The U.S. Equestrian Federation announced in a press release Jan. 20 that the American Driving Society will no longer be recognized as the driving affiliate.
“The change in recognition results from an inability to reach an agreement as to the responsibilities of the Recognized Affiliate for the driving discipline,” the release stated. “The USEF Board of Directors conducted a thorough review regarding the status of a draft affiliate agreement during the recent USEF Annual Meeting. This included a historical review of the work of ADS to meet its responsibilities as a USEF Recognized Affiliate and the specifics of the draft agreement. After considerable work with the ADS to reach an agreement, the USEF and the ADS remained at an impasse.”
Mike Arnold, president of the ADS, said the board of directors made the decision during a closed session, which neither he nor any other member of the ADS was allowed to attend, and that the USEF notified them of the decision in a letter.
“We were really upset and dismayed that I wasn’t able to be in there to represent ourselves and represent the ADS,” said Arnold. “In the end, [the decision] was about a few people. They somehow left the driver out of it, which is all we’re really concerned about.”
The decision was made after USEF approached the ADS about restructuring the relationship between the two.
“A year ago, the board met and said, ‘You’ve got a year to work it out and get into compliance with the federation policies and procedures—especially around drug testing and licensed officials,’ ” said USEF President Murray Kessler. “They went through that process and had mediators [Joseph Mattingly, chair of the International Disciplines Council, and Pete Kyle, member of the IDC] involved, but at the end of the day, they were unable to come into a level of compliance that made us feel comfortable with the governance and our responsibilities for governance.
“This is not a decision that was taken lightly,” Kessler continued, “but just like how I want the organizers and competitors to operate in a fair and level playing field, we need to do the same as a federation.”
The decision will not impact aspects of driving that already fall under the USEF purview, including the selection of championship teams. Pleasure driving will be unaffected, because there are no joint USEF-licensed/ADS-recognized shows in that division. However, combined driving does have roughly four to eight dual-licensed events per year, which will be affected.
The ADS traditionally has jurisdiction over training, preliminary and intermediate competitions, while USEF is in charge of advanced and any FEI-sanctioned competitions.
“It’s not so much a problem for the lower level, but what does it mean for the upper level?” asked Arnold. “I fear that it’s just not good for the sport. I fear it’s going to further restrict those advanced competitors to the more wealthy, and we’ve worked hard to prevent that.”
While Arnold said the ADS was willing to make concessions on certain points of contention, such as drug testing by 2020, they felt strongly that the licensing of officials should be kept under their umbrella.
“For more than 40 years, the ADS has been training and licensing officials for the lower levels, as well as for USEF-licensed competitions,” said former ADS President Natasha Grigg, who was also a member of the working group tasked with negotiations. “Any person who wished to become a USEF official, all they had to do was join USEF and go through the [licensing of officials] USEF requirements. They were encouraged to do so; obviously we need USEF ‘R’ officials to judge advanced competitions. It’s never been a problem. There has historically been very little connection between USEF [Licensed Officials Committee] and ADS LOC. It’s probably everybody’s fault, but there has been a disconnect.”
All current USEF carriage pleasure or combined driving officials must participate in a USEF Licensed Officials clinic, or take an exam to maintain a license. Any officiating maintenance requirements must now be met with USEF, and USEF liability protection will not cover officials at ADS competitions.