Mileage Rule Under Siege In USEF Rules-Change Proposals

Jan 19, 2009 - 4:16 AM

One man hopes to make a revolutionary change at the U.S. Equestrian Federation convention this month. But it won’t be the only debatable topic.

The rules-change proposals submitted to the U.S. Equestrian Federation this year reflect the need to revisit, revise or reconstruct some crucial rules that govern the disciplines under the umbrella of new organization, especially in the hunter/jumper, dressage and eventing communities.

All rules-change proposals will undergo full discussion and be voted on by the Board of Directors at the USEF’s first convention, at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles on Jan. 14-18.

Article 214, otherwise known as the mileage rule, is arguably the most controversial rule in the hunter/jumper industry. (This rule also applies to dressage competitions.) This year, it’s under heavy fire from Gregory Sancoff, owner of Silver Oaks Stables and show facility in Hampton Falls, N.H.

Sancoff submitted three proposals that range in action from complete elimination of the rule, to reducing the distance between recognized competitions permitted to run on the same dates, and, lastly, a proposal to prevent a competition that runs for more than seven days from being entitled to the mileage rule.

The current rule prevents A-rated hunter-jumper show managers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Con-necticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania from running shows on the same dates within a 125-mile radius. Lower-rated shows have a smaller distance requirement, and A-rated shows in all other states have a 250-mile minimum.

But section 7 of the rule states, “The mileage restrictions set forth in 214.1, 214.2, and 214.3 will not prevent two competitions from being approved if the two competitions have different management and the competition with priority gives written permission, to be renewed annually, and the mileage distance is at least 10 miles.”

Sancoff was directly confronted with the rule when he planned to build a show park and host horse shows. Silver Oaks hosted its first A-rated show, with hunter, jumper and equitation classes and a $50,000 grand prix, spanning five days in August. But the show could take place only when the dates opened up because another show cancelled. Sancoff said his show would not run in 2004 due to mileage rule restrictions.

Sancoff believes his rationale to eliminate the mileage rule is backed with legal and ethical arguments, mainly because it defies the theory of free economy. “The current citation of stopping shows from competing for [a competitor’s] business is not the American way,” said Sancoff.

Sancoff, whose business includes buying and selling companies, said the mileage rule violates U.S. Justice Department laws, namely, The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which was designed to “maintain economic liberty and to eliminate restraints on trade and competition.”

The anti-trust act also states that anyone who stops another party from offering competitive services is committing a felony.

Furthermore, Sancoff knows that show managers illegally buy and sell show dates they aren’t using, an action USEF leaders have so far not been able to control. Buying competition dates ensures that the “owner” can run his competition without the threat of a nearby show attracting entries.

Sancoff said this enables show managers to provide inferior services be-cause they don’t have to worry about losing customers (competitors).

The third leg of Sancoff’s protest is based on rules of the U.S. Olympic Committee. It also exposes a flaw within USA Equestrian’s committee structure. According to Sancoff, a section of the USOC’s ethics code prohibits any individual with a personal or financial interest in a specific issue from participating in decision-making measures regarding that issue.

He believes that show managers shouldn’t be voting on committees that make decisions on rules like this because they have an obvious financial interest in when and where competitions take place.

“The committee has members that voted against my rule change, which would have hurt them financially if they agreed to it. How can USA Equestrian allow members of committees to vote on changes that would get rid of the mileage rule when those members own dates for horse shows that would be hurt by the elimination of the mileage rule? It is a clear conflict of interest,” said Sancoff.

Nevertheless, Section 8 of Article 214 states, “The foregoing distance rules do not apply to events comprised exclusively of classes recognized by the FEI and United States Olympic Committee.” It also states that the USEF Executive Committee may exempt events holding FEI-sanctioned competitions or selection trials from the mileage rule.

The Competition Management Commit-tee rejected all three of Sancoff’s proposals, as well as a nearly identical change proposed by Douglas Weiland, M.D., in August.

Despite the aggressive nature of Sancoff’s proposals, he remains hopeful that change will come from within. “This is a beautiful opportunity to get rid of this rule,” said Sancoff, referring to the formation of USEF under the leadership of President David O’Connor and Chief Executive Officer John Long.

“I’m involved in horses because I enjoy it. I don’t want to make this a business action,” said Sancoff.

Sancoff has sent substantial correspondence to Long and O’Connor and the members of the Board of Directors. He’s also
had preliminary discussions with USEF’s lawyer and contacts at the U.S. Justice department.

“USA Equestrian takes much pride in assuring fair competition in horse shows. It now needs to apply the same philosophy to the horse show event business,” said Sancoff.

Eventing Expansion

The beginner novice level may join the recognized ranks of eventing in 2005 under the proposal to add concrete parameters, definitions and specifications for the level in Appendix I and II of Rule XVII.

The beginner novice level, according to the proposal, is designed to “introduce green horses and riders to horse trials. The entire experience should be safe, inviting and educational to build confidence and a desire to progress.”

The proposed specifications for dressage, cross-country speed and distance, and jump heights are similar to novice level. Beginner novice dressage will use USA Equestrian novice test C, and cross-country will be approximately 400 meters shorter, with fewer jumping efforts, at a maximum height of 2’7”.

Roger Haller, chairman of the Eventing Committee, said this proposal is in response to a growing number of riders, trainers and organizers requesting that USEF and U.S. Eventing Association leaders standardize this level, which has been run in an unrecognized format for many years.

Haller admits he’s concerned with the consequences that recognizing this level may bring. “We’ve created something that will trigger things that come along with competing at a higher level, such as membership requirements, starter fees and drug and medication fees,” said Haller. “I’m worried this may steer some riders away.”

Codifying this lower level will also alter the current definition of the entry level to the sport, said Haller. “I am very comfortable with the five existing levels. I think novice is a good place for our sport to begin. The requirements to walk, trot and canter in dressage, gallop over cross-country jumps, and canter stadium jumps define the beginning of our sport correctly,” said Haller.

A domino effect, of sorts, will occur and create some changes in the previously existing levels. “Each time a lower level is introduced, the former lowest level has gotten harder,” said Haller.

But such a shift may be justified, as some feeling exists that the gap between preliminary and training level is too large. If the levels below preliminary were stepped up, that gap would be reduced, explained Haller.

The Right People  In The Right Place

A handful of rule proposals intend to clarify the parameters and responsibilities of competitors. Janet Gunn is one proponent who hopes to clarify the boundaries of amateur status, Article 808.

Gunn was motivated to take an in-depth look at this rule when her sister, advanced event rider Gillian Clissold, became a professional. “This rule is written with a very broad brush,” said Gunn, who competes in training level eventing and adult amateur jumpers.

Gunn would like to modify Section F, which currently prohibits a person from “competing a horse for which he/she or a member of his/her family or a corporation, which a member of his/her family controls, receives remuneration for boarding, training, riding, driving or showing.”

The rule is flawed, said Gunn, because an adult who pays board to a family member for a horse the adult owns and rides is not eligible to compete as an amateur, even though the family member who receives the payment may be amateur. “The current wording is clearly contrary to the intent of the rule,” said Gunn.

The rule can be clarified by inserting a clause that is similar to one that exists in Section C and “doesn’t open up any new loopholes for abuse of amateur status.”

Gunn’s proposal states an amateur cannot “ride or show any horse, other than horses actually owned or leased by him/her, for which he/she or a member of the family receives remuneration . . .”

The Dressage Committee has offered two proposals to clear up language and confusion regarding amateur status in their discipline. The first part of Article 808 states a person becomes an amateur after their 18th birthday, but this isn’t true for dressage competitors, who don’t leave young rider status until they’re 22.

“This isn’t something new,” said Janine Malone, a member of the Dressage Committee. Inserting this existing rule into the amateur status section simply makes it easier to find. Malone said this thoroughness is necessary as officials and managers from other disciplines are coming to dressage competitions and getting confused.

The Dressage Committee has proposed the addition of a new item to Article 808 that pertains to sponsorship. If the rule is passed, an amateur will be prohibited from “accepting individual support for riding, driving or handling in the form of sponsorship by any individual who is not a member of his/her family or from a business that is not owned or controlled by a member of his/her family. Exception: An amateur may accept sponsorship as part of a team, or as reimbursement for international competition expenses.”

This addition is needed, said Malone, because a significant number of riders are advertising for sponsorship, but still competing as amateurs. “There is a lot of violation of the spirit and letter of the rule,” said Malone. “It creates an unlevel playing field.”

Within the jumper community, a proposal to Article 2716, which restricts classes for juniors, amateur-owners or young riders, suggests deleting wording from the article that requires an amateur-owner to forego their status if they’ve competed in an FEI World Cup qualifier, Nations Cup or international grand prix worth more than $25,000 within the last 60 days.

The Jumper Committee wants to change this rule because it’s been difficult to track and control. The change would also align the rule with similar guidelines under which juniors compete.

What (And Who) Is Allowed

Some dressage mounts may look a bit different if a proposal to allow mules to participate in dressage is accepted. The change to Article 124 and Article 1919 would allow mules to compete at any level, but not in qualifying or selection trial classes for international competition or USET Championships because mules aren’t allowed to compete in FEI-recognized competition.

Malone said the committee thought it was appropriate to open up competition to mules. “It’s a small, but very vocal group, who want the opportunity to compete,” she said.

A noteworthy change in the bits permitted in dressage competition may occur if the proposed addition to Article 1921 is passed. The rule change states, “Roller bits are prohibited, except that a bushing or roller is permitted as the center link in a single- or double-jointed snaffle. The mouthpiece of a snaffle may be shaped in a slight curve, but ported snaffles are prohibited.”

Malone said this proposal reflects changes in FEI bitting rules, which allow the Myler bit with mouthpiece model 02. But she’s critical of this proposal due to an inherent flaw.

“The criteria for a roller bit and a bit that has a bushing or roller as the center link are very similar. A bushing moves, but a roller can rotate 360 degrees,” explained Malone. “In principal, why not allow a roller bit if a bushing or a roller piece is allowed?”

Despite the FEI’s change, they still prohibit the use of a roller. “A bushing looks like and acts like a roller, but rollers aren’t allowed. This is a big step away from their normal bitting rules,” said Malone, adding that this proposal might be amended further before it reaches its final format.

Vanessa Elliot, a training level event rider from Ridgewood, N.J., is an active proponent for using nose covers in dressage for horses diagnosed with head-shaking syndrome. Elliot submitted a proposal to alter Article 1714 to permit them.

Elliot, whose own horse is a head-shaker, applied for, and received, special permission last year from USA Equestrian President Alan Balch to compete with a nose cover. She sent veterinary documentation that head-shaking is a medical condition, not a behavioral problem.

Elliot’s proposal states, “Nose covers are permitted for horses who have been diagnosed with head-shaking syndrome, provided the competitor submits to the competition secretary a letter from a treating veterinarian dated within 12 months of the competition certifying that the horse has been so diagnosed and that the nose cover is medically necessary. The style of nose cover shall be limited to a stocking or net, which covers the nostrils.”

Although the British federation has amended its rules to allow nose covers in competition, Elliot’s proposal may not receive the same reception from the USEF. At the USEA meeting last month, the proposal was turned down by a vote of approximately 60 to 1 of the members present at the rule-change forum.

Sarah Getchell of Groton, Mass., is trying once again to get a rule change to allow bitless bridles in eventing’s dressage phase. Getchell submitted a similar proposal last year, but it was largely opposed.

The intent of Getchell’s proposal is to point out how competitors who “train according to a standard of horsemanship more benevolent than that required by the rules should not be disadvantaged by the requirement to employ unaccustomed and harsher methods in competition.”

But the same rule-change forum voted approximately 60-2 against her proposal, primarily because a basic principle of dressage is “acceptance of the bit.” 

Category: Horse Shows
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