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January 15, 2010

You Will Be Heard And Can Make A Difference

...with SHELBY FRENCH. Photo by Mimi Wroden.

Our columnist believes you can make a difference to your sport by knocking on the door.

I was always taught that the best way to create changes in an organization was to work from within rather than to grumble about problems and point fingers from the outside.

Over time I found this to be good advice, but when it came to my own sport, about which I’m very passionate, I couldn’t figure out how to get “in” to be able to put this advice to work!

Even though I had my U.S. Equestrian Federation judge’s card, had been to the fall indoor shows with a client and her horses and had coached national championship college riding teams, I couldn’t seem to get involved in the governance structure of USEF. I eventually got frustrated, stopped attending the USEF Annual Meetings and joined the ranks of an often-disgruntled membership.

As with most things in life, it takes a combination of luck, timing, desire and work to make things happen. Those things came together for me with the initial founding of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association.

Perfect Timing

In 2004, I received an e-mail from Beth Miner, a member of the founding USHJA Steering Committee, asking me to join the organization and support its mission of pulling the hunters and jumpers together on a national level, providing education for all levels of our sport and including representatives of all levels of our sport in the governance process.

This sounded to me like an organization that we desperately needed, so I joined. I also made sure that Sweet Briar College (Va.) and the American National Riding Commission joined as affiliate organizations and made me their representative. I don’t know that I consciously thought about this as being my way “in,” but I sure wanted the USHJA Steering Committee members to know that I supported what they were doing and thought that it was important.

This past March I was at dinner with a group of the USHJA Affiliates Council members during a retreat, and we were talking about how exciting it is to be involved in the governance of our sport. USHJA President Bill Moroney was at dinner with us, and he laughed and told the group about seeing me at the first USHJA Annual Meeting wandering around looking a little lost and certainly uncomfortable about participating.

His description was quite accurate. While I knew quite a few people, I still felt awkward and out of place. Then, because I represented two affiliate organizations and had participated in the Affiliates Council, I was lucky enough to be elected as one of the two Affiliates Council representatives to the USHJA Board of Directors, and things changed for me.

Bill continued his story saying that after my election to the Board of Directors there had been no holding me back. He commented that I had taken to governance like the proverbial “duck to water” and that he thought they would have to drag me out of the “water” at this point. I think once again his description is accurate.

Work And Produce

So, enough about me. I just wanted to show you through my example that getting involved is really possible even if it seems daunting.

This column is really about how to get you involved and create changes that you feel are important.

First, you should all know that the luck and timing that helped me get through the governance doorway are all still there waiting to work for you. The USHJA just celebrated its fifth birthday on July 6, 2009, so it’s still in its infancy, and as with any young organism it’s more easily adaptable to change during its early growth period.

The officers, Board of Directors and committee members want and need your input, ideas and energy. Now is your time to step up and voice your interest, and many of you did that by attending the Annual Meeting this year in Florida.

The USHJA has a yearly committee attendance review to ensure that committee members are meeting their participation and attendance commitments. Those who do not are replaced, opening the door for new people to get involved.

It was exciting to see three full pages of people who signed up at the Annual Meeting expressing their interest in serving on a USHJA committee. I urge you to send a follow-up e-mail to the staff liaison for
that committee to reconfirm your interest and to give them all of your contact information.

Remember that not everyone can serve on a committee, but there are many other ways that you can get involved. Send the USHJA staff member liaison an e-mail to connect, and let her know that you are interested in a particular program and would like to volunteer. Offer to help with a USHJA event that’s being held in your area, host a USHJA clinic or outreach horse show, or help an organization in your area get involved in the affiliate programs.

Once you get through the doorway, then work, work, work. Believe me, you will get noticed and have an impact.

If you’re on a committee make every conference call and meeting and voice your opinions. I have to say that in all the USHJA committees on which I serve, every single person is comfortable speaking his or her mind and fighting for his or her point of view, so don’t be shy. If your committee finds there’s something that needs to be done, volunteer to do it and then complete the project or the report or find the information and get this back to the group in a timely fashion.

Becoming known as someone who produces will allow you to have more opportunities to actively make a difference in the direction and programs of the organization.

Being Heard

Don’t just take my word for the fact that you can be heard and make a difference, check in with some of the following people:

Rick Cram Jr.—He started a successful series of unrecognized shows (that continues to be successful today) before he added managing USEF shows to his repertoire. When we needed input from a show manager who serves this segment of our sport, we asked him to serve on the Affiliates Council and work on the Affiliates Council’s B/C/Local Horse Show Task Force.

Rick is trying to promote B-rated shows in South Carolina (Zone 4). When he recently realized that the USHJA Foundation Awards program as then configured would not allow his exhibitors from North Carolina (Zone 3) to count points they received at his B-rated shows toward a Foundation Award, he got on the phone to his Board of Directors representatives, Skip Thornbury and me.

We had both heard from other show managers about this same issue. We agreed that the time had come to change the Foundation Awards program so it mirrored each Zone specification regarding the counting of points from contiguous states. We wrote a memo to the USHJA Officers outlining the reasons this change was needed, and they voted to make the change effective for the 2010 competition year.

Karin Immerman—She serves on the Affiliates Council as the representative for Long Island High Score Association. As a result of her willingness to speak for her area’s interests and her commitment to the sport, she now serves as one of the co-chairmen of the Northeast Region of the Affiliates Council and is a member of the Affiliates Council’s B/C/Local Horse Show Task Force.

She’s having direct input regarding the shape of the future of horse shows in our discipline and was instrumental in pulling together the group of show managers listed below during the USHJA Annual Meeting to make sure that the USHJA Competition Committee received their ideas and input.

Barb Kohr, Scott Clawson, Patricia Harnois, Pamela Hunt, Naomi Gauruder and Kathy Pinera—They are from Zones 1 and 2 and are interested in preserving the integrity of the B/C shows that are so popular in their zones.

During the Annual Meeting they came together to write a proposal in response to the USEF Competition Committee’s rule change proposals that provided that group with important feedback about how to create show
standards for the B/C level of shows that will improve the sport for exhibitors. Their thoughtful and balanced input will be important as we move ahead with this project during the coming year.

Kathy Schlaeppi—She returned home after the 2008 Annual Meeting to make sure that the North Carolina Hunter Jumper Association took advantage of the many affiliate awards programs. Their experience with the Affiliates Equitation Awards program was so positive for her membership that Kathy spent a great deal of her time at this year’s annual meeting explaining the program and its benefits to many other affiliate organization representatives.

The USHJA is a relatively new entity with an identity all of its own, and you will be wasting a golden opportunity to help shape the future of our sport if you don’t jump onboard now.

Change is challenging and scary but necessary if our sport is not to stay mired in the past. Being a change activist requires that you take initiative, think creatively, take risks and be willing to speak out fairly and reasonably about the issues that are at stake.

I understand how intimidating it can feel to walk into an existing group and express your ideas, but you’ve got to take the risk because only then will every tier of our sport have a voice.

Our membership is diverse because of geography, individual circumstances and goals, economics and many other factors. It’s critical that every facet of our membership has a voice in the association’s governance and that we are all willing to understand the concerns and needs of those who have chosen to participate in the sport in a different sphere than our own.

That change cannot happen unless each of us is willing to become an activist and share the work and the rewards of involvement with our national governing body. I believe that if you knock on the USHJA doorway you will find people ready to welcome you and work with you for the betterment of our sport. So knock!  

Shelby French has been the director of riding at Sweet Briar College (Va.) since 2000. Previously, she served in the same position at St. Andrews College (N.C.) for 16 years. She’s a USEF R-rated judge and has coached and trained hunters, jumpers and equitation riders on the A-rated circuit throughout the Southeast. She serves on the Board of the American National Riding Commission and the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "You Will Be Heard And Can Make A Difference" ran in the January 15, 2010 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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