USEF And WEC Spar Over Ocala Show Dates

Nov 12, 2020 - 10:40 AM

After initially granting the World Equestrian Center—Ocala (Florida) four dates for the competition’s debut 2021 season, the U.S. Equestrian Federation has withdrawn those dates, opting to sanction none of the new facility’s competitions.

The World Equestrian Center, owned and run by Roby Roberts, originally requested 12 USEF-licensed dates to run the Ocala Winter Spectacular series from Jan. 5 to March 28, 2021, with $9 million in money and prizes. The shows were to run at the new facility, which is located about 11 miles from HITS Post Time Farm, where Tom Struzzieri’s HITS Horse Shows runs a long-established winter series.

Since these dates created a mileage conflict under USEF rules, WEC representatives applied for a mileage exemption, and the USEF approved four dates, two of which were premier rated. Those two—Jan. 13-17 and Jan. 20-24—were listed in advertisements sent out by WEC last week, and they also featured Fédération Equestre Internationale classes.

WEC management declined the regional USEF dates, and when they released the prize list, they announced the other 10 weeks of competition would be run by the National Snaffle Bit Association, an organization previously focused on pleasure horses and color breeds that has been sanctioning shows for 35 years.

But in response to the announcement that the NSBA would be sanctioning shows at WEC Ocala, USEF CEO Bill Moroney released a statement on Nov. 11 explaining that the USEF was withdrawing its competition licenses for the WEC Ocala shows. “NSBA is not an affiliate of USEF, and any NSBA events at the Ocala Winter Spectacular would be operated outside of USEF’s rules, including class specifications, field of play rules, scoring systems, and most importantly USEF rules protecting horse and human health and safety,” read Moroney’s statement.

Moroney also stated that the USEF would no longer be granting a license for WEC to run the FEI Jumping Nations Cup qualifier, though that change is pending approval from the FEI.

“We have notified the FEI that these events are unauthorized,” Moroney continued. “Presumably, the FEI will also decide whether it will apply its unsanctioned event rule which states that any FEI Official, FEI registered Athlete, or FEI registered Horse that participates in an unsanctioned event faces up to six months of ineligibility to participate in FEI competitions and thereby national competitions.”

Roberts responded with a letter to exhibitors stating: “During subsequent conversations with the Federation, they informed us that they are unwilling to work with the World Equestrian Center—Ocala should we decide to move forward with offering NSBA sanctioned shows and the more than $9 million in money and prizes that we advertised.

“In a show of good faith and in an effort to work with the Federation, we will release an updated schedule and prize list offering $4 million dollars in prizes and prize money during the 12-week competition,” the letter continues. “In lieu of the additional prize money, and in an effort to support and promote the entire equestrian community, we will provide FREE STALLS to showing horses for the entire circuit at a value of over $6 million dollars.”

The NSBA has 15,000 members. Organization officials are creating a new hunter/jumper section of its rulebook to be posted online after the board of directors approves the final changes at the end of November.

“To have Tom [Struzzieri] and have [Venice Equestrian Tour] and have [WEC] all in one state all could support each other,” said Roberts. “Horse people want different arenas, different jumps and different views because horses get bored. I think it’s not us against them. Having Tom down the road is one of the biggest blessings we have. I think people could qualify for USEF at his place and could qualify at NSBA at our place. NSBA will have amazing qualifying shows, championship shows that do hunter/jumpers. They’re going to be amazing shows to go to. People will qualify and do both, and I think it raises the water for everybody. I don’t think it has to be us against NSBA against USEF, or me against Tom, or me against HITS, or Wellington or Venice. They’re all amazing show facilities as far as I’m concerned.”

The NSBA, which has its own drugs and medications rules, uses the same drug lab in Kentucky as the USEF, and the organization also has its own list of approved judges. But the NSBA allows judges who hold credentials with other organizations, such as the USEF, to seek NSBA judging credentials through its restricted judges program. Those judges will be required to maintain NSBA membership and go through a recertification process.

NSBA representatives declined to answer if members banned by the USEF will be allowed to show at its competitions, but Roberts assured the Chronicle that all USEF and FEI suspensions would be upheld. WEC officials published the following statement: “Safe Sport, World Equestrian Center and the NSBA will comply with all requirements for amateur sport as set forth in the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act and will refer all complaints to the United States Center for Safe Sport for independent investigation. World Equestrian Center shall uphold standards equal to those set forth in the Equestrian NGB’s Safe Sport Policy. World Equestrian Center shall give full reciprocity to any sanctions imposed by the U.S. Center for Safe Sport that are published on the Centralized Disciplinary Database.”

The NSBA has its own amateur rule and is adapting its hunter/jumper green status rules.

“For the hunter jumper division, green status will be determined by years in competition as defined by a show’s prize list. All recorded show records will count toward that status,” said NSBA executive director Stephanie Lynn.

WEC Ocala also has dates listed for seven recognized dressage shows, including CDIs in April, October and December, and Roberts said those will run as planned.

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