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USDF Delegates Say No To Dues Increases At Annual Convention

A heated debate leads to across-the-board cuts.

The biggest topic of debate at the U.S. Dressage Federation annual meeting centered on how to make ends meet.

Factors combined to make presenting a balanced budget for the fiscal year that begins on April 1, 2009, difficult, and USDF Executive Director Stephan Hienzsch prepared for the Board of Governors meeting with the knowledge that delegates weren’t going to be happy about proposed dues increases when he introduced them at the convention in Denver, Colo., Dec. 3-7.

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A heated debate leads to across-the-board cuts.

The biggest topic of debate at the U.S. Dressage Federation annual meeting centered on how to make ends meet.

Factors combined to make presenting a balanced budget for the fiscal year that begins on April 1, 2009, difficult, and USDF Executive Director Stephan Hienzsch prepared for the Board of Governors meeting with the knowledge that delegates weren’t going to be happy about proposed dues increases when he introduced them at the convention in Denver, Colo., Dec. 3-7.

“We’ve been in the black for the past five years, and we’ve done so without a dues increase going into effect since 2003. Some dues have not been raised since 1997,” he began. “At no time in USDF’s history has USDF offered more programs and services than today. Printing and postage rates have increased 50 percent in the past two years. The economic downturn has already manifested itself in a 9 percent decline in 2008 membership, which translates to a revenue reduction of $350,000. I anticipate that other revenue streams like advertising sales will also decline.”

George Williams presented Mimi Stanley with her gold medal at the Salute Gala during the USDF Convention. She also went home with the Adequan/USDF Junior/Young Rider Grand Prix award and numerous Arabian Horse Association All-Breed awards.

Like many other governing bodies, the USDF executive board found themselves in the unenviable position of trying to offer more with less.

“The proposed budget has grown 3.4 percent. This is the smallest annual percentage increase in USDF’s recorded budget history,” said Hienzsch. “It’s been balanced by cutting expenses by $237,000and by including proposed dues and fees increases. Of the expense cuts, $111,000 are staff costs, and $126,000 are from program trimming.”

The budget proposed to the BOG raised dues and fees across the board. Participating memberships (PMs) would have gone up from $62 to $85. Youth participating memberships would have almost doubled from $35 to $60. And group member organization (GMO) memberships would have gone up from $17 to $23.
New and raised fees also appeared in areas from horse registration to instructor certification to a rider awards processing fee.

But delegates were openly critical of raising dues and fees, fearing that such measures would lead to even more drop-off in membership. They vehemently opposed raising GMO dues.

“I know of three dressage clubs within 50 miles of me that have popped up and opted not to have USDF affiliation. It’s not just a dues increase. Because of the reduction of benefits over the last few years, I think the GMOs are in no mood. I fear a great loss of membership,” said GMO Council Chair Sherry Guess.

The budget discussion went on for hours. Ken Levy, president of the Indiana Dressage Society, came up with a new plan that satisfied the delegates. He proposed no dues and fees increases, which left a budget deficit of about $500,000.

Levy suggested that the USDF administration and each council and committee cut costs by a weighted percent of their budget as compared to the overall USDF proposed expense budget. Thus, if a committee accounted for 10 percent of the USDF budget, then they’d be responsible for 10 percent of the necessary cuts.

A few amendments were added to Levy’s proposal that reduced the budget shortfall even more.

Susan Howard of Texas pointed out that although the executive board had to present a balanced budget to the BOG, there was nothing in the bylaws that required passing a balanced budget. About 40 percent of the budget shortfall came from depreciation, so Howard suggested accepting a budget that was not in balance to the amount of the depreciation.

After much discussion about setting the precedent of passing an unbalanced budget, the delegates did eventually vote for this amendment.

The last change to the budget came when Barbara Cadwell suggested that money collected at the regional championships this year for future national championships, $2 per entry, should go back into the general fund instead. That would provide about $56,000 toward the shortfall.

“This is a one-year fix,” warned Dr. Samuel Barish, USDF president, after the budget was finally passed. “We’re going to come back again next year with dues increases.”

Building A Better Government

The lengthy budget discussions highlighted the inefficiency of the current USDF government. However,
governance restructure is part of the overall USDF strategic plan, and Alison Head, chair of the ad hoc Committee on Governance, presented a draft for a new and improved governance. This plan included changing the USDF committee and council structure and reducing the number of delegates in the BOG, which is currently more than 280.

Did You Know?

•    Effective Oct. 1, 2009, the FEI junior tests will be equivalent to third level tests for rider awards, the FEI young rider tests will be equivalent to Prix St. Georges and the FEI pony tests will be equivalent to second level.

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•    If you wish to receive a year-end award certificate, you’ll need to declare by Jan. 31 of the following competition year or a processing fee will be assessed.

•    Once a horse has obtained four or more eligible scores for Dressage Sport Horse Breeding Horse of the Year awards and All-Breed DSHB awards, the lowest score will be dropped. For all year-end awards except DSHB, once a horse has met the minimum award criteria and has at least one additional eligible score, the lowest score will be dropped.

•    There’s a proposed U.S. Equestrian Federation rule change, DR121.4, that would allow riders to use snaffle bridles at national competitions in the FEI tests. This would not affect USEF High Performance classes.

•    Beginning in 2010, test equivalencies will no longer be in effect for regional championships. That means if a junior wants to qualify for the junior third level championship, he or she will have to ride third level, test 3, to qualify instead of an FEI junior test.

•    A current year foal division was added to the Great American/USDF Breeder’s Championship program for 2010.

•    The age limit for the Brentina Cup championship has been extended to 28.

•    A young Grand Prix test is in the works for the USEF National Developing Horse Dressage Championships.

Under the new system, the executive board would become the board of directors, composed of a secretary, treasurer, president and either a past president or president-elect for continuity, as well as nine regional directors and two or three at-large directors. The at-large directors would be tied to the USDF committee structure with one representing the education division and the other representing the competition division. A third at-large director might provide specific experience to the board such as fundraising skills.

The BOG would be split into a bicameral House of Delegates, with PM members represented in the Senate and GMO members represented in the House of Representatives. Each region would have two PM Senators, and the number of GMO Representatives would vary based on the number of GMO members. The total number of delegates in the House of Delegates would be 114 if applied to the GMOs as they are today.

“Member representation is key to USDF and was one of the things about USDF that was non-negotiable,” said Head. “But we wanted to try to make the Board of Governors more manageable and more efficient.”

Currently, USDF supports a large number of Councils and Committees, which add to the bureaucracy of the USDF system. Head explained that a new system would group committees and councils into three divisions: Administration and Governance, Education and Competition.

“It’s not perfect,” said Head. “If we want to do something to help this organization quickly, slimming down the council and committee structure is probably our biggest priority. Committees and subcommittees will only exist when they have a clear mission and an ongoing task that is defined. We want to go more to working groups for specific projects.”

BOG delegates expressed concerns about their representation in the new government, and Head encouraged any USDF member to submit their thoughts to governance@usdf.org.

Performance Standards Put On Hold

Proposed performance standards requiring riders to meet certain qualifications before moving up to fourth level have been a hot topic of debate, and the USDF Convention gave members an open forum to have
their say.

“We’re doing this because we’re trying to improve the sport of dressage. We’re the guardians of the horses, so we have to always improve ourselves to better the sport,” said Jan Ebeling, a member of the USEF Dressage Committee that proposed the measure originally.

Carol Tice, president of the California Dressage Society, spoke out against the dressage standards.

“The current version [of this rule change proposal] does not fulfill the purpose stated by the committee. CDS acknowledges the time the committee has spent on the performance standard but strongly believes there should be a stronger emphasis on continuing education for judges and trainers as a trickle-down system for our general membership,” Tice said.

Rebecca Yount read a letter from the Potomac Valley Dressage Association also advocating that the USEF Dressage Committee oppose implementation of performance standards, and Marsha Williams stated that the Oregon Dressage Society stood with CDS and PVDA.

Not all present were against performance standards though, and people attending the meeting expressed interest in a new rider’s test, a test that would judge riders on their position, correctness of aids, ability to perform the movements and overall correctness.

“I think the idea of the rider’s test is wonderful,” said Gerri Muldrow of Region 4. “I think it should be implemented starting at training level, and it will be a wonderful tool.”

In response to the letters and comments at the forum, the USEF Dressage Committee members decided to withdraw the proposed rule change.

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“Since the attendees demonstrated overwhelming support for the concept of ‘rider’s tests,’ the USEF Dressage Committee will proceed with the development of these tests and will also be looking into ways to address judging consistency,” read the statement from the committee. 


Accolades All Around

The Salute Gala provided one of the most inspiring nights at the U.S. Dressage Federation Convention as the USDF Volunteer of the Year and Youth Volunteer of the Year were named, and Robert Dover and Fiona Baan were inducted into the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame.

“Our sport as we know it would not exist without volunteers,” said Dr. Samuel Barish, USDF president. This year Beth Jenkins, of Sherborn, Mass., earned the honor of volunteer of the year for her efforts for the New England Dressage Association.

“It seems as if this year’s winner has been volunteering for USDF forever. She has managed the New England Dressage Association Fall Festival of Dressage CDI-W since 1990. It’s the largest single licensed dressage show in the country,” said Barish.

USDF Convention Tidbits

•    An ad hoc committee is working toward establishing the first national championships in 2011 in Lexington, Ky. Jeanine Malone said the championships should rotate to the West Coast every three years and would include classes from training level through Grand Prix for adult amateurs and open riders. Riders would qualify at their regional championships, and there would be wild cards as well. A draft plan will appear on www.usdf.org to give members the opportunity to comment.

•    A proposed U.S. Equestrian Federation rule change would require all “r” dressage technical delegates to attend a USEF dressage/dressage sport horse breeding pony measurement certification clinic prior to Jan. 1, 2010. Board of Governors delegates voted that USDF oppose the rule change proposal.

•    A proposed USEF rule change, DR126.7, would standardize dressage arenas so that entry and exit is only allowed at “A.” It would also specify that the arena be completely enclosed and that indoor arenas be separated from the public by no less than 1.5 meters. Malone said this wouldn’t be passed without some modifications, but delegates were concerned that these specifications might shut some shows down.

“She has been a major influence in the NEDA community. She’s the first person to jump in and solve a problem or the next crisis. She’s a former vice president, a board member, show manager and our first computer wizard. She considers herself a meek, little lamb, but don’t let her fool you. That is one little lamb you don’t want to mess with,” said Paul Cormier, president of NEDA.

A centered riding instructor and former dressage judge, Jenkins was also the liaison to USDF on the initial data integration project for computer-generated membership, which resulted in putting the entire NEDA membership into a computerized database.

The youth volunteer award was started last year with a trophy donated by Colleen Akin and her family in honor of Lendon Gray. This year’s winner was Kassidy Peacock, 14, of Helotes, Texas. Peacock volunteered a total of 111 hours over the past two years at numerous events.

Dover beamed at two tables filled with his friends and family as he accepted his Hall of Fame award. “I feel like I have two families here. I have my immediate family, my loved ones, and I have my big, huge dysfunctional dressage family. It’s really terrific. I’m honored,” he said.

Dover has won more dressage honors than any other U.S. rider. He was a member of six consecutive Olympic teams from 1984 to 2004 and captured four team bronze medals. He won five national championships and represented the United States seven times in the FEI World Cup Final. In 1987, Dover defeated Reiner Klimke in the freestyle at Aachen (Germany), where no U.S. dressage rider had won in 27 years.

“Robert has given back to the sport in many creative and charitable ways,” said Barish. “He’s popularized dressage with the public by creating and promoting The Search For America’s Next Equestrian Star: Dressage. In 1996, Robert founded the Equestrian AIDS Foundation, which became the Equestrian Aid Foundation in 2006. He served on the U.S. Olympic Committee athlete advisory counsel for eight years. Robert has been one of the most influential and prominent members of the U.S. dressage community for almost 30 years.”

Although Dover was thrilled to accept his award, he was even more moved by Baan’s induction into the Hall of Fame.

Baan served as dressage team manager for the 1976 and 1992 Olympic Games, the 1986 and 1990 World Equestrian Games, the 1981, 1990, 1991 and 1993 Olympic Festival and the 1985 and 1989 North American Dressage Championships. She was the organizer of the USET Festival of Champions in 1991 and 1992.

“Fiona Baan didn’t just run the show, she truly crafted everything that happened in our sport later on, and everything that has happened in my life is because of the way in which Fiona made things possible for all of us riders,” said Dover.

Baan also developed the advanced young riders program. She died in 1994, and that same year the Fiona Baan Pursuit of Excellence Memorial Trophy—presented to the young rider competing in the NAYJRC who received the highest combined average score in the FEI Young Rider team, individual and freestyle tests—was established.

“Fiona would have been proud to receive this special recognition from the dressage community. Fiona was a very special person,” said Jessica Ransehousen. “She gave so much to the dressage community and for so many years. She was dedicated and committed to us. We all loved her.”

Sara Lieser

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