Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2024

Meet The USHJA Presidential Candidates: DiAnn Langer And Britt McCormick

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On Sept. 11 the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association board of directors will elect the next president of the USHJA. The winner of the election will spend a year and a few months working with current president Mary Knowlton getting up to speed on the inner workings of the USHJA, then take over the presidency in December 2024.

Two candidates are vying to become the third president of the organization as it approaches its 20th anniversary: Britt McCormick and DiAnn Langer. Both are experienced equestrians who have dedicated years to working in governance.

DiAnn Langer

Langer grew up in California and rode in Nations Cup competition for the U.S. Equestrian Team. While she ran her show stable Langtree out of the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, Langer served as the president of four organizations: the Los Angeles Horse Show Association, the California Professional Horsemen’s Association, the CPHA Foundation and the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association.

DiAnn Langer. Mollie Bailey Photo

Under her leadership, the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association successfully demanded better footing from organizers, helped show managers revamp the nightwatch system, assisted members with getting visas for staff and implemented two highly popular medal finals: the PCHA Horsemanship Finals 14 and under Medal Finals and the Onondarka Medal Finals, among other accomplishments.

In 2013 Langer started working for the U.S. Equestrian Federation as a young rider chef d’equipe. She worked with developing riders as well until settling into her current role as the USEF youth chef d’equipe and youth technical advisor. She has worked on a variety of USEF and USHJA committees, and currently serves as the non-voting advisor to the USHJA Emerging Jumper Rider Task Force. She works to bring the breeding and development of young horses into the spotlight, and she holds her ‘R’ judge’s card in hunter, equitation and jumper disciplines.

Langer lives in Johnston, South Carolina, with her husband Dan Levine. She owns Red Top Farm, which she runs alongside her daughter, fellow Nations Cup veteran Kirsten Coe.

Britt McCormick

McCormick opened his first barn in 1989, and he ran Elmstead Farm out of the same location in Parker, Texas, for 26 years. These days he’s largely handed management of Elmstead over to his son, Stone McCormick, who with Natalie Stoyko trains out of their Stonewall Farm in McKinney, Texas.

Britt has his ‘R’ judges card in hunter, equitation and hunter breeding, and he’s a ‘R’ rated hunter course designer working towards his ‘R’ in jumper judging. He used to run horse shows and be a managing partner of a show facility near Dallas.

Britt McCormick. Photo Courtesy Of Britt McCormick

He’s served on many USHJA committees and task forces, and currently he is a member of the planning committee, executive committee, board of directors, Emerging Jumper Rider Task Force, Hunter Working Group and the International Derby and Incentive Task Force, which he chairs. He is involved with the USEF, where he serves on the National Hunter Committee and the Nominating Committee, and he also is the chair of the National Breeds And Disciplines Council.

Britt is married to Rachel McCormick and has two children.

The Chronicle asked McCormick and Langer a series of questions about their vision for the USHJA. What follows is a transcript of those conversations, edited for length and clarity.

Why are you interested in the USHJA presidency?

McCormick: I have been involved in governance in general since the mid ’80s, starting with the Texas Hunter Jumper Association. I’ve been part of USHJA since its inception; I was at the first annual meeting. I’ve been a long-time volunteer starting with the first planning committee that [former USHJA president] Bill [Moroney] formed. That’s where I got started.

I’ve served on nearly every task force on the jumper side and the hunter side, and I’ve been the chair or vice chair for most of them. Governance and management of the sport is very important to me. If you don’t pay attention to it, and you don’t help guide it, it falls apart. The presidency is something I’ve worked toward for the last 12 years with that as a goal. The sport knowledge? That part I’ve got, I’ve had; I’ve lived it.

We’re a multimillion [dollar] organization, and we need to work on that as well. Four years ago I went back to school to earn my masters degree in management, and I finished it last year—I wasn’t in a huge hurry. I’d gone back to school and got my undergraduate degree in organizational leadership. All that helped me figure out what we do well and what we don’t do well, as a business and an association.

I think we’re at a point where we can’t just sit still—we have staffing issues, IT issues; we’re managing millions of dollars a year in funds; we’re outgrowing our building. It’s a huge corporation that requires a lot of deep knowledge in certain places. I think it’s really important to know who to go to and find experts in the fields that you’re not as knowledgeable in.

Langer: I’ve been putting horses in the ring and/or working for USEF for a long time, so I’m in the field a lot. I’ve been here in the U.S., mostly, but also other places like Europe, South America, Canada.

I believe that our members are really wondering what USHJA is about. They’re not understanding the USHJA’s role, and I feel that many are kind of unhappy with that, when you start talking to them about importance of USHJA as the recognized affiliate.

Four years ago I was asked to run [for president], and I turned it down. I felt it wasn’t time. I feel that in the last 20 years the USHJA was able to build out what a recognized affiliate looks like, as did all of the other disciplines. For me they did their job: They built programs; they filled in spots where there were weaknesses; they reached out to every level. They were very program-oriented. The discussion has been lacking—or information has been lacking—about why the USHJA is important to members. What is it doing for you?

That drove me—and also I was asked by many—to run this year. Some people felt they needed a different perspective. That suited me. I’ve been president of four other organizations, each of them with different bylaws and agendas. It was important in each organization that they move forward into the future. What are we going to be in next five, 10, 15 years, the next 20 years, seeing how the anniversary is coming up of the 20th year. It was important to me at this point in my career that I raise my hand and step up if I felt I could do a very good job of bringing and connecting USHJA with its members. That is my personal agenda, to make that connection.

How would you describe your approach to governance?

McCormick: Collaborative. I’m a firm believer in active listening. I think it’s important that the leader of an organization as diverse as ours gets as much information from as many places around the country as possible. We have a lot of smart people in our industry, and you have to go out of your way to get as much info as you possibly can. You also have to be willing to make hard decisions, which I can do.

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Langer: I believe when you raise your hand and say you would like to be considered for a committee, a task force, the board, those are all people bringing forward their expertise in their field, whether it’s outreach or school programs or whatever. Someone raising their hand who is very involved in that part of our industry is a greater help than all of ours on a board and any other committees that are not participating in that particular program.

I disagree with anyone that says, “I know everything about every committee.” That’s impossible. I know how many programs there are. I know how many task forces there are. It’s overwhelming. To think that you know well about outreach programs, and therefore 1.40-meter and/or an international hunter derby or down in the 3’ adult ring, I don’t think that’s entirely possible. You can be aware, but you cannot say, “I have knowledge of everything.”

For me I’m just leading the discussion. I’m presenting questions. I’m asking for information back from their expertise. I expect that everyone knows a little bit about everything else and a lot about their subject. That’s how we move forward.

What are some of the biggest challenges you believe the USHJA is facing today, and how do you propose addressing them?

McCormick: There are two parts to that. There’s the corporation side of it. We have huge business operations. We have issues with building space, with IT, all the things that go into running a multimillion-dollar corporation that need to be addressed.

You’ve also got the way that the association deals with the USEF. It’s been an uncomfortable partnership for a little while. That is a priority for me. I’m chair of the USEF National Breeds and Disciplines Council. That’s given me a global viewpoint, dealing with the breeds and seeing how they interact with the federation. I want the USHJA to be the best affiliate and partner that we can possibly be. We have to support each other. That’s a huge component for me starting out.

With the federation, a lot of it is personal—I get along with [USEF CEO Bill Moroney] and [USEF President] Tom [O’Mara]—and a lot of it is personality-based. I’m a collaborator and active listener; I believe in being able to negotiate and doing what’s best for everyone involved.

On the sport side my passion is sport growth. I believe in strengthening the top level of the sport. The jumpers are pretty good, and the jumper programs are getting stronger and doing really well, and the growth just needs to keep going. On the hunter side we need to be putting a lot of effort into reintegrating and restructuring, creating the same interest level in the upper-level hunter riders as upper-level jumper riders. We need to have a fan base, have some heroes, some cool athletes to follow. That part has been stagnating. As chair of the International Hunter Derby and Incentive Task Force, we’re thinking about new initiatives and getting more involvement.

Langer: I think social license, and also our relationship with USEF. There has to be a working relationship with USEF—which appointed [the USHJA as] the official affiliate, so let’s be respectful. The social license is a big thing, and going forward we need to take the lead in promoting the welfare of the athlete and the welfare of the horse.

While I have worked many hours for USHJA, I’ve also worked for USEF; I’m quite clear about that. It’s given me an insider’s view of some of the issues that go on. I have no problem having respectful conversations with all of them. And the same with USHJA.

[We’ve been talking about] social license around the world. Bringing the community into horse sport and making them welcome around horse sport and stop talking about how elite it is, but rather how important the horse is to society, is very important to me, as well as the history of a horse and what the horse does for human health and wellbeing. I’d like to see the conversation change and have it more about the horse and what it does for humans.

When we talk about elite, it’s about high performance in any sport. I have learned through my many classes at the [U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee] that “elite” can be a negative term, no matter what sport you’re in. Soccer, swimming, skiing, yachting, baseball—at the top you can call them elite. But at the very top of every sport—including in schools, which is a concern now with reducing of athletic sports—it’s expensive. It’s not just our sport, it’s every sport, buying team uniforms for traveling teams is expensive for parents.

How do you plan to foster an environment where members can have their concerns heard?

McCormick: I’m out in the field, and I travel all over the country. People can always call me, email me, find me. I’m not sure on the social media side what the best way to communicate is. [Current USHJA President] Mary [Knowlton] had the [virtual] town halls, which were a great idea. I prefer to do in-person town halls.

My plan is to try to travel around, especially initially and in the interim year if I’m elected, and meet people and listen to them, not just at big horse shows but little horse shows, medium horse shows, all over the country. Our sport is different in every single part of the country, whether you’re in Nebraska, California, Texas, New York and so on. I want to try to make sure the sport grows in ways that are important to everyone.

Langer: First of all I’ve had big support for moving forward to try to earn the right to be president of the USHJA. And it starts with meeting the people, traveling to where they are.

I also feel strongly that you cannot have a conflict of interest. Members cannot get a real or a perceived idea that you have a conflict. I have no conflicts of interest, none. Having worked for USEF as their youth chef d’equipe and earlier at the developing rider level, it was imperative I not have a conflict of interest. I’ve learned the importance of that and the integrity it brings.

Secondly, I believe it’s a full-time job. If I’m president, this is my job. I will not judge. I will not be training riders.

Yes, I have a farm with retired horses and young horses. But I have an assistant and barn manager, and on day-to-day stuff I’m not consulted; I don’t need to be. I have a great daughter, and we have many young horses, most of which I own, unfortunately. She does that; I have an assistant that manages the farm, and I have a barn manager and five or six other people. I just write their paychecks. I am able to focus just on this and have complete support from my family to do this, which is important. That leaves me to go and do the things that are necessary.

After that I want the committees that are working on particular programs to be able to bring to the meetings what they hear on the ground, what they hear going into the ring, and why. Right now in the jumper world, many of us in the field are discussing that it’s boring. There are the same fences, same post-and-rails—even though they’re oxers—and the same classes no matter where you go. Talking to course designers, building the course designers’ resumes and education are very important going forward. Same with judges and stewards—reaching out with education to address a lot of issues people are having with the hunters.

You start gathering info by being approachable, and for members to know this is your job, that there is no other personal agenda other than being president of USHJA. If you can’t reach them, they will find the USHJA irrelevant.

How do you feel about the channel system that debuted for the 2023 show season?

McCormick: I was instrumental in helping create the channel system. I’m a fan. There are a couple things I would have done differently. It could have used a year of study before it was rolled out. If we’d had a year to work the kinks out, we would have benefited from it, but there are a lot of things about the channel system that are huge for sport growth.

I think everyone was hit upside the head with it. I don’t think a lot of people have really understood how many cool things you can do with it. I think it needs a little more time, has some more tweaking to do. I think it’s one of those things that, five to 10 years down the road, will be great.

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Langer: I don’t think we know yet. I’m very pro B [regional I] shows and even the old C [regional II] shows. I feel that many people need those shows because they’re more affordable. Just like we’re tying to work the outreach program to be more affordable. Taking a look at that maybe next year is an important idea, because we don’t have enough information yet.

I’m clearly very involved with Zone 10 [California and Nevada]. I stay in contact with that area, and the USEF sends me there often for jumper trials, so I know what they feel is important. It’s knowing what Zone 1 [Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut] feels, and all the other zones. Knowing if the channel system is in fact making it easier to participate, more affordable and a place where development can take place.

Back when I was doing so much training and so much riding myself, those B shows were priceless. Taking your young horses to the big shows—it’s really out of the budget for many. Making sure we’re looking across the diversity within our membership and seeing if we’re actually making it more affordable, with easier access and less travel, is going to be important.

Let’s find out what’s going on in all our local affiliates with USHJA. There’s a lot of work to do; a lot of work that will tell us whether or not it’s working or if it’s failing. If it’s failing, fix it. But we don’t have that information yet.

Horse sports’ social license to operate has become a hot topic for all disciplines. What are some of the biggest challenges within hunter/jumper sport and how do you propose to address them?

McCormick: I was at the USEF Annual Meeting when [USEF Chief of Sport] David O’Connor started this topic with us there. It’s one of those things where I think if we all just take a half a second and think about why we do this sport and why we are involved with these animals and why we congregate at competitions, it will take us in the right direction.

When we start walking on that line of [doing something that would be detrimental to] social license to operate, it’s usually because we’re doing something we shouldn’t be doing. We need to do a better job of policing ourselves. When you see something that goes against what we should be doing, you’ve got to take care of it, and we have to make an example of them. Don’t be afraid to call someone out if they’re cheating, abusive or mean. There’s not a place in our world for that.

[Ask yourself] is this what’s best for my horse? Is this what’s best for our riders? Is this what’s best for me?

We take care of these animals in a way people outside the sport don’t understand. We need to do a better job of promoting what we do. The original conservationists are farmers. “Social license to operate” is a weird term, and with it people immediately go to the negative. But we are conserving green spaces, providing homes for these animals and adding billions to the economy in a positive way.

Langer: I’m very aware of the social license issue. It’s bigger than anything else going forward. We have to [work on it] in collaboration with USEF and other organizations. I don’t care if you’re riding an Arab, a Morgan, an endurance horse, driving a horse—we all have to understand social license. Connecting with racing at the USEF Annual Meeting was so eye-opening.

I’m big on horse welfare. I think we need to address several things: weather, disease, migration, how many horses are at a horse show—these are important things that are hot button topics in making sure we have horse welfare.

The other part I believe is in community outreach. The horse community needs to understand the meaning of why public opinion is so important. [The public isn’t] going to be OK [with what we do] unless we make sure that we’re doing what is right.

We don’t want horse shows where no one’s in the stands, no one’s understanding what is going on in their community. That’s why it’s important to bring the community in so that they’re able to get up close and personal, and that you’re talking to them. I’ve suggested that they have youth sport days.

In the past I’ve had school days at my farm in California, and schools have come, and the kids bring their lunch, the quiet horses are able to be brushed, and they spend the afternoon touching an animal. Watching their faces is unbelievable. Children tell parents about their exciting day. They draw pictures and post them and send you thank you notes. And it is exciting to watch. Let’s see what we can get done. I think reaching the community that way will be beneficial.

We will never win over 100% of people—no organization will; no business will—it’s not possible. What suits one will is not suit everyone. Understanding that, and finding a way to have a conversation that’s positive 100% of the time is important for the community at large.

We have to address professional licensing, which we don’t like. We don’t feel we need oversight like that. So let’s go to credentials then. The certification program was a great start, however it doesn’t really address qualifications where credentials do. So I’d like to look into that more which will go to social license. They will say, “This person knows.”

That’s a big subject, one that is not going to be solved overnight, but we’ll start now.

Are there specific changes to programs you’d like to see within the USHJA?

McCormick: I tend to let the task forces figure that out. I would like to see the USHJA start to bundle programs together so they’re a better product for a manager. Our system of applying for and being granted programs drives me insane.

We do not go after the best competitions. We don’t promote our programs well enough. I don’t feel like we support our programs as best we could.

So it’s not so much changes to programs specifically, more like changes to the entire process involving programs.

Langer: There are, but here again, they’re my opinions without input of the committees and their issues. They’re my opinions that I’ve formed based on my discussion with people that are at the ring. Professionals, amateurs, juniors—some of them—have strong opinions. I like talking to older pros who have all the history and then the young pros and what they went through a few years ago.

I’ve had so many hunters, and my own daughter loved riding hunters and was very successful. I want to promote those special hunters being the top athletes they are. I want to see them on the world stage. I want to see a bigger acknowledgement of what they are, and of the difficulty of putting one them together. That focus on that top end of the hunters is imperative, something about promoting specialty of international hunter derbies as a specialty. They make me excited, and I want to have hunters that do that.

USHJA members who would like to express their opinions on the presidential election to the board in advance of its Sept. 11 vote can do so by emailing feedback@ushja.org.

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