One of the most controversial topics in U.S. eventing over the last year has been the idea of “level creep,” or the perceived idea that lower level cross-country tracks are becoming harder and less welcoming in the United States.
And that issue garnered plenty of attention at the annual summer meeting of the U.S. Eventing Association Board of Governors, held Aug. 11-12 in Dulles, Va., where board members eventually drafted an new proposal for the U.S. Equestrian Federation Eventing Technical Committee recommending the creation of a new modified division between the training and preliminary levels.
Mike Huber, who trains many lower level riders out of his Gold Chip Stables in Bartonville, Texas, and also serves as chair of the Competitions Calendar and Rules Committee, has long championed the idea of a modified division to help bridge the gap between training and preliminary.
“[That gap] is the biggest one we have in our sport and the hardest one for a lot of people to bridge—not only in the size of the fences, but also in the speed of the cross-country,” he said. “I feel that there really is a need.
“There have been some attempts to bridge that gap,” he continued. “One was with the preliminary/training class, which did a preliminary dressage and preliminary show jumping and a training cross-country. But that doesn’t really solve the problem, because for a lot of event riders, the show jumping is the hardest part, and if they have to go from 3’3″ to 3’7″, that’s a pretty big jump. And they’re not getting any benefit on cross-country because they’re still going at training level speed.”
Huber pointed out that two of his star training level students recently switched to show jumping after finding the jump to preliminary too difficult, a problem he thinks is common, and one that may turn people off the sport.
“I believe [the modified division is] going to keep a lot of people in the sport,” he said. “A lot of amateurs and juniors are going to benefit from having the opportunity to make that little step in between. I think some people will find that nice for a young horse to make that little step as well.”
The proposal for the new division describes the modified level as 3’5″ with a dressage test that will include medium paces at the trot and canter, an introduction to leg yielding and changes of lead through the trot.
The cross-country will “introduce tests of accuracy, agility and boldness, control, judgment and jumping ability.” Angled lines, corners and combinations with water and narrow fences will also be included. The optimum time will be 490 meters per minute and the distance between 2,200 meters and 3,000 meters.
The proposal also states that the level would be offered at the Nutrena/USEA American Eventing Championships and will have its own leaderboard.
To compete in the modified division, a rider must complete two national qualifying rides at training level.
If the proposal goes forward at the Annual Meeting, the modified division would begin being offered in 2017. Organizers will have the option to offer the modified level, and it would not be a requirement for riders still wishing to move directly up to preliminary.
“I hope that in 10 years’ time, looking back, that it was really a gamechanger,” said Huber. “When I was president of the association 20 years ago, at that time, there was the movement of getting beginner novice to be a recognized division, and there were a lot of people that resisted that. I think now, we wouldn’t really imagine our sport without it.
“I’m delighted that it has gotten this far,” he added. “I believe it will really help the horses and riders in this country to work their way up the ladder.”
Increasing Safety Standards
New divisions weren’t the only hot topic on the table at USEA’s summer meeting, however.
Board member Sarah Broussard, who also chairs the Safety and Equine Welfare Committee, explained the reasoning behind a new proposal for helmet and body protector standards.
“The rules as they stand right now for body protectors just state that you have to wear one, and we recommend it meet a current standard [F1937 or be certified by SEI], but there’s no mandate for the type of protectors that are used,” she said. “Following injuries and deaths throughout the world, it’s just one of those safety measures we feel we need to go forward with. It’s something that we think everyone should do.”
The current USEF Rules for Eventing do not specify a specific standard for helmets, only that one must pass or surpass ASTM/SEI standards for equestrian use. But a new ASTM/SEI standard was recently released for helmets, and the Board would like to have similar wording in their rules for both helmets and body protectors.
The new rule would require helmets and body protectors to meet, at a minimum, the previous ASTM/SEI standard and “strongly recommend” meeting the newest standard. It would also allow body protectors meeting BETA standards.
Broussard said they would also like to be more in line with the Fédération Equestre Internationale rules to make it easier on riders.
“It’s easier when the rules are the same, especially when it comes to your gear or your kit, you get used to it,” said Broussard. “If you have to wear a different vest at this competition because the one that you normally wear isn’t certified, that way you’re used to it.”
Broussard said that if the new rule passes, there would be a grace period to allow riders to purchase new equipment if theirs doesn’t meet the requirement.
Encouraging New Membership
Board member and chair of the Strategic Planning Committee Louise Leslie highlighted a new initiative to invite more people to the sport. The Board discussed adding an eventing derby and encouraging more organizers to host a parallel beginner novice division.
With the rise in popularity of unrecognized eventing derbies, the USEA hopes to help further promote them.
“It’s actually really exciting,” Leslie said. “It’s to develop a level of two-phase competition with one phase being dressage and the other being jumping, either all stadium or a combination of stadium and cross-country. We want to develop a national leaderboard for that. The concept was approved. Now there’s a task force, which is going to be head up by Mary Schwentker.
“The hope is that this can be utilized by the schooling shows or the people already having schooling shows in the event derby format,” she said. “If they want to be listed, it gives them the opportunity to be listed in the Omnibus, and it will also give them access to judges and the quality that we expect at a horse trial. [For example] it could be an opportunity to do a competition in February in the middle of Wisconsin in an indoor arena.”
Parallel beginner novice is a concept similar to what is known in the Rule Book as a “test.” Relaxed dress attire and coaching would likely be allowed, as well as multiple riders on the same horse for schooling purposes.
Leslie said committee members will meet again between now and the Annual Meeting, slated for Dec. 2-6 in Washington, D.C., to put together more guidelines.
Modifying Leaderboard Math
The USEA’s current overall leaderboard only includes points from preliminary and above, but the Board voted to change that policy to include lower level points using a separate scale.
“It would allow those professional riders that are riding just one horse at the upper levels, but they’re riding 50,000 training horses, to be competitive on the leaderboard,” said Leslie. “It’s trying to be all-inclusive of the membership.”
Another persistent problem that was discussed at last year’s Annual Meeting was the points upgrade policy for juniors. Many juniors were entering the open divisions to receive maximum points as the highest-placed junior, which was against the spirit of the policy.
“When you go to a show and a junior rider has a choice to go into junior novice or open novice, they were choosing to go to the open novice division,” said Leslie. “Their thinking was, even though I get a score of 35.0 in that division and I’m placed tenth, but when you stack me up against all the people in the open division, I’m the first-placed junior rider. If that score of 35.0 in a junior division would have placed them fifth, they would have only gotten the national leaderboard points for fifth place. That’s how some of the junior riders were gaming the system, so we kind of closed that gap.”
The new policy states that if a junior enters a non-age restrictive rider or open division when a junior division is offered, the upgrade policy would not apply. If they are not eligible to compete in a non-age restrictive rider division, they would receive the upgrade.
The Board also discussed a proposal to change the wording of EV106.3 in regards to opening dates. The rule would make all events open the Tuesday prior to the date that falls six weeks before the first day of the event, instead of eight weeks for CCNs, or a three-day event run under national rules. A training, novice or beginner novice three-day would count as a CCN. Because most lower level three-days are held alongside horse trials, the Board felt that two sets of opening dates were confusing.
Leslie, an amateur rider herself, encouraged members to voice their opinions and said the Board is listening.
“The one thing I want the USEA membership to realize is how responsive the Board of Governors are to its membership and how much they really do listen,” she said. “I can’t think of any sport horse industry organization that actually listens so much to their membership as what USEA does. Most of these rule changes that you see going on are a result of our BOG actually listening to the membership and actually doing something.”