Wednesday, May. 29, 2024

New President McCormick Outlines His Goals At USHJA Town Hall

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Monday evening, in his first virtual USHJA Town Hall since assuming the role of president in April, Britt McCormick took time to discuss how the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association functions and how he hopes to move the organization forward in his presidency.

“One of the first things that I wanted to do is kind of look under the hood of the USHJA on the business side and just take a look at what we’re doing,” he said. “Most of us are familiar with the forward-facing sports side and the education side, but at its heart, USHJA is a nonprofit business, and if we don’t maintain the integrity of the business side, then we’re not going to be able to function properly and serve our members.”

That business model, McCormick said, is based in participation—not just as counted by membership and horse recordings, but in the association’s various programs, both competitive and educational. Since the start of his presidency, McCormick has stressed that removing barriers to participation and encouraging people to show in a recognized environment, starting with the outreach program, is his top priority.

“So, what does that look like?” he asked. “The first meeting I had as president was with our marketing and communications department, because as all of us know, that’s probably the most confusing part of the USHJA: We get so many emails, and we miss things on social media, and we thought we saw it, and then we didn’t, or we heard about it, but we can’t find it. They are in the process of really working to get our marketing and communication strategies up and running to strengthen our brand identity and figure out a way to communicate with those people who are both already in the system, already members, and those people who are yet to become members.

“My goal is that, if you ride a horse and jump a horse, that eventually you become a member of USHJA,” he continued.

“My goal is that, if you ride a horse and jump a horse, that eventually you become a member of USHJA.”

Britt McCormick, USHJA president

In tandem with the marketing boost, McCormick aims to increase and improve the dialogue between membership and the association whether through webinars, email or conversations at the back gate at horse shows.

“Communication for me is hugely important,” he said. “I think that we have to make sure that we’re not siloed in our own little worlds and that we don’t just look at everything through our limited perspective. We have to try to see things from every other point of view possible, and we’re gonna agree with some of it, and we’re gonna disagree with some of it, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have the conversations.”

McCormick plans to continue the webinars started by his predecessor Mary Knowlton and hopes the discourse that occurs there will continue to take the association into the future. One direction he’s exploring is bringing in judges for an informational town hall as well as bring in riders, owners and managers to “start getting us all talking to one another and identifying who we all are, so that we’re not just that that mystical person that is the horse show manager or the sponsor or the owner, the rider, whatever, but really putting some names and faces to job descriptions.”

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“Part of the goal of us in our communication strategies is going to be to bring our community together and get us where we’re all comfortable walking up to one another and saying, ‘Hey, I’m so and so, and it’s nice to meet you, and what do you do here?’ ” he added. “And, just get more involved: a better sense of community, a better sense of collaboration earlier with our affiliates and with the USEF. And at the end of the day, I think if we can all start communicating and talking to one another, then we can start identifying the places that we’re lacking and start identifying and strengthening the places that we are doing a good job and we’ll get off to a better start every year in being knowledgeable about the new changes, the new rules. Hopefully we can limit the issues that pop up. And get back to just having a good time and having fun, you know, riding our horses, which is the overall goal.”

When Eric Aho, an amateur rider from Massachusetts, asked what issues McCormick believed were most pressing, McCormick said 20 years ago when the association was started there was a lot of enthusiasm and innovation, but it’s now in the maintenance phase and has become stagnant. He plans to take a hard look at all of USHJA’s programs and make sure they’re still relevant and exciting to the members.

This might mean some programs that aren’t serving a purpose will be cut, he said, but in doing so it will make room for new ideas.

“I’m relying on the membership to be vocal and let us know when we’ve got it right, and let us know when we don’t have it right, and that’s only gonna make us stronger and make us better,” he said.

Other Points Of Interest

Unlike previous town halls where participants were able to submit written questions and comments under their own name or anonymously through the question-and-answer feature on Zoom, in this town hall, participants were invited to virtually raise their hand and speak. As a result, it lacked the flurry of responses to another’s comment seen previously. However some participants brought up points that McCormick addressed specifically.

Beginning in the 2022 show season, the USEF “amateur rule” underwent several changes and one, which allowed amateurs to teach no more than 20 hours of introductory lessons in a week, was approved for only certain breeds and disciplines. At the time, the USHJA disapproved it for hunter/jumper participants, however now the board of directors is re-considering. While the board feels it would be OK to permit amateurs to do some teaching, members of the Amateur Task Force are still against it.

“Right now I think we’re still in that middle ground of agreeing to disagree on what this is going to look like,” said McCormick.

Nancy Jones, vice chair of the Amateur Task Force, requested that the board bring the proposal to hunter/jumper professionals to get their opinions on the matter, which McCormick agreed to make a priority.

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• Lisa Mays, an amateur rider from Nevada, also shows in the hunters in American Quarter Horse Association shows and has noticed a decline of over fences classes offered at those shows, which are needed to qualify for championship shows. She wondered whether there was an opportunity for the two associations to work together so AQHA hunter riders could earn AQHA points when competing in USHJA outreach classes at an equivalent height. The AQHA class, when offered, would be concurrent with the USHJA classes, and the judge would mark a second card for the AQHA, a practice that is already common in the show world.

“I think if we all got together, we could probably figure out a way to accomplish what you’re talking about, because basically what the AQHA [hunter rider] wants is access to hunter jumps, hunter judges, hunter course designers and the quality that USHJA affiliates bring to the table,” McCormick said. “And so that’s something that maybe if you want to contact me directly, we could work on that for sure.”

• Annette Longenecker, who runs Ryegate Show Services and serves as a show secretary, urged the USHJA to take a hard look at the zone specifications, which are different from zone to zone, to at least standardize the language to make what is permitted in each zone clearer. Riders, show staff and stewards have trouble knowing what is permitted, she said.

“Make sure that what’s in there actually makes sense as far as practice, and is very clear,” she said. “This year, especially with the change from [calling it] child/adult jumper to junior/amateur jumper where the specs were never adjusted. So what they said in a few instances was that if you showed in the children’s hunters, for example, that you couldn’t show at any junior jumper class at the same horse show. Well, you used to be able to do the children’s jumpers, the 1.10/1.15-meter or lower, and now suddenly the zone specs said you can’t do it can’t do that because it never included any height.

“I just hope that as they’re being written this time of year that someone could really kind of keep an eye on some of that and try and address some of those issues,” she continued.

McCormick pointed out that a few years ago USHJA tried to unify the zone specs and make sure that they were in the same format and that it may be time to check their work. He said he was made aware of a similar issue earlier in the day, where the low children’s and low adult classics had different prize money requirements and when those classes were combined, riders didn’t get the points they’d earned.

“We unfortunately have lived in a world of cut and paste for so long that we don’t necessarily read in its entirety or, in the case of the change with the junior jumpers, that’s a great example of where things should have been written from scratch,” he said.

The scheduled June 24 town hall has been canceled as McCormick has a conflict, however he will lead the subsequent one, scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Eastern Time July 15.

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