Taking Stock At The USEF Annual Meeting

Jan 13, 2019 - 8:14 AM

West Palm Beach, Fla.—Jan. 13

During the president’s address in the general session at the U.S. Equestrian Federation Annual Meeting at the West Palm Beach Hilton, USEF President Murray Kessler summed up 2018 and looked ahead toward work to be done in the coming year.

Membership is up 76 percent since 2016, with 144,244 members in 2018, though much of that has been gained by giving away free fan memberships. Though that doesn’t mean much in terms of increased membership fees for USEF, the marketing department can leverage that number to gain sponsors.

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Laura Graves earned the biggest award of the night at the USEF Pegasus Awards, the USEF Equestrian of the Year. She and presenter USEF President Murray Kessler hoisted the Robert P. Strub trophy in the air to celebrate. At the Horse of the Year awards dinner her partner Verdades earned overall International Horse of the Year honors.  Mollie Bailey Photos

USEF is in the process of building a new headquarters, which is on schedule to be completed later this year. The federation rents its current building, and owning its own property will enable it to save $300,000 annually. USEF officials are also in the process of outsourcing their drug-testing lab, and they’ve signed a letter of intent with the University of Kentucky.

The USEF underwent a major restructuring several years ago, and there is one significant update for the coming year. Right now there are three councils that oversee committees and report directly to the board: National Breeds and Disciplines, International Breeds and Disciplines, and Administration and Finance. But starting in 2019, the Administration and Finance Council will be replaced by the Member Service Council. That group will focus less on administration and more on direct member benefit functions, like grassroots development—a major goal identified by Kessler—and member and affiliate support.

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Murray Kessler (right) presented the Pegasus Medal Of Honor to (from left) Robert Ridland, Ellen DiBella, Debbie McDonald and Janine Malone.

SafeSport Program Stays In The Spotlight

This year’s annual meeting included more educational sessions than ever, with panel discussions on equine transactions, how to build a successful equestrian business, and media and membership, as well as several opportunities for SafeSport training. In addition to SafeSport training sessions, a presentation called “Safe Sport, What You Need To Know” featured a discussion with Jennifer Fox, director of the autobiographical film “The Tale.”

Kessler reported that 33,000 members have completed their SafeSport training, which is now a requirement for all adult members showing. That works out to about 61 percent of required members, a number he considered especially impressive because only about 16,000 members compete in January and February, so many don’t feel pressured to get their training done immediately.

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McLain Ward presented Isabela De Sousa with the Junior Equestrian Of The Year award, an honor he coveted but never won as a young person.

“We’ve been held up by the [U.S. Olympic Committee] as one of the leaders in SafeSport,” said Kessler. “I’m not going to bend one inch on it. If an hour and a half of your time can save one child from being raped it’s worth your time.

“While the USEF strongly supports the SafeSport initiative, we are working with the Center to ensure processes are fair,” he continued. “We don’t want McCarthy hearings here. We want to make sure everyone is being treated fairly.”

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Murray Kessler presented Anne Kursinski with the Sallie Busch Wheeler Trophy for distinguished service to equestrian sport thanks to her work championing the SafeSport program.

Ratified Rules

The finale of the USEF Annual Meeting occurs at the final board of directors meeting, when the board votes on proposed rules, which generally will hit the Rule Book for the following year. Most rules had already been rubber-stamped by the three main councils of the federation, so only a handful came forward.

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Misdee Wrigley-Miller presented her Tryon World Equestrian Games teammate Chester Weber with the Becky Hart Trophy.

One of the biggest conversations centered on a series of hunter/jumper rules relating to the use of electronic devices while schooling. The rules garnered plenty of discussion at the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association meeting and again at the USEF board meeting, with objections over the wording, which prohibits the “unsafe” use of cell phones and electronic devices. Several pointed out that term was extremely subjective.

“Is it like pornography; you know it when you see it?” joked director Diane Pitts.

The consensus was that yes, it was—in the eyes of the steward. Others pointed out the longeing areas are at least as dangerous as schooling areas thanks to cell phones. So in the end the rule was passed after being amended to read: “The unsafe use of electronic devices as determined by the competition steward in their sole discretion including cell phones with or without earphones/earbuds while mounted is prohibited in all areas designated for schooling and exercise, and while longeing horses on competition grounds.”

Several rules relating to safety at hunter/jumper shows passed. There was some conversation about the effective date of the rule requiring paramedics at all premier-level horse shows and whether competitions needed longer than one year to prepare for the change, but in the end, the rule passed for the 2020 season. Another rule requiring hunter/jumper prize lists to list the mileage to the nearest hospital and Level 1 trauma center passed easily. That rule also requires those shows to distribute accident preparedness plans to staff.

A bigger number of rules passed before coming to the board. A change to GR 1034 strengthens stewards’ and technical delegates’ ability to protect the welfare of horses, and another to EQ 104.1 strengthens horse welfare in the equitation divisions. Draw reins and German martingales are now prohibited in age-restricted classes as per a change to JP 111.3.

Several attire rules affecting hunter and equitation competitors—the so-called “burgundy coat rules”—got a rework after the USHJA meeting. The rule, which passed, now reads: “Conventional attire following the tradition of fox hunting is encouraged and preferred. It is further recommended that the rider’s attire does not distract from the performance of the horse and rider. Judges shall not eliminate a rider for inappropriate attire except for safety.”

In eventing, a series of rules upping the qualification requirements for riders to compete in preliminary and training classic three-day events also passed.

You can find a full list of rule changes on the USEF website.

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