After reading that ignorance, cheating, judging and misconduct were listed as the sport’s biggest problems in 1951, our columnist sees a parallel to current issues.
While at the U.S. Equestrian Federation for a meeting recently, I had a few minutes before the other participants arrived and picked up a copy of the 1951 American Horse Shows Association President’s Report to the Board of Directors. As I read the report, I realized everything was absolutely true of our sport 60 years later.
The president started with the statement “you cannot satisfy everyone” and proceeded to tell a story about a man, his son, their donkey, their journey across the land and the opinions of the people they encountered. No matter whose advice they followed, it seemed they could do nothing right, and everyone they met had a different opinion.
The president reported on four major problems within equestrian sport in 1951, which included: ignorance, cheating, judging and misconduct. You would think we would have solved these by now and moved on to other topics, but I don’t think we will ever “solve” these issues entirely.
Ignorance comes in many forms, and a lack of respect for others is its most destructive form. People make decisions that work for them, including how much they want to understand our sport. We can’t expect the majority of members to be well versed in the intricacies of our sport, its governance, or to even have an interest in being involved at a level other than that of personal enjoyment in riding. We need to ensure that our membership has the tools available to learn about our sport, and, at the same time, we have to accept the fact that many will not take advantage of this opportunity. That’s OK.
But people who don’t utilize the opportunities available should, at a minimum, treat those who have invested their time in understanding the sport with respect. Opinions that cannot be justified are often destructive. Educate yourself before offering an opinion, and even if you feel strongly about an issue, don’t treat those who feel differently disrespectfully.
Let’s Make Tougher Penalties
In some instances, ignorance can be construed as cheating, especially when a person who’s not educated on the rules of the game is just starting to participate in our competitions. These situations are significantly different than those that arise when a small group of people devise ways to gain an unfair advantage. There’s a marked difference between gaining an advantage by seeking to be the best you can be versus using illegal methods to gain an unfair advantage.
It doesn’t seem to matter how strict the penalties for the violation, there will always be a few individuals who don’t think the rules apply to them and will take the risk for the immediate gain. While accepting this fact, we must be diligent in our efforts to provide a fair and level playing field for our members. When individuals are caught cheating, we need to make sure that the penalties for significant violations (verifiable acts of cruelty or the presence of drugs which have no therapeutic use in horses) are potentially life changing. This should act as a deterrent and potentially rid our system of these behaviors.
In 1951, one of the examples of cheating had to do with measurement. This made me laugh. Measurement of ponies has been an issue for as long as I can remember and clearly one we have not solved. When we find that an individual has measured a pony into a section where it doesn’t belong, the penalty must be severe enough to move this person out of a position to measure in the future.
It’s Rarely The Judge’s Fault
Sixty years later we are still hearing that licensed officials cheat. I think it’s become second nature for some trainers at all levels to take the easy road and blame the judging for their own and their rider’s lack of ability.
Being honest with your client is a hard job, but one that you need to do and do well. Delivering the truth educates clients and gives them an opportunity to learn. I think that every professional should have some communication training so they’re prepared to converse with their clients. Of course, there are clients who will be angry no matter how well the message is delivered. In the long run, these people fall into the “you will never satisfy everyone” category.
Cheating by judges is rare, but it does exist. Fortunately, the group of judges with a propensity for this behavior gets smaller every year. We all have a responsibility to report an official who we believe has not conducted himself according to the rules, but we also have a responsibility to be honest in our assessment and honest with our clients about their performance.
Member evaluations play an increasing role in our sport, and the responsible evaluation of competitions will become an important component of licensing as the new hunter/jumper competition standards come into effect. It took more than two years of work to establish a set of competition standards, and we’re not done yet.
The new standards will need refinement as our sport evolves. Refinement doesn’t mean lowering the standards to make sure that all the current shows get to have a license. In addition to member evaluations, we must resolve the discussions regarding the responsibilities of competition stewards and implement a program that produces a valuable result.
Misconduct was the final of the four problems in our sport. It seems the reports of inappropriate behavior by officials, exhibitors and competition personnel have increased in the past few years. I’m not sure that’s true, but perhaps the use of instant media outlets has made us all more aware of the situations. Everyone will have moments they regret and would like to do over. It’s all in how you handle yourself in these situations that makes the difference. This doesn’t mean that because you own up to it, you get a free pass to be unsportsmanlike on a regular basis. Repeated misconduct indicates habitual behavior, and the only solution is to change your attitude or face possible sanction by the Federation.
I found it interesting that six decades ago, our forefathers in governance were faced with some of the same challenges we’re faced with today. There is no easy fix and no forever solution. Time moves forward, the circumstances change, but some issues will always need attention and oversight. We have to build flexibility into our rules and continue reassessing our environment to make prudent adjustments in a manner that benefits our horses, members and sport.
Bill Moroney, Keedysville, Md., is president of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, a member of the U.S. Equestrian Federation Board of Directors and a USEF R-rated judge. He started writing Between Rounds columns in 2004.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. “Challenges In Our Sport: Sixty Years Later” ran in the January 16 & 23, 2012, issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.