A year ago, at the first convention of the brand-new U.S. Equestrian Federation, President David O’Connor promised to put together a Competition Date Task Force. By spring he’d done just that, and the task force’s investigation and presentations were soon raising the hackles on a few show managers’ backs.
But on Jan. 12-16 that six-member group brought a long list of rule-change proposals to the U.S. Equestrian Federation convention in Louisville, Ky., proposals that would lay the foundation for a whole new method of recognizing shows. Their passage wasn’t at all certain–until the task force members asked show managers Larry Langer and Glenn Petty to join them in fine-tuning the revolutionary rules.
The result of that outreach–along with incorporating some im-portant suggestions from the eventing and dressage committees–was only brief discussion when the task force presented their changes at the Saturday board meeting. And no one objected at all when it came time to vote on Sunday morning.
“Congratulations to the task force,” said O’Connor with a relieved grin after the board had passed the changes unanimously. “We have had a monumental shift in the way we approve shows, but it’s only the start of the process.”
The alterations to the almost sacrosanct mileage rule were one of two rule changes that a decade ago would have been so controversial they’d have never even made it to a directors’ vote. The other was a rule change requiring all riders in hunter, jumper and hunter seat equitation classes to wear
ASTM/SEI-approved helmets at all times. This rule sailed through too with barely a whimper.
“What I’m most impressed about at this meeting is our ability to argue and discuss, without recrimination,” said O’Connor, looking back on these landmark decisions. “We got together to solve the problems, instead of fighting just to throw the issues off the table.”
The date-assignment rules are the first steps in changing the USEF’s show-approval process to a licensing agreement between the federation and the people who manage its 2,800 competitions.
All shows in good standing will be granted three-year licenses this spring, and between now and 2008 the task force and other federation and affiliate leaders will develop standards for all levels of competition. And they’ll have to create a system for certifying that those standards are being met and training individuals to carry out that certification. Most licenses will be for three years, although some could be shorter and a few longer.
These rules, contained in 21 articles, also describe how the federation will deal with competitions that don’t meet the licensing criteria, and they lay the groundwork for new ways of determining mileage between competitions. The next step is for each discipline’s and breed’s representatives to develop their own competition standards and mileage, if applicable.
Standards will be the heart of the licensing process, incorporating far more than mileage between competitions and prize money, the main criteria for date assignment until now. Standards will incorporate things like number and size of competition and warm-up rings, the footing in those rings, whether there is stabling and whether it’s permanent or temporary, parking and access, scheduling, prize money and entry fees, and more.
They’ll also have to develop a new nomenclature, replacing the AA, A, B and C ratings with terms that are more descriptive and don’t suggest one kind of competition is better than another. The task force members’ goal is to develop competitions that fill a variety of niches, from televised international events to local or schooling-type shows.
USEF officials and show managers Stadium Jumping, HITS, Little-wood Farm and others are already fighting a federal anti-trust suit filed by JES Properties of Florida, be-cause the mileage rule prevents them from getting any winter show dates in Florida. That case, which has reportedly cost the defendants six figures each and hasn’t gone to trial yet, has certainly motivated show managers to accept a rule overhaul they’ve stonewalled before. But O’Connor insisted that the lawsuit didn’t motivate this initiative.
“These rules aren’t going to take the suit away. They would have happened whether we had this legal problem or not,” said O’Connor. “We feel like this puts us in a much stronger position and that it actually protects the shows better, especially because the license is for three years.” Under current rules, date approval is annual.
The task force members are John Long, Bill Moroney, Robert Ridland, Howard Pike, Robert Higgins and Kate Jackson.
It must be a sign of the times that the Safety Committee’s proposal to require all riders in hunter, jumper and hunter seat equitation classes to wear ASTM/SEI-approved helmets at all times didn’t set off any fireworks. In fact, no one even voiced objections at the Safety Committee’s forum on Friday, where Chairman Andrew Ellis, neurosurgeon Dr. William Brooks, and Roy Burek from helmet manufacturer Charles Owen explained their case.
The rule, article 318, takes effect on Dec. 1.
Convention veterans shook their heads in relief, remembering the passionate opposition to a junior helmet rule proposed 15 years ago, passion that was still evident when the current junior helmet rule passed three years ago.
Ellis, a show manager, said that when he’d discussed the rule change last fall at the North Carolina Hunter Jumper Association year-end meeting, 76 of the 82 members present supported it. He added that he thought their acceptance showed that most riders are already wearing ASTM/SEI-approved helmets.
The only issue Ellis felt the need to specifically address in the committee’s forum was allegations of riders being choked by their helmets’ harnesses, communicated to him in letters from three or four individuals. Ellis presented statements from three independent helmet experts dispelling that accusation.
David Halstead, director of the Southern Impact Research Laboratory in Knoxville, Tenn., and chairman of the ASTM committee that oversees all helmet standards, wrote: “I know of no cases of retention systems causing injury. Not one case has been presented to the scientific community–and I have looked hard–that indicates a retention system caused an injury.”
Said a relieved Ellis after the vote, “This is a monumental rule change that’s going to lead us into the future.”
To Catch A Few
In 2004 Ned Bonnie–for more than three decades one of the staunchest proponents of the USEF’s anti-drug rules–proposed rules requiring veterinarians to be federation members. Bonnie wanted to be able to penalize veterinarians who provide members with banned medications for competing horses, but his proposals were soundly defeated.
He didn’t quit, though, as the Hearing Committee has continued to be handcuffed by a few practitioners who provide their clients with drugs they claim “won’t test” while on the show grounds.
And this time the Veterinary Committee, under Chairman Kent Allen (who’s also the chairman of the Drugs and Medications Committee), worked with other committees to draft rules that allow them to penalize veterinarians for drug-rule violations, if necessary. The rule names on-grounds veterinarians–just like trainers–as responsible for horses whose samples contain forbidden substances.
“My goal is to not allow unethical treatment of horses by veterinarians. What we’re trying to do is catch the bad eggs,” said Allen.
The three rules passed (articles 406.16e, 701 and 702.k) allow the Hearing Committee to consider a trainer’s or owner’s testimony that a veterinarian prescribed the drug, make veterinarians on show grounds responsible for prescribing forbidden substances to competing horses, and allow the USEF to censure, fine or suspend them as if they were members.
“The intent of this rule is not to catch a vet who medicated a horse he thought wasn’t competing. The intent is to have the ability to stop vets who go in the back gate of the show with unmarked vials to do something,” said Allen. “We’re dealing witha very small percentage here, but it’s a problem.”
Allen also noted that in 2004 the USEF approved a topical non-steroidal cream, with a threshold level similar to the five oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs allowed. And he warned that in 2005 their drug testing will be fine-tuned to catch traces of valerian, which isn’t allowed in any quantity in a competing horse’s system.
No License, No Golf Cart
Show managers, who’ve felt unable to cope with the increasing numbers of golf carts and scooters speeding around their show grounds, sometimes causing serious accidents, asked the Safety Committee to develop a rule protecting them. And the rule they developed (article 301.5.a) will prevent minors without driver’s licenses from operating any kind of motorized vehicles on any show grounds at any time.
Because of the legal and insurance ramifications, the rule takes effect on April 1.
Representatives from eventing anddriving had requested an exemption, noting that organizers’ children often collect scores and run errands on all-terrain vehicles or scooters and could be negatively affected by this rule. But Karen O’Connor told the board, “Eventing has a big exposure [by allowing minors to operate motorized vehicles], and I think this needs to pass without exceptions.”
The rule passed with no exemptions. The only modifications to the original proposal were to change “children” to “minors” and to allow disabled minors to use their motorized “mobility assistance devices.”
Two rules dealing with protests also passed. A change to article 603.1 allows any USEF member who isn’t participating as a competitor but is present at a competition to file a protest. And article 608 makes it clear that when a protest involves two individual parties, but not the USEF, both parties are required to provide each other with copies of all documents and evidence, just like in a court of law.
Board members passed 83 rules on the so-called consent calendar, for rules that all relevant committees had approved.
But the board members did vote down quite a few rules, including 48 in the consent calendar for disapproval. Those rules included one (article 812.6) that would have prevented members from using six different types of names for their horses, including only numbers, names of celebrities (without permission), names of famous horses (like Secretariat or Gem Twist), and names that are vulgar or obscene.
One significant rule change that was deferred for more input would require high-performance riders to donate at least two days per year to promote horse sports if asked by federation officials. Bill Mo-roney, president of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, proposed this rule after only David O’Connor could be convinced to go to New York City for a Today Show pre-Olympic preview last June, and only four of the five eventing team riders, one dressage rider and one Paralympian showed up for a post-Olympic White House reception.
Driver Chester Weber, chairman of the USEF Athletes’ Advisory Council, said, “I’d never even heard of this, and I’m a little concerned by it.” He asked to table the rule for further consideration.
Bill Bradley, one of the two reining representatives on the board, said that reining has an even tougher requirement. If any riders on their top-20 list fail to serve the National Reining Horse Association when asked, they can be removed from the list.
“We have a duty to the rest of the membership, who are heavily supporting the athletes in our budget. And I caution the high-performance groups who just want to dismiss this,” Bradley said.
Added Karen O’Connor, “I have a feeling that some high-performance athletes don’t understand how this whole thing is really working for them.”
Nevertheless, the board voted to table it and take action at the July board meeting.
The board defeated a rule (article 706.k) shifting the burden for making sure suspended competitors aren’t showing from managers to other competitors. Show manager Tom Struzzieri argued that managers cannot possibly keep current on the long list, which is organized only alphabetically, not by discipline or zone. He also argued that the competitors generally tell officials if they spot a suspended trainer, rider or horse on the grounds.
But USEF counsel Julie Goodman said that’s not true at all, because they’re either afraid to speak up or not aware of an individual’s suspension. John Long, the USEF chief operating officer, said the staff could reorganize the ways in which the list is reported to assist management and officials.
A rule allowing horses with head-shakers’ syndrome to wear small masks over their noses went down to defeat again. Allen said that the only medication for head shaking is an antihistamine and thus not allowed under the rules, “so effectively you can’t medicate a horse for head shaking.” The Veterinary Committee approved it, but the Dressage Committee and others didn’t.
Severson Sweeps Pegasus Awards
When USEF President David O’Connor announced that Olympic silver medalist Kim Severson was the USEF Equestrian of the Year, he observed, “This lady has taken the event world by storm, and I can guarantee this isn’t the last time you’re going to see her here.”
In addition to her Olympic exploits, Severson, 30, won the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** on Winsome Adante for the second time in 2004. “I hope I’m worthy of following in the footsteps of all the people who’ve come before me,” Severson said.
Chris Kappler, winner of the show jumping team silver and individual bronze medals at the Olympics, received the Whitney Stone Trophy from the USET Foundation.
“He is a true ambassador for our sport,” said Armand Leone Jr., the USEF vice president for high performance, in recognizing Kappler.
“I’m truly honored,” responded Kappler, 37.
Lowell Boomer, one of the founders of the U.S. Dressage Federation, received the Jimmy Williams Trophy for the Lifetime Achievement Award. Boomer, 93, couldn’t make it to Louisville, Ky., so O’Connor and former national federation president Jimmy Wofford traveled to Lincoln, Neb., to present it to him, a moment showed on videotape.
O’Connor recalled that when he, his mother Sally O’Connor, and brother Brian rode across the country in 1973, they stopped at Boomer’s farm on July 4. And Boomer and Sally then went off to one of the USDF’s first organizational meetings. Heading the USDF used to be “like herding cats, and in 1973 it would have been like herding cats with long hair. It was an incredible, incredible feat to change the face of horse sports like he did,” quipped O’Connor.
Wearing the silver hat, Boomer said humbly, “I don’t know what I did to deserve this, but I’ll certainly accept it. It’s an honor for me.”
Also honored at the Pegasus Dinner were Richard Jeffery as the show jumping course designer of the year; Diana Dodge and Herb Kohler with the Ellen Scripps Davis Memorial Breeders’ Award; Howard B. Simpson with the Walter B. Devereux Trophy for sportsmanship; Bill Moroney with the Sallie Busch Wheeler Trophy for distinguished service; Kathy Kusner, Edna G. Lytle, Maggie Price and Alvin Topping received Pegasus Medals of Honor; and Meagan Drew, who shows in saddle seat, dressage and Western, was named Junior Equestrian of the Year.
O’Connor: One Number, Better Instructors
In his keynote speech at lunch on Thursday, Jan. 13, USEF President David O’Connor promised action on four areas that directly affect the federation’s membership.
First, he promised “less paperwork.”
He explained, “Now is the time to enter into agreements with all of the affiliates, to create one membership number for all of our competitors. We’ve been working with the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association and the U.S. Dressage Federation on how this information would be tracked and used. This is not an insurmountable problem. A proposal will be brought forward to the board for their consideration in July.”
Second, “It is my belief that we are seriously lacking in the educating of our educators. Traveling around the country and listening to things that happen in the warm-up ring, one comes to wonder how all of these instructors came into being.”
Consequently, O’Connor has proposed that the USEF will require all affiliate organizations to develop instructor-education and -certification programs within five years, much like the USDF and U.S. Eventing Association have done. (O’Connor is already certified at the USEA’s highest level.) He said he will encourage the USAEq Trust to help fund the project.
“It will make sure that thought-out, well-proven theories of horsemanship are heard by everyone who takes someone else’s horse-related safety into their own hands,” said O’Connor. “I believe this is vital if we are to survive in the legal system in the future. It is time we decide to be ahead of the curve and develop the curriculum for this license, instead of waiting for it to be dictated to us.”
Third, O’Connor, motivated by problems at the Olympics and other competitions and by changes forced upon his own sport of eventing, wants to improve the USEF’s relationship with the Federation Equestre Internationale. Specifically, O’Connor and other USEF leaders seek to have more input into making rules and setting policies.
As John Long, the USEF chief operating officer, told the Board of Directors on Sunday, “Our concerns are shared by other countries. We need to have a different relationship with the FEI, one that’s based on mutual trust and commitment.”
Fourth, O’Connor urged everyone to support the changes to the date-approval process, changes that were approved.
“I look at it this way: Last year we built the frame of a very large house. Now we’re working on the interior, and we desperately need stairs to lead us to the next level. These stairs have to be built bit by bit, from the bottom up,” said O’Connor. “Now is the time to pick up the hammers and start building!”
O’Connor believes that in 2004 the USEF’s volunteer leaders and staff accomplished a lot, and that even more promising programs lay ahead. “These really are things that have been around a long time” but haven’t been addressed because of time, resources or strong resistance. He added with a smile, “I think we need to take a breath.”
The Board of Directors approved a financial statement showing 2004 expenses of $18,682,755 on revenue of $20,082,386. And they budgeted expenses of $20,738,152 on revenue of $21,482,929 for 2005.
The USEF’s investment portfolio was worth slightly more than $3 million at the end of 2004.
The 2006 USEF convention will be in New Orleans, on Jan. 10-15. The midyear Board of Directors meeting will be in Lexington, Ky., on July 12.