Friday, Apr. 12, 2024

Californians Cautiously Optimistic About Show Calendar Overhaul



In California, a massive state with geography and real estate costs that keep competitions tightly clustered in a handful of areas, the horse show calendar is about to get a Great Reset.

The U.S. Equestrian Federation decided this month to erase the state’s preliminary 2023 calendar—and, with it, temporarily suspend mileage restrictions meant to prevent shows in close geographic proximity from competing with each other—and give show organizers two months to apply for any competition dates they’d like to have next year. USEF representatives including CEO Bill Moroney will visit the state to meet with organizers, trainers, athletes and other stakeholders and tour competition venues before determining—without the restrictions of the federation’s mileage rule, which otherwise prohibits premier (AA) and and national (A) rated shows from being held on the same date within a 250-mile radius of each other—which venues will get which dates in 2023. USEF has scheduled a forum to explain the process and gather feedback from exhibitors, organizers, owners, trainers and other stakeholders for 4 p.m. Feb. 12 at Desert International Horse Park in Thermal, California.


Desert International Horse Park in Thermal, one of the major fixtures of the California circuit, will be the site of a public forum being hosted by USEF on Feb. 12 to gather feedback, answer questions and explain the calendar reworking process. Laura Lemon Photo

“The California Hunter, Jumper, Hunter/Jumper competition licensure process has faced complications due to (i) the unique geography of California in regards to the application of the mileage rule; (ii) scarcity of competition venues and the high cost of land on which to develop equestrian competition venues resulting in a high concentration of equestrian competition venues within close proximity to one another, often within the mileage boundary of one another; (iii) the limited ability for new organizers to enter the marketplace and stunted diversity in the competition calendar; and (iv) the fact that existing organizers do not fully offer what is required in order to develop horse and human athletes,” USEF spokeswoman Carly Weilminster said in an email.

Those involved in the California show circuit are cautiously optimistic about the effort.

“I think it’s a pretty interesting approach on behalf of USEF,” said West Palms Event Management CEO Dale Harvey, who runs shows at multiple California venues. “As I’ve said to them, I appreciate the effort and the fact that they are doing something rather than nothing, which has kind of been the case over quite a long period of time. … It’s high time the mileage rule that gives you mileage protection and the mileage exemption are really examined carefully, and we come up with a 21st century approach and plan.”

California show venues are clustered in several areas—near Sacramento, San Francisco and San Diego, for example—and the venues within each of those clusters overlap each other’s 250-mile mileage boundary. Once an organizer secures a specific show date for their venue, they get “priority date holder status” from the USEF, which allows them first dibs at retaining that date from one year to the next. The effect is that the organizers who secure show dates have protection that can be beneficial—ideally encouraging them to invest in their venues and competitions knowing they will not have to compete for entries on those dates—or harmful, by creating monopolies where they can raise prices or reduce quality without fear of losing business.

James Hagman, founder of Elvenstar Farm in Moorpark, California, and a member of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Zone 10 committee, said USEF’s 250-mile boundary does not work in a place like California and has long violated the Ted Stevens Act’s intent of providing competition opportunities to young athletes that are within driving distance of where they reside.

“It’s 30 years too late, but it’s better late than never. I think that there’s been a real lack of understanding by leadership in the sport of the particular issues unique to the West Coast and California,” he said. “The 250-mile rule says go out into the Pacific Ocean, go out into Mexico, go out into mountains and snow, or go out into desert.”


Katie Taylor, who recently became a Zone 10 chair for USHJA, was optimistic the process could introduce change and new options in a calendar that has long stayed the same and is short on options.

“We’re hoping it’ll just make the sport better for everybody, from the people who want to do the little regional stuff to the bigger national things, that it’ll make it more welcoming for everyone,” she said.

California-based trainer Hope Glynn has some doubts about the approach USEF is using to revamp the calendar, but she said change is needed to encourage competition and, ideally, make the show experience better for exhibitors.

“I do think things need to change,” she said. “People owning the dates has become more of a business than for the greater good of horse sports. Although I see a lot of positives in a mileage rule of not having too many shows in the same area, unfortunately some managers have used it—instead of creating a better show—as a monopoly without competition. … If there’s no competition to have other horse shows at the same time, there’s no incentive to make the horse shows better for competitors or exhibitors.”

The state needs more shows, said Glynn, who was competing last week at a busy Desert International Horse Park in Thermal, California, where multiple hunter and jumper divisions had more than 100 entries each.

“In my area, we have a ton of competitors, multiple facilities, and we have horse shows filling out, yet we can’t put any more horse shows on,” said Glynn, who is based near San Francisco in Petaluma, California. “I encourage competition, and there are so many people who want to show now, it’s as good a time as any to try to change things. They need to consider that, but I don’t necessarily think erasing the entire calendar the first year out is possibly the best solution.”

Hagman also is hopeful the drastic calendar revamp will create competition.

“It’s a very gutsy move to say we’re going to be throwing out the calendar and starting over. That’s huge. Kudos to them to have the guts to do that,” he said. “I’m very hopeful because I have a lot of respect for [USEF President] Tom O’Mara. There could be real change and significant change. Not changes around the edges, but change in the middle.”


Harvey, the show manager, also supports change but is concerned about the specifics of the process being used to create it.

“It’s extremely complicated to do what they are talking about doing,” he said. “It’s ambitious … but there’s a lot of factors that go into an organizer’s ability to have a show on a particular weekend, a venue’s ability to have an event on a particular weekend [that limits their ability to move from one date to another]. Plus, we have all kinds of regional factors with regional organizations that have a calendar already set. We also have many organizers, like myself, that have commitments in 2023—in Sacramento, we have a Longines World Cup. That’s not moving, as far as I know.”

Harvey also acknowledged that rebuilding the calendar will mean organizers losing some dates, or exclusivity on those dates, to allow other shows to come onto the calendar. With the number of existing show series his company runs, it likely will mean losing or sharing some dates his shows have had to themselves. At the same time, it could bolster his effort to bring shows back to Del Mar Horsepark, which canceled all competitions when it closed in December 2021, by creating opportunities for that venue to secure show dates that currently belong to priority date holders.

“I’m 100% supportive of a reorganizing of the calendar. I’m not suggesting I necessarily support the outcome, but I support the effort they are making,” Harvey said. “If that means losing a date here and there? The bottom line is, for this to work, every one of us has to be prepared to give something up. I recognize that.”

Under the USEF’s calendar reorganization plan, mileage rule considerations are being temporarily suspended while the federation considers all 2023 calendar requests. However, once the new calendar is decided and venues are granted competition licenses for 2023, “all processes and rules of Chapter 3 [governing mileage protection] will be re-instated. This will include the imposition of Priority Date Holder Status on all Licensed Competitions against new competitions entering the environment,” Weilminster said via email.

The forum, to be lead by Moroney and USEF General Counsel Sonja Keating, will be held Feb. 12 and is open to all stakeholders. USEF has posted details about the upcoming meeting to its website.

After the forum, USEF has scheduled a two-day session dedicated to meeting with California competition organizers to develop a comprehensive list of proposed 2023 events in the state.

Organizers will have to submit their requests by March 15, and the USEF will make its decisions no later than April 25.




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