If you ride and compete or are involved with horse showing in some way, then chances are you’ve been in a situation where the current U.S. Equestrian Federation rules just weren’t working for you. So what happens next? How does an idea for a rule change make its way from tack room chatter to permanent inscription in the USEF Rule Book?
Jennifer Keeler finds out by following the journey of the Chronicle’s fictional Dressage Queen as she travels to the USEF Annual Meeting and discovers how the rule change process works. If you’re feeling a little lost, take a moment to enjoy the Schoolhouse Rock “I’m Just A Bill.”
Dressage Queen: Wow! That sure was quite a trip to the USEF Annual Meeting here in Lexington, Ky. But I wonder who that sad little scrap of paper is?
Rule Change Proposal: Hi! I’m an RCP, which stands for Rule Change Proposal. It’s been a long journey and a lot of discussion about me, but I’m here so that the Board of Directors can make a final decision about whether or not I get to become a full-fledged rule!
DQ: Geez, RCP, you certainly have a lot of patience and courage to go through this process.
RCP: Well I got this far. When I started, I wasn’t even a written proposal; I was just an idea. Some folks back home decided that they wanted to see a rule passed to require helmets for dressage competition. So those folks e-mailed their regional representatives and committee members, and they responded, “You’re right, there oughtta be a rule for this.”
So the Dressage Committee wrote me and introduced me to USEF. That’s how I became an official Rule Change Proposal, and I’ll remain an RCP until they decide to make me a full-fledged rule. It’s certainly been a long process to get here, but I know they’ll vote to approve me as a rule some day. At least I hope and pray that they’ll see, but today I am still just an RCP.
DQ: So why are you here by yourself?
RCP: Oh, there are other RCPs like me, but they’re scattered around in various committees who are getting together during this USEF Annual Meeting. But we’re the lucky ones.
RCP: Lots of other good ideas never even get submitted, so they never get a chance to be considered for a future rule. While a lot of RCPs are submitted by various breed and discipline committees and affiliates, many people don’t realize that anyone who is a member of USEF and has a good idea to help improve the sport can easily submit that idea to become an RCP. Every idea can make a difference.
DQ: So how did you get here?
RCP: After the Dressage Committee wrote me and submitted me to the USEF office, I became quite popular once I was posted on their website. People got to review what I stood for and send feedback to USEF and the Dressage Committee. I also had a chance to make an appearance at the U.S. Dressage Federation Annual Convention last month. They held a rule change forum there, and people got to talk about me and other RCPs. Everyone has an opinion!
DQ: But listen to those Committee members arguing! Is all that discussion and debate about you?
RCP: Yes! RCP’s like me are taken very seriously by the committees that review them. The Dressage Committee has to take into consideration any comments written about me by those members who wrote in through the USEF website, and they also have to discuss feedback received from the USDF Convention. In addition, the Committee has to decide what the best effective date for me would be, since they have to allow enough time to be able to inform exhibitors about the new rule. All of this information helps them make what they believe is the best decision for fairness of competition and the sport. I hope they decide to report on me favorably, otherwise I may get revised, or even die.
RCP: Yeah, die in committee. If, after taking all feedback into consideration, the committee doesn’t believe that I am in the best interest of dressage competitors, then I may be disapproved, or even withdrawn and then die. But oh, it sounds like they’re voting to approve me!
DQ: Now what happens?
RCP: Well, since I stand for a very important and complicated issue, I’ve been referred to other committees for their vote, such as the Safety Committee, Steward and Technical Delegate Committee and Legal Review. And at any point I may be revised into a new draft, or other committees may recommend changes. If I am changed at any time, then the whole review process starts over again.
DQ: Oh no!
RCP: Oh yes! RCPs like me may impact other areas of the sport besides dressage, and any possible affected parties are given a chance to review me in my latest form. And Legal has to make sure that if I become a rule, that my language is clear, that I can actually be enforced, and see if there are any other legal ramifications or financial impact to the Federation.
DQ: Then what?
RCP: Finally, after everyone reviews me, I get to go to the Board of Directors. Some RCPs are voted upon as part of the “consent calendar,” which is like a fast-track for a vote, but only if all parties are in agreement for approving or disapproving a particular RCP. But since I’m a sensitive issue, I think I’ll have to go before the entire Board of Directors, and they may not approve me.
DQ: You mean even if all the committees say you should be a rule, the Board of Directors can still say no?
RCP: That’s right. The Board takes quite a bit of time to review RCPs like me and sometimes there’s quite a debate. I could be changed right there on the floor of the discussion. But if the Board disapproves me, I die. Sometimes the Board will refer an RCP back to the proponent and various committees to be revised, and then I would have to be presented again at a future Board or Executive Committee meeting. But when that happens, sometimes an RCP can go back and forth several times, and by that time an RCP can get so old…
DQ: By that time it’s unlikely that you’ll become a rule. It’s not easy to become a rule, is it?
RCP: No! But after traveling all this way, I’ve learned so much from the process and hope I get approved so I can do my best for the sport! How I hope and I pray that they will see, but today I am still just an RCP…
Jennifer M. Keeler is the former National Director of Dressage for the USEF. She lives in Lexington, Ky., and competes in hunters and pleasure driving with her palomino Quarter Horse, Whistlin Dixi Time and her rescued Hackney pony Harpo.