Sonoma Horse Park on Wednesday announced it will run its 2022 hunter/jumper show series under the auspices of the National Snaffle Bit Association, making it the second major venue to break ties with the U.S. Equestrian Federation over mileage-rule restrictions.
The announcement comes a week after Sonoma Horse Park CEO Howard Herman said the venue would “no longer have rated horse shows until the USEF changes the Mileage Rule exclusion to (50) miles,” effectively canceling plans for a series of premier (AA) and national (A) rated shows next year.
Sonoma’s decision to go with NSBA is strongly reminiscent of the decision made two years ago by World Equestrian Center—Ocala (Florida) to abandon USEF ratings for its winter circuit in favor of being able to host its shows on the dates of its choice. NSBA sanctioning revives a series of major 2022 shows, in addition to schooling shows, at the Petaluma, California, competition venue.
“We are excited to work with the NSBA, and we look forward to sharing new programs that will be available,” Sonoma Horse Park manager Sarah Appel said in a statement released Nov. 16. “Our show schedule is listed below. We will be releasing our prize lists in the next few weeks. We are committed to offering comparable prize money and special classes as we have in seasons past and a schedule that is consistent with what exhibitors and trainers have come to expect at shows that Sonoma Horse Park provides. We are looking forward to a new circuit, complete with circuit championships and prizes as per Sonoma Horse Park tradition.”
The proposed NSBA show dates are:
SHP Spring Classic I, May 11-15
SHP Spring Classic II, May 18-22
SHP Summer Classic, July 27-July 31
Giant Steps Charity Classic, Aug. 3-7
SHP Season Finale, Sept. 14-18 (Circuit Champions Awarded)
An FEI-rated Split Rock Jumping Tour competition already scheduled for Sept. 7-11 is pending.
The situation in California arose after the Sonoma Horse Park and its former show manager parted ways. That manager, who was the licensee for the venue’s 2021 dates, requested those dates be moved to Murieta Equestrian Center for 2022. Shows cannot be held at both venues—which are approximately 100 miles apart from each other in Northern California—on the same dates unless USEF grants exemptions to its mileage rule. The mileage rule prohibits shows from being held within a 250-mile radius of each for premier (AA) and national (A) rated shows in USHJA Zones 3 through 10.
WEC Ocala’s 2021 split with USEF’s sparked much discussion on the purpose of the mileage rule and whether it benefited or hindered the growth of sport. In the aftermath, the national federation revised and expedited its process for granting mileage-exemption requests to shows within the 250-mile radius of priority date holders.
The expedited process does not go far enough, Herman said last week, noting it put Sonoma at a disadvantage for several reasons and prevented the venue from securing some of the bigger competitions it hosted last year, including Young Rider trials and the Adequan/USEF Junior National Hunter Championships—West.
Although NSBA sanctioning has been secured for 2022, Herman vowed during a Zoom call with local riders and trainers earlier this week to continue working to get USEF to change the mileage rules he sees as restrictive and encouraging monopolies that raise the cost of horse showing. He exhorted them to do the same.
“We are going to do everything possible to get that rule changed. This has become sort of my mission in life,” he said. “[Filing a lawsuit] is one of the avenues we are going to go down—we have to—but, unfortunately, that usually takes years, and I need you people involved now, to really get involved, in order to change it sooner than that.”