From The Magazine: Is My Instagram Feed Compromising My Amateur Status?

Aug 12, 2017 - 6:35 PM

For website A_Amateur Rules_jw-1In this age of social media there are more pitfalls than ever when it comes to staying on the right side of the amateur rule.

Hang around a horse show long enough, and you’re bound to hear it: angry whispers about who shouldn’t be competing in an amateur division.

Despite a recent re-write meant to clarify GR1306, the so-called “amateur rule,” there are still plenty of questions on the table about who is allowed to compete in such divisions.

Much of the confusion comes from misunderstanding about the term “remuneration.” The U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Rule Book defines the term in GR1306.2: “Remuneration. Remuneration is defined as compensation or payment in any form such as cash, goods, sponsorships, discounts or services; reimbursement of any expenses; trade or in-kind exchange of goods or services such as board or training.”

The latest gray area that’s keeping the USEF regulation department busy? Questions about the internet and social media.

As social media continues to serve as a major marketing force—in our July 24 Readers’ Choice issue, respondents selected Facebook as their No. 1 preference for horse sales, ahead of many professional sites built for that purpose—there are lots of new questions flooding the inbox.

First on the list? Brand ambassador programs. While individual programs differ, most involve equestrian companies recruiting social media savvy “brand ambassadors” to promote their company’s products on social media and pass along individual tracking or discount codes to friends. In exchange for this Gonzo marketing, the ambassadors receive company discounts or free gear, depending on how many others use their codes to buy products.

It should be said that a few organizations have brand ambassador programs focused on building community or raising awareness, not selling goods. For example, Sarah Mahoney’s blog,, brings together amateur riders facing similar struggles balancing family, horses, work and social lives. When the blog took off, she designed a brand ambassador program after reaching out to the USEF about how to construct a program that wouldn’t violate the amateur rule. Adult Ammy Strong Ambassadors blog about their experiences and spread the word about the website. Ambassadors who wear Adult Ammy Strong gear buy it full price from Mahoney.

While GR1306 is a universal rule that applies to all breeds and disciplines, it’s most vexing in the hunter/jumper world, where large, competitive divisions restricted to amateurs thrive. The U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s Amateur Task Force re-wrote the rule last time around, and they’re not done yet.

“While GR1306 was revamped for the 2013 season, since then social media has continued to gain credibility and grow as a marketing tool, with implications that affect the amateurs,” said Tracey Weinberg, chair of the task force. “With that in mind, we as a committee will be working to tighten up the rule around issues of marketing and brand ambassadorships. Our goal is to have a rule change proposal for 2019.”

The USEF regulation department fields inquiries about situations relating to amateur status, and they reviewed a selection of questions that regularly come their way for the Chronicle.

Note: Each of these scenarios assumes that all other qualifications for amateur certification have been met.

I am a brand ambassador for a company that gives me discounts on their products in exchange for promotion of the products on my social media or with my friends. Am I an amateur?

No. Amateurs are not permitted to receive any form of remuneration (discounted products in this scenario) in connection with using their association as a horse person to advertise or promote the sale of products. (See GR1306.4d.)

I am a brand ambassador for an organization with the sole purpose of building community. The organization gives me no products or discounts of any kind. Am I an amateur?

Yes. As long as the amateur is not receiving remuneration she is permitted to use social media to help increase an organization’s social media following.

I own and operate an equestrian blog. Companies send me free products to review and keep. Am I an amateur?

No. Amateurs are not permitted to receive remuneration (free products in this scenario) in exchange for positive reviews or promotion of the products to be sold. (See GR1306.4d.)

I own and operate an equestrian blog. I buy products at full price, then review and keep them. Am I an amateur?

Yes. The rules do not prohibit amateurs from reviewing and promoting products they have purchased.

I own a blog where equestrian companies pay to advertise. Am I an amateur?

Yes. Amateurs are permitted to own blogs where companies pay to advertise.

I regularly tag equestrian companies in my social media posts. They do not compensate me in any way, but sometimes they do share my posts. Am I an amateur?

Yes. Amateurs are permitted to tag equestrian companies on their social media posts, as long as they are not receiving any form of remuneration for doing so.

An equestrian company posted a photo of me without my knowledge and called me out by name for using their products. I was not compensated in any way. Am I an amateur?

Yes. The amateur is not receiving remuneration and had no knowledge of the post, therefore her amateur status would not be in jeopardy.

My trainer is sponsored by an equestrian company, and she gave me some of the shirts the company gave her. Does this compromise my amateur status?

Yes. Having the trainer receive the product and then give it to the amateur to wear and promote the company would jeopardize amateur status.

I have a website advertising my horses for sale. Am I an amateur?

Yes. Amateurs are permitted to advertise and sell horses they own.

I’m a professional hunter/jumper rider and decided to give eventing a try. When I enter my first competition, may I compete in an amateur division?

The rules regarding amateur/professional status are in the federation’s General Rules and encompass all breeds/disciplines; therefore, if you hold professional status you cannot compete in a new breed/discipline as an amateur. Your status is based on the totality of your horse-related activities and is not specific to each breed/discipline.

I’m a college student spending my summer as a working student. My duties are mostly grooming and caring for horses, but I also ride horses to the ring on a long rein and longe horses for customers. Am I an amateur?

No. If you are receiving remuneration and riding horses that are connected to your employer then you would be deemed a professional under the rules. (See GR1306.4a, GR1306.4c and GR1306.4j.)

A friend went out of town for a month and asked me to hack her horses while she was gone. She gave me a lovely gift when she returned. May I accept the gift and keep my amateur status?

Yes.  Amateurs are permitted to receive a non-monetary token gift of appreciation valued less than $300 annually. Assuming the gift was under $300 the amateur would be allowed to accept it. (See GR1306.3f.)

May I teach beginner lessons to my friend’s children without getting paid and keep my amateur status?

Yes. Amateurs are permitted to teach lessons so long as they are not receiving any form of remuneration (note remuneration is not just financial compensation).

I am aiming for my U.S. Pony Clubs HA certification, which requires me to teach lessons. Pony Club is a 501©3 organization. May I work toward my certification by teaching lessons and keep my amateur status?

If you are receiving any form of remuneration for teaching lessons then you are not permitted to hold amateur status regardless of the certifications or programs with which you are associated.

May I sell a horse I own for a profit and keep my amateur status? How many horses a year may I sell and keep my amateur status?

Amateurs are permitted to buy and sell horses they own for profit. The rules do not set a limit as to how many horses an amateur may buy or sell.

May I get a scholarship from a university to ride on their equestrian team and keep my amateur status?

If you’re riding for a collegiate team, we recommend that you contact the university and/or the NCAA regarding restrictions on scholarships. The USEF rules do not preclude you from accepting a scholarship to ride for a university while holding amateur status.

May I do a work-study program at my university that involves barn work and riding horses for rehabilitation and keep my amateur status?

Yes, provided that you have never held professional status with the federation and that you are receiving college credit or working as part of your course requirements. (See GR1306.3g.)

May I teach lessons and donate the money to charity and keep my amateur status?

If you receive remuneration for teaching you are not considered an amateur. The fact that you decide to donate your earning does not negate the rule. (See GR1306.4a and GR1306.4b.)

I am an intermediate-level rider who just earned a sponsorship from a local tack store. May I keep my amateur status?

No. Amateurs are not permitted to have sponsors. (See GR1306.4d.)

My parents run a full-care training barn and just took in a sales horse speculatively (i.e. without receiving board or training fees). The deal is that if and when the horse is sold my parents will get a commission. May I show the horse in an amateur division?

No. An amateur cannot ride a horse for which a family member is or will receive remuneration for boarding, training, riding, driving or showing. (See GR1306.4f and GR1306.4g.)

Note from the USEF: Please be advised that this office only gives advisory opinions, not binding opinions, regarding the rules. Ultimately, when a protest or charge is brought to the federation, it is the Hearing Committee that applies facts and circumstances to the relevant rules and determines whether or not the facts constitute a violation of the rules.An amateur cannot ride a horse for which a family member is or will receive remuneration for boarding, training, riding, driving or showing. (See GR1306.4f and GR1306.4g.)

The federation is often asked to provide guidance regarding the rules, and we try to be of assistance when the rules seem to have clear application to a described situation. It should be noted, however, that the opinion expressed by a federation staff member, of any capacity, would not be binding on the Hearing Committee.

There are often many varying circumstances behind each person’s status, and it is difficult to make a definite determination on a person’s status if the federation does not have all the relevant information regarding the matter.

If anyone has questions or would like to have a clarification on the specifics of a situation to stay in compliance with the rules, we recommend that he or she send an e-mail to where we can make a determination with the facts provided whether he or she would be considered an amateur or professional.

If you’re just following COTH online, you’re missing so much great unique content. Each print issue of the Chronicle is full of in-depth competition news, fascinating features, probing looks at issues within the sports of hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage, and stunning photography.

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