Finally, it looks as if we really have a single national federation that combines the attributes of both USA Equestrian and the U.S. Equestrian Team (April 11, p. 55). Of course, several legal hurdles still have to be leaped (see In The Country), but the only specific complaint I’ve heard is the requirement that the volunteer president must have “international experience.”
This requirement certainly seems to disenfranchise a significant segment of the federation’s membership, and it eliminates the person who’s probably done the most to make this deal, USAEq Treasurer Kathy Knill Meyer, who owns Arabian show horses. I can think of several other USAEq leaders who wouldn’t be eligible since they’re involved in non-FEI disciplines’including the hunters’but bylaws aren’t immutable. In time, after the passion of the recent fight has subsided, this could be altered.
Alan Balch wasn’t directly involved in the negotiations because that’s what the USET’s leaders required. But he’s still the current federation’s president, so I called him to talk about how USAEq’s 80,000 members would notice the new creation. He believes that, initially, we won’t notice anything major because the new federation will continue to do all the things that we’ve come to expect both organizations to do well. But now, said Balch, the new federation will have, for the first time, the singular authority to market and promote equestrian sports, and he believes the possibilities are endless.
Both groups’ leaders have been fitfully attempting to market the sport for about two decades, but among the things hampering them (even before the fight) was the danger of stepping on the other’s toes. Still, the USET has made numerous sponsorship deals (including TV), and USAEq has just landed a sponsorship deal with Lexus that brings real money to specific events and to the association. Now, said Balch, the federation’s leaders will be able to use the country’s most major events, like the Rolex Kentucky CCI featured in this preview issue, the Budweiser American Invitational and the U.S. Freestyle Championships, to turn people into fans. Although he hopes many of them will become riders or owners, I don’t think that’s mandatory. After all, millions of people avidly follow NASCAR or the NFL, in person or on TV, without driving a race car or catching a pass.
Balch likes to compare riding to golf and tennis, which, like horse sports, have thousands of competitions of interest only to the participants. But they’again, like equestrian sports’each have a dozen or so events a year that are truly worth watching because of the level of play and the aura that surrounds them.
If, said Balch, the new federation can put these biggest events together in a package to sell to sponsors and TV executives, it should reduce the costs of competing at those events. And, if better promotion brings in more members to a federation that’s serving its members’ needs better than ever before because it has more financial and human resources, it should keep our dues at a steady rate for the foreseeable future.
The new federation that encompasses our horse sports from the grassroots to the international elite should also, finally, provide a clear avenue for horse-crazy kids and adults to pursue their equine dreams. I know that sounds clichÃ©d, but I regularly talk to or hear about someone who competes in or volunteers at horse trials because they saw the 1978 World Championships (p. 38) live or on TV. And just read this issue to see what that gigantic event has spawned.