The U.S. Equestrian Federation Mid-Year Meeting, which was held on Zoom from June 22-23, addressed a very different horse show world than last year thanks to COVID-19. After 11 weeks off, recognized competition just started again on June 1, with 29 USEF-licensed competitions kicking off that first week and 4,000 competitors showing. That’s down from 11,000 just one year earlier.
USEF President Murray Kessler and USEF CEO Bill Moroney had to pass an astounding 300 presidential modifications, all aimed at making horse shows work in the age of a pandemic. Revenue in April of this year was down 74%, and with no shows running, April competition and drug and medication fees were down 100%.
Moroney sought and received board approval on four questions that he brought forward: Are you going to provide refunds or extensions for membership? Are you going to provide refunds or extensions for horse recordings? Would you consider giving juniors in their last junior year another year? Should the USEF cancel its 2020 Horse of the Year program? The answer to all four was a resounding no.
“I would violently agree with not giving refunds,” said Kessler. “The USEF has been at full steam working triple time to get all these rules organized, shows rescheduled and working with the states. It’s not like USEF went home and took a break. It’s the opposite.”
While some, like board member Diane Pitts, argued that the Horse of the Year designation should come with an asterisk, Kessler pointed out that the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics still awarded gold medals without Russia there.
“We know no system will be perfect for everybody, and we did not believe we needed to refund or extend memberships or recording,” said Moroney. “We did not believe it would be in the best interest to grant an extra year for juniors. We did not believe at the end of the day we should alter Horse of the Year.
“When it comes to junior eligibility, there is a programing piece to this,” he continued. “If you said junior eligibility would just be for those who are 17 and going to be 18, then what happens at an age break of 13 or 11? In each sport there are different permutations of age groups.”
With the pandemic forcing the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games and other cancellations, the USEF sport budget for 2020 has been greatly reduced.
“The postponement of the Olympics has made 2021 very complex,” said USEF Director of Sport Will Connell. “We should have been coming out of Olympic and Paralympic Games, then go again to the world championships in 2022 and [the Paris Olympic Games] in 2024. Now we’ll come out and be 10 months out from the first team qualification opportunity for Paris 2024. The end of this year and beginning of next should have been development. Now they’re not.”
The board of directors elected Tom O’Mara as the next president of the USEF. His term will run from January of 2021 – 2025, and he will spend the next six months learning the ropes from Kessler.
“I’m looking forward to the challenges as well as the opportunities,” said O’Mara.
A Commitment To Diversity And Inclusion
The board also approved a diversity and inclusion program presented by Chief Marketing and Content Officer Vicki Lowell. Lowell has been working on the program since 2017, but the project has come into sharper focus following national racial unrest following the death of George Floyd.
“To have a clear commitment to diversity and inclusion is critical now and even more in the future,” she said.
USEF membership is 89% white in 2020 (compared to 96% white in 2000), and those numbers don’t reflect the demographics of the country. The U.S. Census Bureau has indicated that white children under 18 make up less than 50% of the population in 2020, and whites are predicted to be the minority in all age brackets by 2045.
The program included a public-facing commitment statement, which reads as follows:
“Diversity and inclusion are fundamental to U.S. Equestrian’s vision: To bring the joy of horse sports to as many people as possible.
“We recognize the need to achieve increased diversity and that our growth and success depends on the inclusion of all people.
“We are committed to providing access and opportunity for people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, veterans and active military personnel, people with disabilities and those of all ages, religions, ancestries, and gender and gender identities to harness the synergy of diverse talents.”
Lowell and her team also put together a diversity and inclusion action plan that includes the following goals:
USEF staff members are now required to complete unconscious bias training and diversity and inclusion training, and that required training is also proposed for the board of directors, licensed officials and committee members. Lowell also created marketing goals that would highlight under-represented groups such as creating diversity and inclusion ambassadors and diversifying the look of their models wearing USEF gear.
Pitts suggested the board “put our money where our mouth is” and dedicate some of its funds toward grants for under-represented groups. Lowell agreed with the concept of more outreach and suggested partnering with urban organizations as one way to reach those groups.
Rule Changes Galore
This is the first year that the USEF board has approved rule changes for the 2021 season at the mid-year meeting rather than during their January session.
The group passed a modification to GR 845.6, Accident Preparedness Plan, which requires horse shows to inform the USEF within 24 hours when there’s a horse on the grounds with symptoms of an infectious disease.
They also passed a modification to GR 113.1, which requires green hunters to show in their respective division three times before money won and points from the USHJA green hunter incentive stakes count.
Also on the hunter front a change to HJ 127.1, which deals with measurement, passed. The rule allows a horse or pony to get a standard measurement card at age 6 rather than the previous age of 8. The rule was amended on the floor to remove the requirement of having two different stewards measure the animal over two years. With that in mind, U.S. Hunter Jumper Association President and board member Mary Babick, who also heads up the National Breeds And Disciplines Council, strongly recommended that along with this rule change the USEF start implementing more measurement verifications (i.e. random measurements), especially at championship shows, in order to discourage people from showing oversized ponies.
Young hunters will now be split by age rather than height thanks to a series of rule changes.
Bisphosphonates may not be used in horses under 4, and horses with a tracheotomy/tracheostomy may not compete thanks to a change to GR414.
A change to DR 203.7 incorporates USDF 4-year-old prospect classes.
A series of rule changes allow for the addition of modified level to classic three-day events that already have training and preliminary.
A change to EV 141.1 makes activating a frangible fence on cross-country worth 11 penalties.