After a full day of judging on the first day of last year’s inaugural Pre-Green Incentive Program Championship (Ky.), held Aug. 14-15, Don Stewart logged onto his Facebook account and posted about his issues with the day’s events and the championship format.
Stewart, who was only judging Day 1 of that championship, stated in his post that the format of the class wasn’t ideal—the first day was too long, and the two classes each horse jumped on the first day were held back-to-back, with more than 200 rounds and their scores for judges to track—and the distances set in the lines didn’t help the horses jump best. He jokingly noted that judges didn’t receive enough bathroom breaks. His post, set to be seen by “friends only,” garnered 243 likes.
Torano, who also judged the first day and the next day as well, “liked” Stewart’s post on Facebook. “Can’t you do more than the ‘like’ button?” asked Stewart. “You said it all,” Torano responded. Both Torano and Stewart also judged the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, held at the same Kentucky Horse Park venue, Aug. 16-17.
Fast forward several months, and Torano, a USEF R judge, received a letter from the U.S. Equestrian Federation in the mail. In the letter, it stated he was being censured and fined $500, unless he chose to respond to it with legal action, after he “added negative comments to a thread on Facebook regarding the format of the inaugural pre-green incentive championship, developed by USHJA.”
The rule referenced was Chapter 7, GR702.1d, which states: “A violation is any act prejudicial to the best interests of the Federation, including but not limited to the following: Acting or inciting or permitting any other to act in a manner contrary to the rules of the Federation, or in a manner deemed improper, unethical, dishonest, unsportsmanlike or intemperate, or prejudicial to the best interests of the sport and the Federation.”
Torano decided to accept his censure and the fine, since he knew fighting it would cost significantly more than $500, and it also wouldn’t guarantee a victory. His censure was listed in the June USEF Hearing Committee administrative penalties.
“The U.S. Equestrian Federation does not have a social media policy for licensed officials,” said Sonja Keating, senior vice president and general counsel for the USEF. “But we do have standards of conduct and professionalism that are expected of the officials during the execution of their duties. When those standards are breached, we must take action and hold the official accountable.”
But Torano still believes the situation was mishandled by the USEF.
“I think it worries everybody,” said Torano. “Whatever happened to freedom of speech? There’s no freedom of speech if you can’t say how you feel. We’re trying to do what we can to make the sport better. We’re not judging these events for the money. I do it to give back to the sport. We’re giving back, but then we’re being punished. It’s a little bit of a slap in the face.
“They said I posted negative comments, and that’s a total untruth,” he added. “Their censure was totally inaccurate.”
Stewart, who received a similar letter from USEF, has hired a lawyer and is fighting his censure and fine. He was one of the founding members of and a financial contributor to the USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Program in late 2012.
“The format was totally unacceptable. I tried to say something, and no one would listen,” he said of the 2013 pre-green championship. “I was expecting an apology letter [from USEF], and then I get a letter they’re going to fine me. I’m not going to just roll over and accept it. I don’t want my name in print saying I did anything wrong. No one I’ve talked to thinks it’s wrong.”
Stewart serves on the USHJA Hunter Development Task Force. Neither Stewart nor Torano are judging this year's USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Program Championship, scheduled for Aug. 12-14. This year the first two rounds are held on separate days.
“We don’t discuss anything about how [the pre-green championship] was done poorly last year. It’s the same old smoke and mirrors, where everything gets done behind closed doors. There’s no transparency,” he said.
Other notable June USEF hearing committee rulings and administrative penalties:
Travis Lubow (Nashville, Tenn.), as trainer, exhibited the horse Petra at the 2013 Upperville Colt and Horse Show (Va.) after it had been administered and/or contained in its body gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in excess of normal physiological levels.
Lubow was fined $5,000, he is suspended for five months, starting June 1, 2015, and terminating midnight Oct. 31, 2015. During his suspension he’s forbidden from taking part in any USEF-licensed competitions as exhibitor, participant or spectator. Read more about Lubow’s penalty on the USEF website.
Shane George (Magnolia, Texas), as trainer, exhibited the horse Montgomery at the 2013 Kentucky Spring Horse Show after it was administered and/or contained in its body benzoylecgonine and ecgonine methyl ester, two major urinary metabolites of cocaine.
George was fined $2,000, and he’ll be suspended from April 1, 2015, through midnight of May 31, 2015. Read the details of his penalty on the USEF website.
Caroline Lloyd (East Hampton, N.Y.) competed the horse Saphir in the pre-green hunter division in 2013. However, according to USEF records, the horse was shown in classes and/or divisions in 2011 and 2012 that made it ineligible to be shown in the division in 2013. Lloyd must pay a $300 fine to each of the seven competitions and return all prize money, ribbons and prizes.