Dec. 7 – Fort Worth, Texas
A collective sigh of relief washed over the U.S. Eventing Association’s Annual Meeting and Convention in Fort Worth, Texas, this weekend as a controversial rule change proposal was ultimately withdrawn by the Board of Governors.
Outcry arose in October when the Board proposed changes to EV 140 and appendix EV App 1, which would make the lower levels of the sport more difficult by adding optional higher fences in show jumping and by defining the levels with what types of fences would be allowed on cross-country.
As the hottest topic at the Convention, several members attended the open USEF Eventing Technical Committee meeting to voice their concerns.
Within the first few minutes of the meeting, the Board announced it had reviewed the membership’s opinions on the changes and would present a revised draft at the end of the Convention.
“Obviously the reaction to the first rule change was rather swift and vociferous and I really think that credit has to be given to the president [Diane Pitts] and the [USEA] office for recognizing that a redo was in order and was probably the best thing we could do for our lower level members,” said Board member Carol Kozlowski. “I give them credit for putting together a group to try to find some compromise for all of these suggestions. We’re always looking to improve our sport, but we don’t want to risk alienating lower level competitors who are very comfortable where they are. I hope everybody understands that was the spirit in which these rule change proposals were made.”
On Saturday morning, it was announced that the Board had decided to withdraw the proposal and refer it to select USEA committees for further review. They plan to look at it again and come up with a final draft at their August meeting in Dulles, Va. A complete draft with the changes already discussed at the meeting before it was withdrawn will be posted on the USEA website soon for members to view and comment on.
Malcolm Hook, a member of the USEF Eventing Committee and chair of the USEF Safety Committee, admitted he wasn’t a fan of everything in the original proposal and encouraged members to view the Cross-Country Obstacle Guidelines before submitting suggestions.
“I’m optimistic that we can find something to the benefit of the sport,” he said. “I think in fairness to the competitors, especially having it in the rules and not in a set of guidelines, is very comforting because it gives each competitor at every level an expectation of what they may see and an understanding if they find something that shouldn’t be there, they’ve got a place to say, ‘Wait a minute.’”
Rules To Know
In the open Rule Change Forum, Hook began the meeting by bringing out a fire extinguisher, joking that he thought he might have needed it for discussion on the controversial rule change proposal, but the meeting ended up being shorter than expected due to the withdrawal.
Hook did go over several rule changes that went into effect on Dec. 1. Two key changes are that half marks are now allowed in dressage and entries for events must be received by the end of the day on the closing date.
Hook also explained a few rule changes that will go into effect in Dec. 1, 2015 if passed by the USEF. Instead of “white or light shirts”, riders will be able to wear a shirt of a “conservative color”, including black, navy blue, light blue or similar pale colors. For beginner novice through training level, jackets will not be required in an effort to make the sport more accessible to newcomers.
High Performance Update
Chef d’equipe David O’Connor led several high performance rider meetings that reviewed the past year, including the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, and looked ahead to the future.
He noted that while high performance dressage is getting better, cross-country skills remain the weak point.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who came out of [Rolex] Kentucky not rubbing their hands together based on what we saw that day,” he said. “There was really good cross-country riding on that day, but it didn’t transfer when we got off the island. Everyone has to think about their ability for getting off the island. Can you produce what happened on the island?”
He suggested to riders that they purchase a training level-sized corner and an arrowhead to leave in their arenas and pop over on all of their horses to begin to instill good instincts. He’s also going to start to incorporate more cross-country schooling into the training sessions this winter.
“For years and years, it was talked about that our dressage was the problem, but the reason we haven’t won medals in the last 14 years is because of cross-country,” he said. “Yes, all the phases are tied together. You can’t separate cross-country from dressage or show jumping from dressage. But make sure it’s put in our minds as to what’s the biggest hurdle right now. It’s a weakness we have inherently in our country.”
The immediate focus for the high performance program is the Pan American Games, which will be held July 16-18 in Toronto. The team will be chosen from strong two- and three-star combinations, but O’Connor is not ruling out a four-star horse. The team will be named no later than May 20 and the final outing will be at the new Great Meadow International CIC*** (Va.). It may include a modified division depending on which horses are chosen and what O’Connor decides each combination needs at the time.
“Consistency and reliability will be a big part of it,” he said of potential combinations. “We have to win it. We always have to win it. If we don’t win it, we’ve made a huge mistake.”
The team will be made up of four combinations with only one drop score, instead of five team members and two drop scores like at the Olympics—something that O’Connor thinks makes for better competition, but more risk.
“Don’t think it’s going to be a cakewalk,” he said. “It will be a strong two-star course and we’ve been beaten before. We’ve been beaten quite a few times. As we go through this process, the consistency of people traveling together and getting to know each other in a team environment is really important. Trying to build teams where people know each other’s personalities under pressure. Believe me, Olympic fever is a true disease and that disease, you never actually know what it’s going to do.”
Safety and Bridging The Gap
The Safety Committee meeting, led by its’ vice president Sarah Broussard, focused on the recent helmet cam ban by the USEF.
“There’s a lot of discussion and a lot of options that could be and until we really have straight, square answers that can be backed up by statistics facts and experiments, we’re not going to use them,” she said.
Hook noted that he’d recently had a conversation with British Eventing Chief Executive Mike Etherington-Smith about the ban, but there appears to be no plan for lifting it there any time soon.
“Their situation is they want Transport Research Laboratory to run some tests on helmet cams to see if there’s a possibility that they do compromise the structural integrity of the helmet,” he said. “At the moment, everybody wants to do the research but nobody’s coming up with the funding. The helmet cam ban is not necessarily intended to be a permanent ban. We would like to see if we can get some research done in a reasonable time frame and settle it once and for all.”
Safety and fun is what eventing is all about, and Mike Huber, an upper level rider and Board member, gained traction with his idea for a 3’5” modified division that was tabled by the Board at last year’s convention and at this year’s summer meeting.
This time around, he was met with more support in the Professional Horseman’s Council meeting and the at final Board meeting, who advised him to put together a complete package with specs and rules and present it in 2015.
“I fundamentally believe that there’s nothing wrong with training and there’s nothing wrong with prelim, but I do see a gap that is causing some of the membership to move away when they can’t bridge that gap,” said Huber.
He noted that he’s seen a “level creep” all around the world, including at the World Equestrian Games and other four-stars that seek to “weed out” top riders like Andrew Nicholson, William Fox-Pitt or Buck Davidson, thus making the rest of the riders suffer over an extremely difficult course.
“Around the world, the WEG is a good example, it’s losing good riders,” he said. “I think we should sort of put a stop to that and keep divisions where they are, not adjust up. If we see that gap, fill that gap.”
In the U.S., he’s seen events that host area championships keep the special fences on their courses for their next horse trials, gradually making things harder.
“By the time the next event comes around, that regular junior training class is now jumping the training championship course from the previous year,” he said. “It just seems to be creeping up and we have to stop the creep—really thinking about keeping each level at the level.”
In the end, Huber said he sees the modified division as an investment in the sport, which isn’t growing as fast as the USEA might want.
“We see in the horse show world where they have classes at the 1.05-meter, 1.10-meter, 1.15-meter, and it allows their horses to move up the ladder. Their sport is growing and ours isn’t. I think we need to think about that,” he said.
“Eventing treats the sport as a business, the horse show world treats it as an industry,” he added. “I think we want to think about long term what our focus is going to be. I was sitting in [USEA President Diane Pitts’] seat 20 years ago when beginner novice was discussed as a recognized division and at first, there was pushback, but now we can’t imagine the sport without it.”
– 381 people attended this year’s meeting.
– Next year’s meeting will be held in Washington D.C. at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.
– Matt Brown of Petaluma, Calif., was awarded the $30,000 Rebecca Broussard International Grant.
– Jennifer McFall received the $10,000 Rebecca Broussard Developing Rider Grant.
– Libby Head received the $10,000 Essex Grant.
– Young rider Alex Ahearn won the $5,000 Beacon Charm Grant.
– Phillip and Evie Dutton announced the creation of the $25,000 R. Bruce Duchossois Grant to be awarded beginning next year to the CCI* or CCI** horse that shows the potential to represent the U.S. on the international stage. The horse will be chosen by talent spotters, including both Phillip and Evie, Bobby Costello, Kevin Keane, Joanie Morris and Bea di Grazia.
– Leslie Law kept the audience laughing at the Annual Meeting Luncheon on Saturday during his keynote speech. He told the story of his riding career and credited much of his knowledge to the American system.
“Looking back on everything I learned, the one surprising thing is that the majority of my knowledge garnished over the years comes from American sources by its people and places, and yet, continually, I hear in America the moaning that they do not have what the Europeans have,” he said.
“I firmly believe that all of the knowledge one requires to become a top rider resides right here in your own country. What America is missing is the competition— the competition that brings the world’s best together and surrounds you in that atmosphere. I truly believe that’s the only thing we’re missing,” he continued. You have a wealth of top horseman, riders, owners, top vets, top technology—every single resource one needs to be a top rider. Let’s create and stage competitions that will attract the world’s top class competitors here, and I think it will bridge the gap you want to close between you and Europe and put you back on the podium where you belong.”
Look for a full report of the USEA Annual Meeting and Convention in the Dec. 22 print edition of the Chronicle.