After several weeks of heated online discussion between members and official statements made by council members, the U.S. Eventing Association’s Area III Council has chosen Julie Richards as the new young rider coach for 2019. She was voted in on March 20, taking over from Kyle Carter, who’s served as coach since 2002.
Area III members raised concerns online about the handling of Carter’s departure. Under his guidance, Area III young riders have earned many medals at the FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships, including silver for the CCI* team at the 2016 Adequan NAJYRC (Colorado), though neither Area III team medaled at last year’s championships in Montana. Several of Carter’s young riders have gone on to become three- and four-star riders.
Catharine Clayton was heading into her fifth year as the Area III Young Rider Coordinator. A mother to two daughters, one who’s been through the program and one who’s just getting started, Clayton was an enthusiastic supporter of Carter as coach. But in February, she said she was let go from the position by Area III Chair Cyndi Kurth.
Kurth was named Area III interim chair in January 2017 when previous chair Jane Barron resigned, and then Kurth was voted in for a three-year term in November of last year. As part of her position, she makes the final decision on hiring the young rider coach for NAJYRC and Area III’s popular summer camp. She’s also responsible for hiring the young rider coordinator.
According to Clayton, Kurth emailed her in February to start looking for new coaches. She put together a hiring committee. In general, NAJYRC coaches are hired for three-year terms. Carter had requested a one-year renewable contract.
“When Cyndi came on board, she wanted to change the young rider program and basically not have any of the coaches for camp, including Kyle, that had been there for quite some time,” said Clayton. “She felt like it was time for a change. I can understand that, but when a program is doing really well, it’s really hard to implement or even warrant a change.”
Despite her objection, Clayton sent an email survey to members to see which camp coaches they’d like put forward for the area council to vote on. She also added names of people who’d applied for the NAJYRC coaching position.
Clayton said Carter was the overwhelming favorite based on the survey, but she said Kurth threw out her hiring committee’s suggestions and reopened bids for the coaching position. She said she was fired for putting the names of applicants for the coaching position in the email survey, which was a breach of protocol.
“Cindy took it upon herself that Friday that she could not work with me because I had done that,” said Clayton. “It was just something that was not allowed, even though no one seemed concerned that I had done it.”
Clayton said she’s had some conflicts with Kurth and the area council since Kurth came on as area chair.
“It’s just a constant battle of wanting to remove Kyle Carter as NAJYRC coach to give more opportunities to everyone, because everyone should have the same opportunities, even if it isn’t what anyone wants,” she said. “I have it in writing that the council approved that I was going to put the camp coaches on a survey and ask the kids who they wanted as a camp coach, and that was approved by the council. When I threw the NAJYRC coach on top of that survey, I never once thought that it wasn’t allowed. It’s not inappropriate for me as the coordinator to reach out to my members and ask them what they want. It was my mistake that I put their names on the survey and did not contact them first.”
Kurth said the reason for changing the program this year was to bring Area III more in line with the USEA’s Area Chairs Manual, a document that provides guidelines and policies for the chairs.
“Catharine and I had communication problems, and it was on both sides,” Kurth said. “Catharine devoted a lot of years to NAJYRC, and there were many successes under her, but according to the manual they are supposed to only be the coordinator for a three-year term, and there were a couple of conflicts of interest that perhaps she didn’t understand. We’re going to move forward in perhaps a slightly different direction. Now that the coach is named, and there’s less uncertainty, I’ve had many people contact me with offers to help. I’m looking forward to it.”
Kurth declined to comment on specifics of the conflicts of interest or on Clayton’s departure. Allina Bell was appointed the new Area III Young Rider Coordinator on March 9.
“USEA has been involved every step of the way, both on emails and on the conference calls, so we could ask for points of reference and make sure we were complying,” Kurth said. “Nothing was personal. We’re just trying to get our area in compliance, so everything is above board, and everybody understands the process. Whether or not they agree with it—that could be another story.
“The guidelines are broad sometimes and specific in others,” she added. “One of the things in the young rider program, for example, technically at the end of the day the area chair has to carry out the administration and the support and that type of thing. It appeared that for a couple of years the young rider program was doing its own thing. They were successful, but they were not in compliance with reviews and things like that. There’s a manual, and we’re supposed to follow it and try to bring the area into compliance with the USEA manual.”
Kurth said Carter had not yet been hired for 2018, but his name was in consideration for the coaching position when the council voted.
She said she’s happy to welcome Richards, who represented Area III during her young rider years before going on to ride at Olympic Games, to the coaching position.
“She’s very enthusiastic and interested in all of the upcoming young riders, as well as those who have declared for NAJYRC,” she said. “We have great candidates. All of them were super and provided great resumes. I think we had good people to choose from, and I’m happy with who the council chose.”
Rob Burk, CEO of USEA, said the organization has been serving in an advisory capacity.
“I don’t think anybody on either side is happy, but ultimately while we’ve been supporting the Area III Council and the Area Chair Cyndi Kurth, it’s been an area matter, and we’ve been in an advisory capacity,” he said. “Nobody has done anything wrong on any side. It’s just that the council decided to go a different direction with the young rider coordinator position, and at the same time they’ve been going through a bid process to find a coach.
“I know a couple of the applicants that applied initially for this coaching position did question whether it was an open bidding process,” he continued. “I think the area council has been doing their due diligence despite getting lambasted. They’ve been trying to have an open and fair bidding process.”
Burk noted that the organization instructs areas on certain policies, for example, having a coaching contract that outlines terms, duties and ways for a contract to be terminated by the coach or the area, which is signed by the USEA.
In addition, Burk said: “If there is an open coaching position, our policy is for a fair and open bidding process to happen.”
Carter said he has enjoyed his time as coach, but he added that he was frustrated with the process.
“I think the timing is incredibly poor, and it shows a lack of understanding of what a championship means,” he said. “The program should be gauged upon the success of the students at the competition, and where they go beyond it. I feel like we’ve checked those boxes well above most, if not every, area. The communication from what the expectations of the council are needs to be far better addressed since they made decisions without contacting or getting information from people involved.
“It’s been a joy to be involved with over the years I’ve done it, and I don’t want to leave it on a sour note,” Carter added.