I suspect that their plan is going to require all of us to look at all equestrian competitions in a whole new way. Instead of assigning a rating based almost exclusively on prize money, the federation`s members will need to agree on show standards and then assign values to them. Why? Because there`s a long list of elements that are the difference between suffering through a long weekend and looking forward to coming back next year or next month–and prize money is just one of them.
We need a system that guarantees competitors enjoyable, safe and fairly priced shows, that makes it worthwhile for show managers to invest resources in a show or series of them, but that also makes it possible for an entrepreneur to start up something new. Sounds easy, huh? Oh, and just throwing out the mileage rule isn`t the answer either.
Competitors tend to show where they can get the most points for their performance, either in pursuit of year-end awards or to qualify for certain shows. And the ratings and the Increment System–which assigns a point value to each ribbon won–are determined almost exclusively by how much prize money the show management distributes. So the system perpetuates shows that maintain their A or even AA rating solely because the manager can cut enough corners to give out the minimum prize money while running an otherwise unremarkable show.
But other factors directly influence the level or quality of competition, things like the experience and reputation of the officials, the quality of the courses and the jump materials, and good footing in well-built rings. And many other things create the sort of ambiance at each show like numerous and clean bathrooms, reasonably priced and good food, ample parking, large and safe stalls, an efficient schedule, a good announcer and P.A. system, large ribbons or real trophies, a party or reception, and an efficient and helpful staff.
The task force`s proposal should also include eliminating the federation`s year-end high-score awards. Why? Because they simply perpetuate show managers` desire to make all shows A-rated. Having nothing but A-rated shows then discourages thousands who don`t want to allocate the money or time to show at them but have almost no other option, except unrecognized shows. These new standards will, inevitably, mean there are fewer A-rated shows, but if the year-end awards are replaced by zone or regional championship shows for B- and C-rated and local-member shows, it won`t matter because people will still go. The remaining question in this thorny issue would be how to qualify for the fall indoor shows and Devon, but perhaps the USEF could keep points just for that.
For now, standards and mileage are primarily a hunter/jumper problem. But competition oversight is the federation`s duty, and the solutions found in hunters and jumpers should carry over into dressage, eventing and other disciplines. After all, everybody wants good shows.