John McGinty took up the cause of more adult amateur classes at dressage shows because it was an important issue to him—and he knew it was important to many other people as well.
McGinty, a hunter and jumper judge who competes his Dutch Warmblood Playboy at the small tour as well as working full time as a financial advisor, earned a huge victory with the announcement that the Fédération Equestre Internationale approved a new amateur CDI division for 2015. The Adequan Global Dressage Festival will offer the classes starting with their first CDI-W of the year, Jan. 7-11.
We chatted with McGinty about the process of getting FEI approval, and why he thinks more amateur classes will help the entire sport of dressage.
When did you start seeking more adult amateur dressage classes?
It’s been a five-year struggle. At first, many people weren’t interested, and I kept pursuing it.
Noreen O’Sullivan [with the Wellington Classic Dressage shows] started an amateur division in Florida. She listened and said, “I think you have a good idea.” They went from very few amateurs in Florida to having 10 or 15 in the Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire I.
Then Debra Reinhardt with the Saugerties [N.Y.] shows started running the open classes but if there were six, seven or more amateurs in a class, she’d split them out and pin them separately.
I spoke with [AGDF manager] Lloyd Landkamer when he started running the shows in Wellington. Lloyd was the first who put AA classes at all tests in all levels. That started to stimulate a lot more interest, and other people in Florida started doing it, and then other people in other horse shows.
Some shows still won’t hear of it, but I said, “The adult amateurs are the biggest body of the horse industry. We own most of the horses everyone hears about, and we own most of the young horses.”
How did you initially approach the change within the FEI?
I started talking to people about four years ago about moving the amateur division to the CDI as well. Some people encouraged me, others didn’t.
When it started to really take legs was three years ago. I attended an FEI Trainers’ Conference in Wellington, and I’d asked [AGDF organizer] Thomas Baur if I could speak there, and I told him what it was about.
The idea was met with huge applause from everyone there, and I proposed we try to do something for adult amateurs. It went back to the FEI Dressage Committee with Thomas, but it got turned down the first year.
I pursed him the second year, which was last year. I kept after him. I had lists of trainers and adult amateurs who were supportive of this—some from Europe and some from the United States. Thomas admitted to me that several of the amateurs in Germany have been asking for what they call an owner’s division or owner’s class, so that helped.
In March I arranged a meeting between Thomas Baur and [USEF President] Chrystine Tauber, and that went extremely well. Chrystine has always been 150 percent behind the idea. She said, “When we did it with the hunter/jumper world, the business exploded. We actually got much more participation—not only from amateurs, but also at the other levels because people got excited about showing again, the people who pay the bills.”
It was at an international sports forum last April that Chrystine sat down with the chairman of the FEI Dressage Committee [Frank Kempermann]. She told them the way she saw it in terms of what it could do for the dressage world, as an educational tool and as an additional goal for adult amateur riders.
She pushed pretty hard, and then it was proposed at one of the committee meetings, and it finally got approved in May.
Chrystine and Thomas really pushed this. They were my biggest allies.
What will the new division look like? Who is eligible?
One of the problems was finding a definition for adult amateur. While I’m not thrilled with it yet, it’s a place to start. For our [FEI] purposes, an adult amateur is anyone [26 or older] who doesn’t appear on the FEI World Ranking list at time of entry. So does that mean some quasi-professionals? Yes, it does, however the spirit of the division is for people like me with a career and ride one or two horses a week. I think the professionals who try to come in for a cheap ribbon will not be well respected. It really is for the people out there who are out there working full-time jobs, and they ride part time.
I think we can tweak that definition as time goes on, but there are so many different definitions of amateur in all the countries. In the other countries, people can do some teaching or sell horses [and still be an amateur], so it’s all different. The United States has the strictest amateur rule.
Right now they’re looking into how you might get off the ranking list if you want. I’ve also proposed we look at somebody who’s maybe 976 on the ranking list; we might want to look at changing that definition. But that’s going to be a work in progress.
To get this started, everyone on the committee agreed to this definition, and they all know it has to be revisited. My understanding is that Thomas has asked all the national federations to comment on this. I believe that’s supposed to be done this month, and then some other ideas would be presented at the NF meetings. We’ll see what comes up, but I think that Florida will be the leadoff in the world. They’re the ones setting the pace on this.
One of my final goals is to have our own tests. In Florida they’re going to offer the CDI-amateur division in the Prix St. Georges, Intermediaire I, and then they’re going to offer the Intermediaire A and B. They’d like to see people try to progress from small tour to medium tour. We’ll see how that goes, and we might progress to big tour.
All the CDI rules will apply, as far as jogs and stabling. Right now I’m told the adult amateurs won’t need an FEI passport.
People who been negative about this are just people who are always negative anyway. You don’t even count them. Almost everyone has been very supportive. It’s been a great journey. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m excited that the amateur world has this now.