Serving on any board of directors is a job that needs to be taken seriously, whether it’s a not-for-profit board or a corporate board. Before you commit, it’s important to ask yourself some serious questions.
Do you have the time to attend 90 percent of the board meetings? Do you believe in the mission of that board? What financial commitment is involved? Does this organization have director’s insurance? You should also ask the chairman or president what he or she is looking for in you as a board member.
After you’ve answered these questions, you’ll find yourself better able to contribute to the well-being and further growth of the company or not-for-profit organization board you’re serving on.
The healthiest boards are those that rotate their chairmen and board members every three or four years. People who want to stay on boards for more than three consecutive three- or four-year terms (10 or more years) aren’t allowing new blood to create new thought processes.
Currently, each of the U.S. Equestrian Federation breeds and disciplines is represented on the USEF Board of Directors. While each affiliate has representation, there’s no single process in place for electing or appointing that person. Some people may serve for a specific term, while others are appointed year after year. Until the same process of election is mandatory for all people serving on the USEF Board of Directors, we won’t solve many of our problems.
When I served on the USEF Board of Directors from 2002-2006, I looked around the room and saw people who have been on this board for well more than 10 years. How can you stimulate new ideas?
For a not-for-profit board with a membership base, the USEF Board of Directors is the most confusing board I’ve ever served on. There are many different facets that the USEF board serves—the high performance and the many different disciplines (show jumping, dressage, eventing, driving, hunters, Arabians, American Saddlebreds, Morgans, etc.).
These facets all need and deserve leadership that’s there for them. They need people who are out in the trenches daily. They don’t need board members who are there just to say they serve on the USEF Board of Directors and are figureheads. I’m not speaking of the entire board—I’m speaking of certain individuals. The USEF will never move forward until the organization can produce successful board members who contribute to our future, not to their self-serving needs.
Now that the hunter/jumper members have the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association as their own affiliate, it’s time to have the USEF Board of Directors elected by each discipline’s membership. In addition, everyone should rotate off so that new board members have the opportunity to participate.
Then we have the USEF Nominating Committee, which recommends three individuals for election to the USEF Executive Committee. The USEF Nominating Committee should include people who represent the majority of membership disciplines. I feel the USEF Executive Committee should be represented on a percentage basis similar to the percentage of each discipline within the USEF. And, most importantly, the USEF Board of Directors should be the ones dealing with the everyday problems of our sport instead of the USEF Executive Committee.
A Sport Or A Business?
The USEF has two basic components: the majority of people who compete on a national level and the minority who compete internationally in Fédération Equestre Internationale-recognized competitions. The new USEF bylaws require a certain number of athletes to serve on our board and on our committees. About 95 percent of these athletes don’t attend meetings and aren’t on conference calls. Is this serving our governing body in a positive manner?
On the other hand, we have successful business minds throughout our membership who are underutilized. Many people are against show managers having any say in the governance of our sport and sitting on the boards. Yet these people are the ones who have the ability to make a difference in our sport. These managers are the ones who are investing their money (major money) into our sport. Why are we afraid of these investors?
More than half of the USEF’s mission statement deals with the organization’s mandate as the national governing body. There are many people who want to continually say that we participate in a sport and not a business. Yes, we’re involved with a sport that has become a business. There’s no denying this.
The cost of owning a horse, showing a horse or running a show is enormous no matter what level you’re involved in. I don’t think this is a bad idea to accept.
Our shows are huge on any level, and there are more shows now than ever before. This is why the USEF leaders have been struggling with the “date issue” and it’s become a major bone of contention. Few dates are available for new USEF-recognized shows in many zones around the country.
This year dates were overlapped due to a change in the way the USEF calendar was organized, and many shows have been damaged and will be damaged. On the other hand, this conundrum has encouraged some show managers to develop a better horse show. They cannot just get by when there are other shows vying for the same competitors.
Let’s face it. There aren’t many horse show managers who run shows simply for a love of the sport—they run shows to make money. That’s why it’s important to have a USEF Board of Directors include people with business minds to decide in which direction the organization needs to move, especially regarding such controversial topics as show dates.
Should the USEF protect the shows whose show committees have a huge financial commitment? Is the mileage rule too much or too little? I don’t have the answers to these very complex issues. But the USEF makes a great deal of money each year, and these and other complex issues should be considered business matters.
Problems To Solve
Over the past few years, the USEF has lost people who have served tirelessly to make things better because they don’t see positive changes. Many of the positive changes have been buried because we’re afraid of saying our sport is a business now.
Why are we afraid to move forward as a business, which has our equines at the front of our passion and future? Why do we ask people who are gifted as leaders to be our presidents and then not offer them a salary? That seems to be a poor incentive for someone as capable as David O’Connor to stay on and lead us in a positive direction.
Will we continue to have people who are out in the trenches such as David? He won an individual gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He’s done it all and is the type of leader we need. His term will be up, and he’ll be replaced. David will be back out in the trenches—earning money in our “sport.” So why not have each of our board members rotate just as the president does?
The point of moving the USEF headquarters to Kentucky in 1999 was to save money.
It was a great move. We, as members, were told that the organization would hire horse-oriented staff and more of them with our huge savings from the financial burden of New York City. Yet the turnover of staff has been frustrating.
It still takes three months or more to receive a lifetime horse recording certificate—even with the extra $35 rush fee. Point calculations are months behind. The USEF hearing system is still months behind in their actions—sometimes six months or more from the infraction. The state horse racing commissions deal with their infractions in a matter of days. Why can’t the USEF?
After serving on other not-for-profit boards and having served on the USEF Board of Directors, my eyes have been opened to our strengths and our weaknesses. It’s time for the USEF to make some changes to become stronger and more effective.