Saturday, May. 25, 2024

Freestyle Rule Causes Controversy And Confusion At USDF Convention



Salt Lake City—Dec. 1

On Dec. 1, a new dressage rule—DR129.9, which states “in order to enter a freestyle class at any level, a horse/rider combination must have received a minimum score of 63 [percent] in the highest test of the declared freestyle level or any test of a higher level” —went into effect, raising the required percentage over the previous score of 60 percent.

But on the same day, the U.S. Dressage Federation board of governors at the Adequan USDF Annual Convention voted to ask the U.S. Equestrian Federation Dressage Sport Committee to rescind that new rule over concerns with both the process in which the rule was enacted and the content of the rule itself.

The USEF board passed DR129.9 as an extraordinary rule change at its mid-year meeting in June. The reason for that, according to USDF representatives, was to align the rule with the new 2019 dressage tests. But many board of governors members resented that the rule was passed without more BOG input—and without some even knowing about it until after it was written into the USEF Rulebook.


The USDF board of governors met Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Salt Lake City. Lisa Slade Photos

According to a USDF statement released on the first day of the board of governors meeting, the rule was discussed in the USDF Freestyle and Judges Committees for several years as both groups noted “the technical proficiency that seemed to be missing in some freestyles.” This spring, the USDF Judges Committee sent a proposal to the USDF Executive Board to increase the score to 63 percent. That proposal was then forwarded to the USEF Dressage Sport Committee as a proposed rule change.

“In the proposal that was reviewed by the USDF Executive Board, the committee indicated the prerequisite score is meant to show proficiency at the declared level,” stated the USDF release. “The committee members agreed that the 60 percent prerequisite score no longer shows proficiency at the declared level and a prerequisite score of 63 percent would raise the overall quality of freestyle tests throughout the country.”

Though the USDF committee didn’t specifically request the rule pass as an extraordinary rule change, the group did note the desire for it to be enacted at the same time the new dressage tests went into effect on Dec. 1, 2018.

“That request was taken into consideration,” said USEF Managing Dressage Director Hallye Griffin, “and because of that, to have it be effective [at the same time as the tests], it had to be an extraordinary rule change.”


Several BOG members stood up to express displeasure with the process.

“I think the bar should be raised,” said Barbara Cadwell. “I think 63 percent is appropriate. However, that’s not the issue before us. The issue is, ‘Was it appropriately implemented?’ Any discussion of, ‘Should it be raised? How much should it be raised? Should it be raised for adult amateurs?’ That’s not appropriate right now. The issue is, ‘What is the USDF?’ It’s not the Judge’s Committee. The Freestyle Committee is not the USDF. The USDF Executive Board is not the USDF. It is a creature of this group. I believe this was inappropriately implemented.

“Go do it right,” she continued. “I’ll be happy if it’s done right. I anticipate the USEF will totally ignore us. That doesn’t matter. I want to publicly smack the back of their hand. I don’t want them to get away with this next time.”


And others did object to the raising of the prerequisite score. Though the USDF release stated the change would affect 9 percent of competitors, at all levels, from training to Grand Prix, some noted it would unfairly impact certain groups.

“We’re a club of less than 75 people. Most are nobodies. These are people for whom a $1,000 horse is a big purchase; a $7,000 horse is an extravagance,” said Jane Marie Law of Cayuga Dressage & Combined Training in New York. “They breed horses in their backyards. We have one [USDF] gold medal recipient.

“The problem is this rule may only affect 10 percent of people, and it may not affect many at all, and maybe a raise in score is appropriate,” she continued. “But that 10 percent disproportionally affects poor, rural clubs like mine. The process here was a travesty. My club does pay attention. This came out of nowhere to people.”

Before the start of the board of governors meeting, during the USEF Open Forum, FEI five-star judge Gary Rockwell spoke passionately about the necessity of raising the bar for all dressage competitors.


“Over the years, the standards for everything has moved forward,” he said. “We don’t want to leave people who need the most help behind. Everyone should improve; we should move forward as a group. I would be embarrassed to fight the idea of improving my students. I’d think, ‘I can’t product a lower-level rider and horse to a 63 percent?’ I’d have to get a little busy helping my own education and helping my students. It’s not unreasonable. I don’t want to fight it.

“If you feel you’re being punished, you’re only being punished by your own education,” he continued. “If you only had 62.9 percent last year, so what if you have to wait one show to compete your freestyle? Is that a tragedy compared to what else happens with horses in this world?”

The final vote on the motion, which stated the group “move the [USDF] Executive Board to be directed to submit an extra rule change request to the USEF to rescind the Extraordinary Rule Change to DR129.9 under GR152.3,” passed with a tally of 952 yes votes, 471 no votes, and 25 abstentions.

As for what happens next? No one is quite sure. First the USDF BOG request will go back to the USEF Dressage Sport Committee for consideration.

“They can either approve it and move it forward as a rule change proposal, which, if they do it as a regular rule change, can take up to two years because of the process,” said outgoing USDF President George Williams, who also noted the group could consider it as another extraordinary rule change, which would take less time. “But the rule is in place, and it could be forever, or it could be for two years. None of us really know how it would be handled. This has never happened before. It may be it serves as a slap on the wrist to say, ‘Don’t do this again.’ ”

As for now, the new rule stands.

Read the Dec. 24 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse for a full report from the USDF Convention.




Follow us on


Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse