “The USEF never notified me that my license was applied over, and I had no feedback in the licensing process in how those shows may affect my existing shows.”

He was particularly upset about being denied a Friday show date on March 21, 2015, and qualifying classes for the Adequan FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (Ky.) at that show.

“The only other option is riding at the CDIs to do those classes,” he said. “When you do that, it’s going to cost five times as much with CDI stabling fees, class fees and everything.”

Pollak, 27, has lived at White Fences since 1993, and he’s been running shows there since 2010. His mother, Ingred Lin, started the Welcome Back To White Fences show series in 2006, but she died from breast cancer in 2009 after a 13-year battle. Pollak prides himself on providing free food, drinks and a low-key environment at White Fences shows.

While he’s enjoyed seeing more CDIs come to the area, Pollak doesn’t want shows that cater to amateur and lower level dressage riders to disappear. Pollak isn’t sure the USEF will pay attention to his petition and has no plans to formally present it to them, but he’s hoping word will catch on about his struggle.

“I feel like the goal is to get the dates I’d held before without overlapping dates on top of them,” he said. “As far as the petition, I’m not sure how the petition plays into that. It’s not like I have a definite plan. I just want it to be an outlet for people, because a lot of people have asked me to start [one]. There’s a place where people can leave comments in addition to their signatures, which a lot of people have done.”

Michael Stone, president of Equestrian Sport Productions, which owns the AGDF facility and manages the shows there, doesn’t see the conflicting dates as detrimental to the sport in the area.

“It just happens that we own a top-class facility, and people want to use it,” Stone said. “It used to be the concentration was in the Jim Brandon Center [in West Palm Beach], and it’s basically moved from the Jim Brandon Center to us because we’re providing a top-level facility.

“[The USEF] has very strict licensing rules, and we follow them,” he continued. “We acquired some dates from Wellington Classic to make the Global Dressage Festival [a 12-week circuit]. But we’ve always tried to work closely with Adam and any other organizers. In fact, we had a meeting with the USEF [in 2012] to try to rationalize the dates. There are actually less dates now in the Wellington area than there were three or four years ago because we got rid of some of the CDIs and made it a much better system.”

Stone said that there’s a place for each show series, and there’s no reason they can’t co-exist.

“What we’ve found is that there are different markets. The up-and-coming people, the amateurs, the people who don’t want to be at the higher level or compete against the higher level riders—they go to the lower level shows like Adam’s,” he said. “He caters to that market of amateurs and people in his area, whereas we cater to the high-end, international riders. Our [numbers] have maintained where they are or gone up a bit because of the foreign riders who come in. We’re certainly not trying to hurt him or anybody else.”

To enter a USEF-level class at White Fences, the cost is $65, with a $35 office fee. FEI-level classes are $75 and opportunity classes that don’t require memberships are $35. Pollak doesn't charge class change fees or haul-in fees.

A licensed national show at the AGDF facility costs $60 for a USEF class or FEI class, $45 for opportunity classes, a $25 class change fee, an office fee of $40 and a daily haul-in fee of $35.

Pollak noted that his show numbers have stayed steady with 379 rides (before scratches) in his February 2012 show, 423 in February 2013, and 382 this year on the Feb. 21-23 date that the AGDF was licensed to run their national show and CDI.

His March 2012 show had 249 rides when an International Horse Sports’ show was licensed for the same weekend, and he had 333 rides in 2013 when the two shows shared the same date again. In 2014, the March show with no overlap but a national show at GDF during the week had 343 rides.

Kathy Meyer, senior vice president of marketing and communications at USEF, said the overlapping dates were reviewed under USEF’s Mileage Exemption Process, explained in rule GR 307.

“This process includes input from the priority date holder [Wellington Classic Dressage], as well as the USEF Recognized Affiliate, in this case the USDF,” she said. “Said input was then presented to a special panel appointed by the USEF president, also described in GR 307, and the panel made the recommendation they deemed in the best interest of the sport.”

As of June 18, Pollak's petition has 200 signatures.

“As a USEF member, I am appalled to think I might be forced to compete at a venue that would not suit either my wallet or the temperament of my horse simply because USEF can't follow its own rules,” wrote Carol Conner, Bridgeton, N.J., in a comment on the petition. 

 
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