Savannah, Ga.—Dec. 11
After a series of high-profile disagreements between officials and riders this year over the application of rules, communication between riders and officials was a hot topic during this year’s U.S. Eventing Association Annual Meeting & Convention, held Dec. 7-11 in Savannah, Georgia.
It was one of four topics slated for the Event Riders and Officials Town Hall and spanned two-thirds of the allotted 1½ hours. After technical delegates Cindy DePorter and Tim Murray outlined the actions both parties can use to raise concerns, from casual conversations to evaluations and official warnings, the topic was opened for general discussion.
The riders in attendance said they felt there was a lack of transparency from the U.S. Equestrian Federation when complaints were filed against officials, and—even in instances with egregious misconduct—it was unclear what actions were taken.
Alina Brazzil, the USEF director of licensed officials, outlined the steps that may happen when the federation receives an official’s evaluation form. This ranges from no action, to a warning, to recommendation of additional training. When serious or repeated concerns are found, the issue is passed along to the hearing committee, who may impose a fine, penalty or suspension. However, these actions are not made public the way athletes’ violations are—by being printed in the back of the US Equestrian magazine.
“I think it’s only fair. Whenever we do something wrong and get a warning or a yellow card, it gets published all over. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be the same for officials if it reaches that level,” said Lauren Nicholson, who sat on the panel as a representative of the Eventing Riders Association of North America. “It should be publicized somewhere, and should be sent back to the person [who reported the official]. Maybe a lot happens, but from our perspective, nothing happens. It gets frustrating.”
Fellow team rider Tamie Smith echoed Nicholson’s sentiments, saying there’s a greater burden placed on the athletes than officials.
“If an official does something that isn’t the right call, and it’s not made right, nothing happens from what the riders feel,” Smith said. “To be fair, this is something that happens a lot in the United States that I haven’t experienced abroad. … It’s frustrating. When a rider breaks a rule, it is our responsibility to know the rule, and we get reprimanded. When an official doesn’t follow a rule, it feels like, ‘Sorry, we did the best we can.’ That is difficult. It all ends up on the rider’s back. The mistake the official makes ends up on the rider’s back. That is where the frustration ultimately is, how do we fix that?”
While there were high-profile incidents at the Maryland 5 Star, including British event rider Harry Meade’s dressage warm-up being disrupted and Nicholson being assessed time penalties for not starting her show jumping on time when she couldn’t hear the bell due to crowd noise, Nicholson pointed out that it happens consistently at the national level, too, citing an example of a rider getting stopped in warm-up because an official questioned the color of her boots.
“Disrupting them in the middle of a ride to have [a discussion about equipment] would not be an appropriate way to address that with a rider,” said DePorter. “If you have a concern—and we talk about this in our education—if there is going to be a problem you can wait until the rider finishes. You are not going to, unless it is dangerous riding, intervene.”
Reducing Risk: What’s New In Safety
In the Safety Committee Open Forum, presenters Jon Holling, Sarah Broussard, Jennifer Miller, Max Corcoran and Rusty Lowe outlined some of what is being done to reduce risk. Holling discussed a new frangible device that Colorado-based amateur Dan Michaels has been developing for several years. While the current frangible devices, pins and MIM clips, require a specific directional force to activate, Michaels’ device can trigger if struck in multiple directions. The device will be distributed to select course builders this year to iron out any last-minute kinks before being more widely available.
While the results of the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab ratings have been a hot topic since they were released Dec. 6, USEA is working with the university to continue research. Holling revealed they’re looking into making a full-face bicycle helmet—which reduces head and neck injuries in that sport—an approved helmet for cross-country. USEA CEO Rob Burk also shared that Safety Committee member Kaitlin Spak is speaking with the Virginia Tech lab to collect data on the effectiveness of air vests.
“For me, crush injuries are huge,” said Burk. “Crush injuries are not something we’ve adequately addressed. I think that’s the next generation of stuff we need to look at as well.”
The 2023-2027 USEF Eventing Strategic Calendar continues to be controversial. While the cancellation of Red Hills International (Florida) after it lost the CCI4*-S has garnered extensive conversation, the changes also have been significant in areas that didn’t start with as robust a calendar as eventing-centric Areas II and III. Representatives from Area VI, which is comprised of California and Hawaii, repeatedly shared concerns about it being a detriment to their calendar and emphasized that the organizers in California were willing to work together to ensure each could continue to run effectively.
“One of the things that came up over last couple days in Area VI, especially with the upper level riders [and] the younger riders, [is they] are feeling that this change is causing unnecessary adversity for them to achieve the goals that they need to achieve in order to go down that high performance route, as well as a stress on organizers,” said Teresa Harcourt, the Area VI representative on the board. “We only have one pool of entries essentially. It’s too small to pull back-to-back events, so it’s going to be at extraordinary risk to lose venues, and we’ve already lost venues in Area VI.”
Sharyn Antico, chair of the USEF Eventing Strategic Calendar Review Task Force, told attendees that the task force has received largely negative feedback from riders and organizers alike. She said the task force feels it has done what it can for 2023 and needs to let it play out for the current season. While there has been extensive conversation about potential modifications, that information is confidential until its release is approved, she added.
Rule Changes Of Note
There are several rule change proposals in the works, which will be available online for perusal and member comment on Dec. 14. Among the notable changes:
• A substantial change to EV122 Cross-Country Phase Definition of Faults, with regards to falls. Previously if a rider has a fall unrelated to a fence, such as when the horse slips in a turn and the rider pops off, the rider could continue. Now, all falls will result in elimination. This also removed the option for a rider at novice or beginner novice to remount if they land on their feet in a fall.
• A change to EV145 would require frangible technology to be used where appropriate at training level and above. Previously, frangible technology was only required at modified and above.
• A series of rules governing the classic three-day event, which includes allowing team competitions, and changing the qualifications so that at least one minimum eligibility requirement (MER) must be earned within the last 18 months.
• Microchips will be required for all horses competing at USEF-licensed competitions. beginning Dec. 1, 2025.
• A modified rider division will be included in the 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships, which will be held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
• The board approved the addition of a 6- and 7-year-old national championship at the CCI2*-S and CCI3*-S respectively.
• The board is considering making the the starter division a USEA-recognized division with its own leaderboard for year-end awards.