Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023

Focusing On The Future



Our columnist reviews the ways the sport’s leaders and members are overcoming obstacles, looking for opportunities and securing a vibrant tomorrow.

Fresh off the last day of the 2015 U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Annual Meeting, a number of issues important to the future of the sport are running through my mind.

In a recent conversation, a member noted that governance organizations seem to always lag a step behind in solving some of our industry’s problems. She found governance as a whole to be reactive rather than proactive. While I do find some truth in that statement, I think it’s also important to examine the problem from within governance itself.

I’d like to give you a glimpse of the time it takes for ideas to become solutions. In many cases, there are dedicated volunteers and staff working on projects, but those individuals must navigate some roadblocks to the highway named progress. This is especially true when we are dealing with regulations that control hearings, penalties, drug testing, and horse and human welfare. These topics extend beyond the hunter/jumper discipline into all of the breeds and disciplines that fall under the U.S. Equestrian Federation umbrella. We are all connected by the horse, but what we do with our equine partners colors our view of the competition landscape and the rules that govern it.

There are times when it takes an environmental catalyst to ignite the removal of roadblocks and/or cause swift change. Situations such as the influx of new drugs will always result in the federation acting reactively, simply because no one can guess what drug will be created and/or tried on a horse next. Personally, I have been talking about establishing and publishing hearing penalty guidelines for drug infractions for many years. I am glad to see they are finally here, in no small part because our members have loudly spoken about cleaning up our sport.

A Refreshing Approach

2015 brought a definite change in how members are approaching sport governance. For many years the leaders of our organizations have been hammered for addressing controversial subjects. This year our membership embraced the examination of the good and not so good of our sport and engaged in these difficult discussions. The level of discussion was impressive as well as the preparation members had done to be up to speed on the subject matter. People were passionate about their opinions, but they left the personalization home and came to work on the issues.

The federation and USHJA leadership worked together to present a Town Hall meeting on accountability and responsibility regarding the drugs and medication infractions. Listening to the discussions, it’s clear that our members believe the need to protect the welfare of our horses and to maintain a fair and level field of play are critical to the integrity of our sport and are a must for all equestrian governance organizations.


The discussion and presentation included concepts that have been in the works for several months—some for several years—such as new amendments to the responsibility rule for drug violations, how the hearing process works and the new penalty guidelines that will be used by hearing panels on drug cases. Our members supported the suspension of a horse found to have a positive drug test, increased penalties, and the printing of the enhanced findings of each hearing, which would provide a better understanding of the specifics of the case and penalty. This is a refreshing approach to an issue that is vital to the integrity of our sport and the welfare of our equine and human athletes.

The focus on a fair and level playing field led the Jumper Working Group and Jumper Committee to jointly develop and support a rule change to restrict cross entry into amateur and/or junior jumper classes at the same competition by riders competing in a CSI**** or above, a CSI-W or a CSIO. And any competitor who competes in a Fédération Equestre Internationale championship for seniors (i.e., the World Equestrian Games, the Olympic Games, the Pan American Games, the World Cup Finals) is ineligible to compete in any junior or amateur-owner jumper class with the same horse for one year. Additionally, recognizing that competitions do not always offer classes for pony jumpers, an amendment was created to allow pony jumpers to compete in classes in other sections.

Out Of A Rut

For many years, people have been talking about the demise of our professional hunter sections, and just as many years have been spent applying patches to the extent that the hunter discipline could not get out of its own way. Finally, we have the courage and conviction to move beyond this stage and attack the problems head on, in a new way.

For well more than two years, a large group of dedicated equestrians has forged ahead to step outside the confines of our current world and look at the opportunities that exist to launch our sport forward in a way our members and the general public can understand. Self-reflection has not been a strength in equestrian sport, and I applaud the efforts of all the members who have helped shape the future of our sport by participating in Town Halls across the country and committee meetings, as well as emailing ideas and providing feedback on the concepts as they were being developed into rule change proposals. This was a monumental endeavor, and its approval shows everyone that we can get out of a rut and move forward. The new system relates to the realities of our current environment and introduces new components to build on what we have by focusing on the development of the horse and owner confidence.

Paving The Way For Identification

Consumer confidence has been identified as an integral part of making our sport attractive to current and potential members. Positive horse identification is one tool to assist us in achieving this goal. USHJA and federation staff members and volunteers recently participated in a meeting with several of the breed registries hosted by Summer Stoffel in Tulsa, Okla.

Summer brings to the table an incredible level of knowledge regarding breed registries and the information technology skills needed to develop and implement the components of the horse identification rules on microchipping. She’s done extensive research involving veterinarians, microchip manufacturers and experts in identification systems, debunking the myths of past discussions on this topic and paving the way for us to finally get this program underway. If we’re going to continue offering classes based on a horse’s experience and/or age, we must have a reliable and verifiable tracking system. Otherwise, the door of non-compliance remains wide open. There really is no relevant reason not to know the true identity, age and experience of a horse unless you’re looking to hide something.


Equitation Qualification

We’ve all heard about the problems regarding equitation horses and qualification, and this past year is no exception. With several riders achieving between 100 and 300 more points than needed to qualify for some of our major equitation finals, the issues of fair and level playing field, care of the horse, and sportsmanship come into question. The continued participation in equitation classes by talented riders at all levels who routinely win qualifying classes compels other riders to overshow their horses to achieve the required number of points to qualify.

If these talented riders need to keep practicing, there are many other classes available at horse shows, in addition to the lost art of practicing at home. The USHJA Equitation Task Force had a difficult road to travel and found a balanced approach to ensuring that riders had the optimum number of chances to qualify without feeling forced to show their horses into the ground. This is tough when the majority of the task force members are equitation trainers, so I commend them for setting aside personal needs for the betterment of the sport and protection of our horses.

Fortifying For The Future

USHJA has been innovative in creating partnerships with other organizations that have increased our membership in all but one year. However, member demographics continue to fluctuate, and the entire sport of equestrian, based on competition statistics, has only shown 1 percent growth in the past nine years.

Our environment continues to change, and meeting the needs of our members is crucial to long term sustainability. Current members need to feel valued, and potential members need to see value to be attracted to our sport. On Memorial Day weekend, I traveled to Saugerties, N.Y., for a meeting with Tom Struzzieri and Mary Babick, and from our discussions, the USHJA Sport Growth Task Force and Advisory Group were born. Our goal is simple: to attract new members through education, competition and value.

While the goal is simple, the process for doing this is not as simple. We need to analyze our sport and make certain we’re providing value for participants at all levels. Several ideas were presented in early concept form during our presentation at the Annual Meeting, including increasing communication about USHJA, its products and services; a riding school recognition program to embrace the seat of learning for new equestrians by recognizing and promoting these schools; the aggregation of current USHJA properties and outreach competitions into one dedicated Competitions and Properties Department; and the creation of a USHJA Championship Horse Show which would involve classes for all levels of participants in jumper, hunter and equitation. The USHJA Championship Horse Show has the unique ability to engage every member and every organizer in the qualification process. There is much more to do to fully flesh out these concepts, and we will continue to engage our members as we implement the components of our plan to grow our sport.

We’re living in an exciting time of countless opportunities to move our sport forward in ways that will ensure its future. We’re all incredibly fortunate to be able to live a life involving horses—an amazing gift, and one we should never take for granted. At the USHJA Annual Meeting, I heard a member talk about how our sport has become an industry. This person wasn’t wrong, but while it’s important to realize this and adjust our approach to managing our environment, it’s equally important to remember that our industry’s origins are in sport. This is what will keep us grounded and preserve our efforts to protect our horses, rather than treat them as a vehicle to achieve an end goal.

Bill Moroney, Keedysville, Md., served as the president of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association since its inception in 2003, and is currently taking a leave of absence to serve as the interim CEO of the U.S. Equestrian Federation. He serves on the board of directors for the USEF and is a member of various USEF committees, as well as a USEF R-rated judge.




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