Friday, May. 24, 2024

Updated: Knowlton Out, McCormick In After USHJA Whistleblower Complaint

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Longtime U.S. Hunter Jumper Association President Mary Knowlton has resigned from the presidency, eight months before her tenure was to end. President-elect Britt McCormick, who was elected by the USHJA board in December, has stepped into the role.

“I was a subject of a whistleblower complaint, which is fine,” said Knowlton, Green Cove Springs, Florida. “I think I would feel more accepting had I been allowed to answer questions and speak for myself, but I was not afforded the chance. That’s hard for someone like me.”

Mary Knowlton. Photo Courtesy of Knowlton

Knowlton declined to elaborate on the nature of the complaint.

According to the USHJA whistleblower protection policy, whistleblower complaints may be made anonymously. Four USHJA board members declined to comment.

Knowlton has served since 2016 as the president of the USHJA, an organization that was established in 2004.

“I think as the second president of a young organization I dealt with a lot of neatening and straightening, and trying to be as transparent and collaborative as I possibly could,” she said. “I hope that continues with our new leadership.

“I think the thing I’m the most proud of is making members feel heard,” she added.

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One of those ways she accomplished that was by hosting monthly USHJA Town Hall webinars. The April 22 Town Hall was canceled on Friday, April 12, and according to a USHJA spokesperson the cancellation stemmed from logistical constraints. “Mary, who was slated to lead the event, was informed internally beforehand, rendering her unable to facilitate the town hall as planned,” wrote the spokesperson in an email.

McCormick said he plans to continue with the series. The next virtual meeting is scheduled for May 20.

McCormick, who declined to elaborate on Knowlton’s resignation, said he’s ready to step into his role early.

“I’ve been doing this since before there was a USHJA,” said McCormick, McKinney, Texas. “I’ve served on the zone councils when it was [American Horse Shows Association]. I’ve been doing this a long time. The transition is mostly me just getting up to speed on the boring stuff, like internal office protocols, and who to call for what.”

Britt McCormick. Photo Courtesy Of Britt McCormick

Additionally the Equine Welfare Commission (previously the Blue Ribbon Commission), which was implemented by Knowlton and reported directly to her, will continue its work on changes that should be made to improve horse welfare in the sport.

“We’re looking forward to a report from [the commission] at the May in-person board meeting,” said McCormick.

In an emailed statement on Monday, USHJA leadership framed the situation as “changes to the organization’s presidency position,” thanking Knowlton for her service and making no mention of the complaint that led to her resignation.

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“We are excited to welcome Britt McCormick into the USHJA presidency, a role he’s been diligently preparing for many years. Britt brings a wealth of knowledge to the position and understands the unique and multifaceted needs of USHJA and our members, while bringing a fresh, yet experienced perspective to our governance processes,” USHJA Executive Director Kevin Price said in the statement. “I want to thank Mary Knowlton for her dedication to the success and growth of USHJA over the past eight years as President, and many prior years as an officer and committee member. This transition marks the start of a new chapter for our organization. Our staff is ready to support Britt immediately and continue driving programs and resources benefitting our membership base.” 

As for Knowlton, she’s unsure what the future holds.

“I am looking for a new job, and I am remaining open to all opportunities,” she said. “I am a big believer in giving back. I’m sure I will find something to do that will afford me the chance to give back.”

April 16 3:30 p.m. Eastern: This story was updated to reflect details about the cancellation of the April 22 USHJA Town Hall.

April 18 2 p.m. Eastern: The USHJA responded to questions about the procedure by which Britt McCormick became president after Mary Knowlton’s resignation. According to Article 601 of the USHJA bylaws if a president can’t finish his or her term the national vice president will take over, but in this case the presidency went to the president-elect.

“The office of President became vacant at a time when the USHJA membership had already voted for, and chosen, their next President,” wrote a USHJA representative in an email. “Following Article 601 as it was written would have required the Vice President to become President, only to have the current President-elect take over in approximately six months. Out of respect for the membership’s voice and in the interest of continuity across USHJA, the Board voted to amend Article 601 to allow for a President-elect to accede to the Presidency immediately in this situation. That amendment will be published soon.”

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