The question is, can the Competition Date Approval Task Force resolve the mileage rule after nearly two decades of–somtimes heated–debate?
Its five members have spent 10 months analyzing alternatives, and they’re going to recommend changes to the current rule that go far beyond the Band-Aid of adjusting the minimum miles required between shows (see sidebar).
In November, the task force presented their preliminary findings to those most affected–the members of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association (see Nov. 26, p. 12). Those members absorbed a 90-minute report on the recommendations to overhaul the USEF show recognition system and to replace it with licensing agreements and improved show standards.
One of the main things the task force has studied is the structure of the show calendar, as charged by USEF President David O’Connor in his inaugural address at the federation’s first convention, last January in Los Angeles. Afterward, O’Connor put together a task force of John Long (the USEF’s chief executive officer), Bill Moroney (the USHJA president), Robert Higgins (a dressage technical delegate and organizer), Howard Pike (an Arabian breeder) and O’Connor.
And with uncommon speed, they’ll have a series of proposals when the federation meets again, on Jan. 12-16 in Louisville, Ky.
The resulting task-force recommendations forecast a transformation that affects not only hunter-jumper shows, but also all breeds and disciplines. So after the USHJA meeting, task-force members also discussed their recommendations at the meetings of the U.S. Dressage Federation and Arabian Horse Association, while O’Connor discussed them at the U.S. Eventing Association meeting.
“The new federation gave us an opportun-ity to look at a lot of things we’ve been having problems with for 30 years, and looking at the mileage rule led us to so much more, to a bigger, wider view of the problem,” O’Connor told USEA members.
“The affiliates need to be self-determined, to decide how you want to schedule competitions. But we [the federation] have to be able to defend it. That’s the oversight that has to happen from us,” O’Connor added.
A Six-Step Plan
“Our interest is to pursue what’s best for the sport of equestrian,” said Pike when he presented their initial recommendations to the USHJA.
There, Pike described an outline of six recommendations. He noted that the task force is working in phases and is currently in phase 1 of the transition process. For the next phase, the first rule change proposals will debut in Louisville.
Recommendation 1: The Competing Horse Factor. The big question is: Who competes in USEF shows, and where do they live? Just as TV shows rely on demographics for ratings, horses’ residences can affect show dates.
“We analyzed by state the competition density factor. It showed a kind of amoeba that moved around the country,” said Pike.
And the amoeba shape of horses and exhibitors migrates to the Sunbelt in winter. “As the horses and competitions move, maybe we ought to create flexibility as far as the mileage issue,” suggested Pike.
Recommendation 2: Modifications to Mileage and Waivers. Fact: Mileage isn’t going away. “Many people said, ‘Get rid of the mileage regulation and let the free market take care of it.’ There was no demonstrated evidence that ‘whatever or whenever’ would result in quality of competitions,” said Pike.
He emphasized that show managers aren’t suddenly going to be faced with no mileage between them and a competing show. But their recommendations will include criteria beyond just mileage.
“We needed to have more flexibility and to regulate by state, by zone, by region, and by quarters [of the year],” said Pike. “We propose only two different mileages in a state in a year. We’ll end up with a process and procedures to modify the mileage.”
Who will decide how to apply flexibility? Pike, admitting that “horse people tend to be paranoid,” emphasized, “We’re trying very hard to retain total objectivity and what’s good for the sport.”
These initial recommendations will come up for a vote at either the USEF midyear Board of Directors meeting in July or at next fall’s affiliate meetings.
“July will give time for people to think about applications for December of the next calendar year. That’s 16 or 17 months–quite a lead time–for an affiliate to make a proposal,” said Pike, adding, “We’re also proposing that show licenses be for a longer period of time, more than one year.”
The task force is also recommending that the USEF president still be allowed to grant waivers to the mileage rule for “special competitions” like Olympic selection trials, a situation that’s sometimes controversial. Pike noted that “business reasons” support waivers.
Recommendation 3: Competition Software and Data. To improve show quality and secure more sponsorship, the task force proposes that show managers use a standardized software package to collect data on entries and results, software that can report entries using ZIP codes.
“We might need to look at the distance between a level 1 and level 2 show. Right now we don’t manage our data, so we can’t know that,” said Pike.
Data can also benefit the USEF’s sport’s-marketing efforts. “Software gives us more data to regulate the sport and to sell the sport outside,” explained Pike.
Recommendation 4: Licensed Competition Agreement. Perhaps the most significant recommendation is to have a licensing agreement, between the USEF and the show management, replace the current show-date renewal system.
“It’s much more of a contract” between the USEF and show management, said Pike.
Under a three-year license, USEF and competition management (the licensee) would agree to a list of obligations, matched to the level of competition. “Specific criteria” in the recommendation will help assure that shows maintain quality, while allowing other shows to compete for a license, Pike noted.
“There would be no renewals after three years if the show doesn’t meet the conditions,” said Pike. Now, show managers get almost automatic date approval if their application is on time and their fees are paid.
The contract would include an objective evaluation of how the licensee meets the conditions for the level of competition.
Recommendation 5: Competition Stand-ards. The licensing agreement will define a comprehensive list of standards, common to all licensed competitions but varying by level. Pike said that some elements–like footing–could take years to achieve uniformity. “You want good footing–but you must find a way to define, measure, and enforce it,” he said.
Pike added that new standards for shows would be defined by the relevant committees and approved by the USEF Board of Directors.
When asked how the USEF’s leaders could or would determine that a “better” show should replace an existing show, he responded, “We can apply objective criteria to licenses and renewals.”
Recommendation 6: Competition Ratings, Recognition and Awards. Changing the C, B, A and AA ratings to levels 1 through 5 would eliminate the unappealing “C” designation.
“Who strives to be a C?” asked Pike. “Level 1, at an entry level, would be tailored to needs and skill level” of the exhibitors.
The natural progression from 1 to 5 would allow branding and marketing of each tier. The top shows, at level 5, would be those few world-class events that truly showcase a discipline.
“It would be a premium level, above AA, made for TV, and very focused on promotion and corporate sponsorship,” said Pike.
It Will Have An Impact
The shift from the existing regulations to a new approach will be applauded by some members and vehemently denounced by others. Some will benefit from change, while others will not.
But, so far, Pike said that the feedback he’s had has been positive. “After the USHJA meeting, we met with both the Arabian competition management group and the dressage. All were very positive about the need to shift to a more flexible regulatory environment,” he said.
“It’s helped that the task force focused on doing it right, rather than doing it fast,” he added. “We’re going to go to the January meeting with a substantial number of rule-change proposals aimed at implementing either the specific or general task force recommendations.”
This makeover fuels debate on the volatile issue of “owning” show dates. USEF is not in the business of managing shows, but its regulations certainly guide competition managers. Because shows reflect federation policies and rules, they benefit exhibitors and the broader industry that those exhibitors support.
Most likely “the amoeba” will adapt, as new shows arise. The main impact of the new licensing agreements and standards will be on show managers and the facilities that host shows. And the show managers will have their forum to respond at the convention.
“Next April we would provide a three-year license granted to incumbents who choose to apply,” explained Pike about what happens next. “There would be no renewals after three years if they didn’t meet conditions. We would get proposals [from applicants] and judge them on a factual basis.”
Said Long, the man who’ll oversee the changes, “December 2006 would be when the three-year license goes into effect.”
The rule-change proposals that are moving forward are the flexible-mileage concept, the software and database, and the transition to licensed competitions. Pike noted how proposals include the replacement of two terms. “The term ‘recognized’ would go away Dec. 1, 2005, to be replaced with ‘licensed competition,’ ” he said.
“The second one is that ‘competition management’ will be replaced with the term ‘licensee.’ The licensee may or may not be the competition manager. The licensee may in fact hire a competition manager.”
What The Mileage Rule Says Now
General Rule 214, of the 2004 USEF Rule Book, spells out the complicated details of the mileage rule over nearly two pages.
The required distances are basically divided into two groups of states. Group 1 is the Northeast (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania). Group 2 is the other 41 states. Group 1 must have a 125-mile radius between competitions with the same A-rated sections, down to a 40-mile radius between local competitions.
Group 2 must have a 250-mile radius between competitions with the same A-rated sections, down to a 50-mile radius between local competitions.
The mileage between dressage competitions depends on which U.S. Dressage Federation region they’re in and whether they’re associated with a hunter/jumper or multi-breed show, or whether they’re a dressage breeding show. The dressage national championships, selection trials and CDIs are exempt from the mileage rule.
Eventing is exempt from the mileage rule as the U.S. Eventing Association’s area leaders have always handled event scheduling.
Shows on New York’s Long Island–separated from the rest of the nation by New York City–have their own paragraph describing how to determine the mileage between them and shows and the rest of zones 1 or 2.