On June 1, the U.S. Equestrian Federation and U.S. Eventing Association’s suspension of recognized competitions will expire, and horses will leave the start box once again. But the novel coronavirus is not entirely in the rearview mirror. Therefore competition is going to look different for the foreseeable future.
USEF Managing Director of Eventing Jenni Autry joined USEA CEO Rob Burk, USEA President Max Corcoran, USEA Vice President of Competitions Jonathan Elliot, USEF Director of Competition Licensing, Evaluation and Safety Katlynn Sacco, USEF Managing Director of Competition Services Lisa Owens and rider Lynn Symansky to discuss the return to competition and answer questions in an hour-long webinar on May 13.
“Risk is something we talk about all the time in eventing, and it’s something we have to be particularly mindful of as we look ahead to restarting the sport,” said Autry. “At the same time, we’re going to have to take the risk of COVID-19 extremely seriously and understand our own personal responsibility when it comes to mitigating the spread of the virus. And that means that events are going to look very different when we do go back to competing. Wearing a face mask is going to become our new normal; staying six feet apart from each other is going to become our new normal, but accepting and enacting these restrictions and requirements is going to be critical to ensuring a successful start of the sport.”
Starting May 14, USEA officials have lifted the suspension of USEA-recognized educational activities, and Burk and Corcoran pointed out that the main motivator behind that decision is to ensure competitor safety by the time events restart in June. Since everything has been halted for so long, Corcoran said it’s important to make sure riders and horses are mentally ready and physically fit enough to return to competition.
“Safety has been a very big part of our winter season so far coming into spring, so if we’re not ready there’s no shame in entering a level below where you left off in the season before,” said Corcoran. “A lot of professionals will tell you that’s what they do with their horses to make sure that they’re up and running, and they’ve checked all the boxes and knocked all the dust off. Again, making good decisions for you and your horse.”
A competition action plan and risk assessment toolkit are on the USEF website. Owens emphasized that licensed competitions must follow all local, state and federal guidelines as they relate to mass gatherings and sporting events. While each locale has slightly different requirements, the USEF stance is that competitions should follow the strictest guidelines currently in place. For example, even if your state does not require face masks, they suggest competitions require masks.
“It’s important that every venue considers their specific needs, their specific circumstances, and what’s important for them to be able to manage and mitigate the risks for their area,” said Owens. “What might happen in Washington state might not be happening in Florida, so everybody needs to look at what those things are and the considerations they need to have when they’re mitigating their risk.”
Sacco said it’s up to the competition to enforce social distancing rules and that they have the authority to remove someone from the grounds who refuses to comply. If someone is removed, the technical delegate will include the incident in the TD report.
Elliot, who runs Aspen Farms Horse Trials in Yelm, Washington, said that organizers may need to modify schedules and accept fewer entries to ensure plenty of time between rides. The USEA is setting up a platform for organizers to share how they solved unforeseen problems so that organizers at subsequent competitions won’t have to reinvent the wheel.
For competitions looking to reschedule, the USEA Competition Calendar and Rules Committee has reviewed 31 requests and sent those on to USEF. They’ve brought the process for date changes down from 112 days to 16, but they want to be cognizant of events that are already scheduled.
Symansky, a five-star competitor and Pan American Games medalist, said the competitors have as much responsibility as organizers to ensure the reopening goes well.
“It’s important for us as competitors that we set the example,” she said. “There are so many people behind the scenes, but at the end of the day we’re the ones at the forefront, in the spotlight, and so everything is going to be in front of a microscope.
“It’s going to feel very awkward,” she said of the return to competition. “As a rider, I’ve thought through it, but having to show up to a competition and put your face mask on when you get right out of the car and have it on until you get on the horse—it is going to be something you’re going to have to try hard to think about. It’s going to be really important that we’re really obsessed about getting it right because we may not get a second chance if we get it wrong.”
Following the presentation, Mark Coley, the USEF director of development, read questions that had been submitted beforehand or during the presentation. Following the webinar, the questions and answers will be compiled into an FAQ, which will be available at usef.org/eventing.
How will the sanitation of frequently-touched items such as port-a-potties be handled?
Organizers are responsible for ensuring areas used by participants are properly sanitized. That being said, Sacco recommended competitors keep a stock of hand sanitizer or wipes on hand for personal use.
Will organizers be required or recommended to limit entries?
No. That decision is up to the organizer and is subject to local restrictions. If organizers are going to limit numbers they must report that to USEF and put it on their website and omnibus listing. In those cases, entries will be on a first-come, first-served basis.
How will dressage tests be handled?
Everything is going to be electronic. Scribes will input scores into a program that removes the step of passing a test from scribe to judge to score runner to office to competitors. Tests will be emailed to riders, and it’s likely that scribes will sit elsewhere, and the judge will communicate with them via radio.
How will social distancing be maintained?
Organizers are encouraged to put out six-feet markers throughout the facility—just like you’re seeing at the grocery store.
Who is responsible for providing personal protective equipment?
It’s the organizer’s responsibility to ensure volunteers and officials are provided PPE or have access to that. Competitors are responsible for bringing their own PPE.
How long will the precautionary measures last?
The simple answer is we don’t know. It could be a month, three months or the rest of the season. The action plan will be updated every Tuesday as requirements are added/changed in accordance to the World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and federal guidelines, so everyone should review that document frequently.
Is it possible for Fédération Equestre Internationale competitors to work out of their trailer rather than use stabling?
The USEF is still waiting for the FEI to answer that question. If those policies aren’t relaxed, social distancing will be required in stabling, and organizers will have to come up with a plan that best suits their layout.
If you’re not a FEI competitor but still use the stabling, you should limit who is allowed in the stables.
How are you going to deal with published items such as course maps, pinnies, numbers and awards?
Awards ceremonies will be a thing of the past for a while. Elliot said he imagines his event staff will put together packets while wearing PPE and spray down materials after use. These items should be set up to limit person-to-person contact.
Are the American Eventing Championships still happening? If so, will qualifications be relaxed?
Yes! The USEA still plans on running the AEC. There are already 2,200 riders qualified and 2,500 horses. The qualifying period is May 27, 2019, to Aug. 18 of this year. USEA officials are looking at possibly moving the qualifying period to include more of the 2019 season, but they can’t make the end date any later.
Burk said they’re considering adjusting the placing requirements (you must place first or second once, or third twice), but it’s unlikely they’ll change the number of clear rounds required (three for all levels) for safety reasons.
How will you ensure volunteer safety?
Volunteer briefings could possibly be done online. There’s a jump judge video already available, and in many venues, jump judges can take their cars out on course, so they’ll be away from others already. Dressage scribes will likely be separated from judges, and all volunteers should wear PPE.
What happens if I cross state lines to compete?
Know your state’s regulations and those of the state you’re traveling to—many states require a 14-day quarantine period after re-entering the state.
Is it possible competitions will be suspended again?
Yes. The situation is fluid, and the USEF will suspend competition again if necessary.
Will organizers be provided a COVID release form?
Yes. The USEF is amending its liability release form to include language related to diseases.
Will requirements for the USEA Classic Series be changed?
Again, safety is priority. Though the Classic Three-Day Task Force is evaluating the requirements, the main priority is to ensure participants are adequately prepared, so no changes have been made yet.
This also applies to Future Event Horse and Young Event Horse Championships.
Who is allowed to attend with a competitor?
This is a question the USEF has heard a lot. The USEF Action Plan has definitions of participant versus spectator, which you can find under the definitions section. In short, participants include owners, trainers, riders, parents, and grooms that are essential for the care of the horse/athletes. Spectator refers to the general public, fans, or anyone not directly involved in the competition.
How are year-end awards going to be tabulated?
The USEA was already looking at how they tabulated year-end awards, with a possible change for the 2021 season. Burk said that process might be expedited, but they’re looking at changing it from highest number of points to based on the best performance from a yet-to-be-determined number of results.