Friday, Jun. 21, 2024

USEF Expands Its Authority To Police Horse Welfare Beyond The Show Grounds

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At its annual mid-year board of directors meeting, held this week in Lexington, Kentucky, the U.S. Equestrian Federation approved expanding its reach with a rule change that will give it jurisdiction over horse welfare outside the realm of competitions, and also require members to report abuse when they see it.

A rewrite of GR838, which was proposed as an extraordinary rule change in February, expands the scope of USEF’s jurisdiction to include horse abuse that occurs outside of competitions and show grounds, including at home facilities. It also clarifies examples of what constitutes abuse, mandates reporting of horse abuse, and clarifies that competition management and officials are empowered to eliminate, disqualify and issue warnings for horse abuse at competitions.

That rule and others approved at the meeting will go into effect on Dec. 1 for the 2025 competition year.

Members of the U.S. Equestrian Federation board of directors work with staff to provide feedback on the organization’s 2025-2028 strategic plan during the USEF board of directors mid-year meeting, held June 17-18 in Lexington, Ky. Zack Ryle/USEF Photo

The GR838 rewrite, which was first discussed at the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association annual meeting in December, sought to address situations like the one involving Cesar Parra, where video surfaced of him severely disciplining horses while training at home. Because the alleged abuse did not take place at a competition, USEF was unable to act under its existing rules.

Now, GR838 includes new definitions of the horses and humans that fall under USEF’s purview for the purposes of enforcing horse welfare regulations. However, it cannot be applied retroactively to address past allegations of abuse.

A “participant” is defined as “any person who holds or has held a Federation membership; participated in a federation licensed or endorsed competition as a rider, vaulter, driver, handler, exhibitor, trainer, coach, groom, competition veterinarian, or support personnel for any of these identified roles; or is present on the grounds of a federation licensed or endorsed competition.”

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A “covered horse” is defined as “any horse that is or has been recorded with the federation, has participated or is entered to participate in a federation licensed or endorsed competition, or is on the grounds of a federation licensed or endorsed competition or is in the care, custody and control of a participant.”

The new rule still covers unethical treatment of a horse at a USEF-licensed or -endorsed competition, but now also includes unethical treatment that happens elsewhere after Nov. 30.

GR838 also outlines examples of unethical treatment of a horse, including:

  • Misuse or excessive use of a whip, spurs or bit
  • Misuse of any equipment or device, including tack
  • Hyper- or hyposensitization of any physical part of a covered horse to enhance performance
  • Using devices or objects to enhance a covered horse’s performance based on fear
  • Training, riding or competing a covered horse with raw, bleeding or irritated skin or welts consisted with excessive, persistent or inappropriate use of equipment, including spurs
  • Continued riding, driving or longeing an obviously exhausted, lame or injured covered horse

In addition, GR838 now requires any participant who personally witnesses unethical treatment of a horse at a competition to immediately report it to a licensed official. A participant who personally witnesses unethical treatment of a covered horse somewhere other than a competition is required to report it to USEF and relevant local authorities “as soon as practicable.” Allegations that are determined to have been made maliciously or when known to be false “will be viewed as a serious disciplinary offense” and the reporting party will be subject to penalty by USEF.

“The USEF board of directors unanimously voted in favor of the GR838 rule change with the support of the recognized affiliates and USEF committees,” USEF Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel Sonja Keating said in a statement. “The community emphatically recognizes the critical importance of horse safety and well-being inside and outside of competition grounds. USEF is appreciative for the robust feedback that occurred as part of the legislative process, including input and questions on the reporting, investigation and adjudication process.”

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Some other notable changes:

  • JP118 would eliminate speed classes for junior and amateur jumper classes set below 0.90 meters. (Read Aaron Vale’s column in support of the change here.)
  • GR150 & GR1219 (078-23) define official video and restrict the review of video footage or other electronic media when making field-of-play decisions to only official, unaltered video unless stated otherwise in the breed or discipline division rules.
  • EV115.5 (194-23) provides a carve-out for eventing competitions by allowing the ground jury and technical delegate to consider the use of unaltered video footage or still photography other than official video for making cross-country field-of-play decisions.
  • GR845.1 (076-23) requires USEF-licensed competitions that offer onsite stabling to have a documented isolation plan, a copy of which must be provided to USEF no later than 14 days prior to the start of the competition.
  • GR870 (072-23) and GR871 (073-23) mandate that all competition participants abide by and comply with biosecurity measures and equine health protocols imposed by USEF and competition management. Competition management must also operate their competitions in accordance with all applicable USEF, local, state and federal animal health requirements.
  • GR302.1 (077-23) requires that individuals conducting business with USEF as a competition licensee must be a USEF active competing member in good standing. In addition, at least one owner of a farm or business registered with USEF must be a USEF active competing member in good standing.
  • GR201.2 (067-23) and GR411.1 (084-23) remove references to paper application forms and medication report forms from the USEF rule book, given that the submission of these forms now occurs electronically.

From left to right, Will Faudree, Allison Brock and Max Amaya at the U.S. Equestrian Federation mid-year board of directors meeting. Zack Ryle/US Equestrian Photo

Two rule change proposals—GR127.3 (066-23), regarding allowing mules to compete in hunter and equitation, and GR074-23 (074-23), regarding mandatory reporting of febrile horses at competitions—were referred to the September board meeting to allow the proponents for each to provide additional information.

Read all of the approved rule changes here.

In addition to approving rule changes, the board of directors participated in breakout workshop sessions focused on providing feedback on the working draft of the USEF 2025-2028 strategic plan and the goals and strategies that underpin the plan. This proposed strategic plan will continue to undergo additional refinements before being presented to the board for final approval in the fall and unveiled to the membership during the USEF Annual Meeting in Lexington in January.

The board also voted to retain Jon Kreitz for a successive four-year term as an independent director. His second term will run from January 2025 to January 2029.

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