Monday, Jun. 3, 2024

Eventers Work Toward A Unified Voice At The USEA Convention

Washington, D.C. - Dec. 6   

With talk about how to grow and retain membership at the forefront, eventers converged on Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Eventing Association’s Annual Meeting and Convention this weekend.

From high performance riders to amateurs to organizers and volunteers, every voice was given a chance to be heard.



Washington, D.C. – Dec. 6   

With talk about how to grow and retain membership at the forefront, eventers converged on Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Eventing Association’s Annual Meeting and Convention this weekend.

From high performance riders to amateurs to organizers and volunteers, every voice was given a chance to be heard.

“I would encourage you to be part of the conversation and be educated about the conversation, and not look at it just from one point of view, but look at it from all four different points of view—the amateur, the professional, the high performance person and the organizer, and how do we take all four of those groups and create or continue and support an organization that is going to support the sport and make it grow for the next 10 years?” asked U.S. Chef d’Equipe David O’Connor on the first day.

The most anticipated meeting, the Eventing 2016-2026 Summit, took place on Saturday with a full house.

Former USEA President Kevin Baumgardner acted as moderator and ran a tight ship, with seven speakers each allotted 5 or 10 minutes to speak. The issues included costs, membership growth, organizers, 21st century sport/business, calendar/pricing, ICP/education, Professional Horseman’s Council and adult amateurs.

The ballroom was full with people representing every facet of the sport, and after all of the presentations, the audience was asked to join one of seven tables for a 25-minute brainstorming session.

The Summit concluded with each group presenting their ideas and more audience questions. It left a lot for the membership and the sport’s leaders to ponder throughout the rest of the weekend. USEA President Diane Pitts said that she’ll travel to the East and West coasts next year to hold similar summits. We’ll have a recap of some of the ideas that came out of the Summit in the magazine.

Rule Changes To Know

“I’m halfway through my second decade of this, and you haven’t scared me away yet. You’re not trying very hard,” said USEF Eventing Technical Committee member Malcolm Hook at the start of the Rule Change Open Forum with his usual dry humor.

Yet again this year, the sometimes-heated meeting was fairly tame.

The creation of the modified division, championed by Mike Huber, is moving forward. The USEF Eventing Technical Committee voted to approve the division, which will feature its own dressage test and fences set at 3’5”. Huber likened the creation of the division to that of the beginner novice division several years ago. Once thought of as “dumbing down the sport,” it’s now an integral level, meant to be inclusive to membership.

Several rules pertaining to the modified level, including fence dimensions and qualifications, will move on to the USEF to be voted on.

In all, the committee voted to approve a total of seven rule changes. A few others of note include GR801, which states that a safety jacket may be worn in show jumping in lieu of a jacket and GR914.3, which states that a horse that has been eliminated or withdrawn during an FEI competition is prohibited from competing in a concurrently held USEF-licensed show. EV134.3 will make it so a competitor is now given an error of 2 points, instead of being eliminated, if they accidently wear boots or carry a whip into the dressage ring when they are forbidden.

Considering the intense online discussion about the proposed beginner novice-assistance allowed division and DX Eventing, the topics didn’t cause much buzz at the convention. The divisions are just in discussion right now, so there were no rule changes up for debate, but Hook did remind the audience of the rule regarding “tests,” which gives organizers the option to host things like combined tests or derbies.

“Under the rules for tests, which Roger Haller put into the rulebook back in the early part of the 2000s, it allows the organizer to pretty much invent any sort of criteria he wants and call it an eventing test. It has been legal since those tests went in. If you wanted to have a test at beginner novice and have a dressage test read, you could. If you wanted to allow the coaches to stand on the rail like you do in the jumper ring and shout instructions to their students, they could have—in a test. The organizer may offer it, or may not. It’s their option. It’s just another way to get people introduced to the sport in a user-friendly manner.”

Volunteer Initiative


Holly Covey, Bonnie Kibbie and Carol Kozlowski led the Volunteer Initiative, an idea that was championed by Seema Sonnad, a beloved rider, volunteer and official who died suddenly earlier this year.

The meeting was one of the most exciting, with lots of audience participation. As a result, Covey and Kibbie were invited to speak at the final Board of Governors meeting on Sunday morning. The Board voted unanimously to approve the formation of a volunteer committee, and members will be named soon.

Covey explained the need for a more organized approach to volunteerism in the sport, and the group laid out ideas for the creation of a volunteer database, online resources for volunteer education, incentives and volunteer recognition.

“Volunteers are the heart and soul of the sport,” said Covey. “Seema had some things she wanted us to get done, and this is part of what Seema wanted. What we do is a shared experience—it’s more than just getting a t-shirt. A volunteer needs to feel that they are respected and they are wanted and that their time is valuable. Organizers need to know that the person shows up and can do the job that they need them to do in this increasingly complicated eventing sport.”

Kibbie explained that they’ve looked to what British Eventing does on their website and hopes that the USEA can make their volunteer page easier to find and start adding things like a volunteer/organizer matching database or a volunteer leaderboard.

High Performance Update

O’Connor started off the first of three high performance rider meetings by reviewing the year. The goal was to qualify a team for the Olympics, which happened when the team won gold at the Pan American Games in Toronto this summer.

This year the U.S. sent 20 horses on fully funded trips and one partially funded to the Pan Ams, Bramham CCI*** (England), Aachen CICO*** (Germany), Burghley CCI**** (England), Blenheim CCI*** (England), Boekelo CICO*** (the Netherlands) and Pau CCI**** (France). The team came home with medals from the Nations Cups at Aachen and Boekelo, which was a big goal and morale booster.

“In many ways, I thought it was a year that started a shift,” he said. “Are we there yet? No. But I feel like the ship is starting to turn. I think you can feel that all the way through the organization.”

O’Connor noted that a total of U.S. 37 combinations competed in Europe this year, and we’re starting to get noticed.

“Having a presence, 37 combinations in Europe, is huge. It’s being talked about in Europe quite a bit that we are sending more riders over there,” he said. “They’re seeing a lot of new faces and a lot of new combinations, and that is definitely a buzz over in Europe. I had the French and Germans come up to me at Bramham this year and talk about how we had 51 U.S. horses at Rolex this year. Both of those countries say, ‘We could never do that. We don’t have that number of horses. We don’t have that number of competitors.’”

He also said that the budgets between our country and other top competing nations are similar, but we spend most of our money on flights.

While not every horse and rider combination that went to Europe was successful, the numbers are looking up. O’Connor said he’s a big believer in investment, and that many combinations that were making a second trip overseas this year were more successful.

Of the funded riders, 32% scored less than 70% in dressage, 63 percent jumped clear rounds in show jumping while 26 percent had one rail, 89 percent jumped clear on cross-country and 84 percent were within the optimum time on cross-country.

O’Connor said that his high performance plan is still in the technical and theoretical skills phase, but that it’s on the verge of moving into the competitive and instinctual phase.

“I’ve always thought we have very good riders here in the United States. Very good, instinctual riders,” he said. “But in the end, where I thought we missed was in the technical and theoretical side. That’s what we’ve been working on in the last couple of years. I think the level of phases is getting better. In the next couple of years I feel like we’re about to get into what I call Phase 2, which is going to be more on the competitive and instinctual side, not just the technical and theoretical side.”

The road to the 2016 Rio Olympics was also a hot topic. USEF Director of Sport Programs Will Connell presented some facts about the venue, Deodoro, a military base to the northwest of the city. He was very complimentary of the facilities and said the cross-country course will be very flat, with just one hill.


Pierre Michelet will be the course designer, and O’Connor said the course will require a “nippy” horse who can turn smoothly.

The team plans to use more U.S.-based events as preparation this year, including the newly minted CICO*** at the Land Rover Great Meadow International (Va.) as a final prep. The team will be selected on June 20. Horses will spend several days in Florida before flying out of Miami around the 28th or 29th of July. Eventing at the Olympics runs from Aug. 5-9.


– After 30 years with the USEA and 17 as CEO, Jo Whitehouse retired from her position. Rob Burk will take over as CEO, while Jo will continue fundraising for the organization from California.

– Approximately 408 Members attended.

– Tamra Smith was awarded the $30,000 Rebecca Broussard International Developing Riders Grant. Her top horse, Alex Ahearn’s Mai Baum, was named Horse of the Year.

– Buck Davidson earned the Rider of the Year title with nearly 30 horses helping him earn points.

– The Team Express LLC syndicate’s Charlie Tango, ridden by Heather Morris, won the inaugural $25,000 Connaught Grant, given to a horse competing at the one- and two-star level that shows international team potential.

– Kurt Martin won the $10,000 Rebecca Broussard National Developing Rider Grant.

– Jenny Caras won the $10,000 Essex Grant.

– Madeline Backus won the $5,000 Amy Tryon Grant.

– This year, three horses and seven people were inducted into the USEA’s Hall Of Fame. Gina Miles spoke fondly of her four-star partner McKinlaigh, while Kim Severson, Linda Wachtmeister and groom Lilly Bennett spoke about Winsome Adante, and Capt. Mark Phillips and Dorothy Crowell inducted Molokai. Margaret Lindsley Warden, Rebecca Broussard and Dick and Vita Thompson were inducted posthumously. Outgoing USEA CEO Jo Whitehouse, owner and supporter Jacqueline Mars and Mike Huber were also honored.

– The USEA has a budget surplus of $52,000.

– Carol Kozlowski was voted President-elect. Current president Diane Pitts has one more year left in her three-year term.

– The 2016 Convention will held Dec. 7-11 at the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Fla.

Look for a full report of this year’s convention in the Dec. 21 and Jan 4 print edition of the Chronicle.




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