My reaction to the USHJA increase in dues for 2016

Thoughts on the future of our sport. Deloise Noble-Strong September 2015

I reacted this week to an email from the USHJA about the price increases on membership fees. It stirred an amazing amount of indignation in me, after watching what has been happening in this industry this year. I have watched unrecognized horse shows blossom more than ever before, and know that the MHSA has been chasing our tail trying to keep up with our Regional Program alone. Then I attended two shows at Harrisburg this August. The first was run by Barb Kohr, I like this show, it offers classes for everyone, a Stirrup Cup Final, and the footing was improved from last year, exhibitors loved it, and more people will be back next year. Plus, what could be better than a horse show held at the Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg? Nothing. Personally, I have been generally happy with the facilities and management I have chosen to compete in all year, this was certainly no exception.

Then the Colonial Classic. A different set of riders and horses that qualified throughout the year at several unrecognized horse shows, but the fever was electric. I don’t know the exact number, but heard it was around 400 horses over two days of showing at the same facility. It seemed like most people had literally been looking forward to this show all year. The quality of horses and riders was drastically different, but the facility? The same. Yet these people were having the time of their lives, there was so much chaos and excitement, something I have not seen at a rated show in years. I can’t remember how many people fell off, a lot, some even in hack classes, before hack classes were even called to order. No one cared, hopped back on, dirty, unfazed, and if your horse couldn’t handle the hack class of thirty other horses, (that was not split) you could just steer to the center and spin your horse in a circle until it was over. I walked outside and saw horses tied to trailers, under pop up tents, happily munching on a giant pile of hay at their feet. It was a mortifying experience, but apparently only to me. Every competitor seemed happy, every horse was fine, the manager, Brooke Brown, took constructive feed back readily and promised a better future for the show, I have no doubt this will happen.

Then I realized all of these people have left recognized competitions. For good. This is probably not a good move for our sport, maybe not the direction we intended to go in. But we are headed there in brilliant fashion, and for the same basic reasoning – money.

The regional program in our area has seemed to have provided a much needed answer for what seems to be a large up and coming group. This is interesting. I did not think we wanted the Regional program to be bigger than our Recognized program. Young horses get badly needed and cost efficient mileage. Adults can show early, go spend time with their families afterwards. Kids can show up, bop around on ponies all day without a care in the world, go home, eat a pizza. There is zero pressure for a good performance when you are basically spending the weekend at an amusement park. NO hotel fees, NO braiding fees, NO exorbitant food fees because you can pack a lunch.

Pony Finals for these guys? Most of the trainers look at each other and go why in the hell would we go to pony finals? The only thing that promotes any sort of better horsemanship would be the allowance of a couple of equitation classes (Gittings, MHSA Eq) that hold their finals at A Shows at the end of the year.

Fees fees fees. There will always be fees with associations, but during a time when you are trying to get rated/professional divisions to fill on a regular basis, (at the A circuit level of all areas), maybe an increase in fees is the first thing people will react to. Someone pointed out to me that I could not possible be offended by paying an extra $15, what is an extra $15 anyway? No, this was just the final straw after watching what was happening all year long. Our state Association, the MHSA, is doing fine, it is actually great, healthy, membership is still on the rise, the options for people to show up and ride around in a few classes, take pictures, post on FB is working. I am finding fewer and fewer reasons to actually see the need for the USHJA when I see all these happy people milling about one of our great facilities, grinning from ear to ear when they walk out of the ring.

So then I look at why horses show at A shows. Is it so people could put a substantial price tag on the horses for sale? Money, again. This is probably what I am doing the most of. Selling imports out of the pregreen ring. We all know what it takes to get a horse a year of mileage, and the prices for a young to middle aged horse jumping around the 3 foot ring reflect this. You have to consider your expenditures when you spit out the price. Hotels, travel, division fees, care, maintenance. No wonder horses were $250k – $500k at pregreen finals, look at what the owners had to put into them to get there! I personally hate this so much, I hate my horses being just under 6 figures, it kills me to ask that much, but it is a legitimate fair market value. Most people tell me it is not enough, my horses should be more expensive, I think it is plenty to be able to find the next one.

Horse show weekend for A circuit per horse? $1200-2k… Unrecognized? $50-$125.

We are losing incentive year after year when we tell our clients to expect to pay this much to go to a horse show. They are the one writing the checks, if they want to show locally, you are going to have to honor that request. Maybe you think you have enough wealthy people in this industry you do not particularly need a few people leaving the Recognized world, but that limited foresight is what got the AHSA in trouble in the 70’s. You had the option of showing a small, medium or large pony, junior hunter or amateur hunter at 3’6” or you went pro. WHAT was the outcome? People formed the Baltimore County Horse Shows Association, Howard County, Lehigh, Harford County, etc, found facilities, and made up new divisions at normal safe heights, held summer shows, threw a banquet at the end of the year and made a shit ton of money doing it. Around 20 bucks got you and your horse registered, into the most highly competitive circuits around. Remember when you would go to local day at Harrisburg and Hunt Night to find your future amateur hunter?? Those days are so long gone now, but the nicest horses were being picked up by Californian trainers that came East for indoors, and taken back home for amateurs.

The average horseman and mid-level professional doesn’t see the importance of the USHJA, not here, not even within the organization.

Up and coming young professionals…..The fact that we need the EAP is a bit startling. There is a huge gap we missed by catering to every junior kid in America with rich parents, so now we are…. what? teaching kids how to tack up horses on their own again? Teaching them the skills they should have learned in their own backyard? These are the kids that will eventually take over our business, right? Again, you will see a shift, because the riders coming through the EAP are not all perfectly rounded, talented riders. The general feel is that the EAP is working, helping young horsemen become BETTER horsemen, make connections, stay in touch for the future, so apparently we really need this program.

I personally want to know the real pulse of the 44k USHJA members. and I expect the organization to cater to the largest percentage of members with a common thread. Maybe in a poll:

Why do you go to horse shows? a) sales b) pleasure/social c)the competition d)desire to qualify for a ‘Final’

How many A rated shows do you attend a year? B/C? Unrecognized?

Do you attend a winter Circuit? (show 4 weeks or more in the south over the winter months)?

Do you attend shows based on a)footing/management b) attendance for business, i.e, sale of horses c) social reasons/atmosphere d) qualifying for ‘finals’

Did you pick a trainer based on a) location b) experience c)USHJA certification d) other ____________________

Do you understand all of the programs currently being offered by the USHJA? ___________

How often do you visit the website? _________________

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The Zone chairs might be responsible for submitting this and other information to the USHJA every year, but are they attending only A rated shows? Do they see unrecognized competitions and wonder how to connect the levels?

I remember filling out polls from Gary Baker at every year end banquet in Zone 3 and scratching my head, because he was asking for membership fees for his own separate organization just to get a pulse of the field to submit to the USEF. Idea good, asking for money? not good. However, he was putting tough questions on paper and demanding answers. He was one of the few really taking the pulse of the horsemen.

For example, would someone attending the Colonial Classic know what the USHJA Outreach program even is? I can’t even figure out that program, or come up with a good reason for it’s existence. Who is responsible for educating an exhibitor at the in-gate about it?

———

keeping track….these are thoughts in reaction to the reasoning behind the raise in costs from the USHJA themselves, and because I can’t possibly address every headache people will come across when dealing with an organization.

“Once proposals are accepted, it is incumbent on the staff to run the program. The amount of USHJA programs has increased and therefore we need staff to keep up with the administration of the programs.

Our two choices were to either cut programming or increase fees. I truly believe that sometimes you are between the devil and the deep blue sea. This was one of those times.”

Are these viable solutions:

Why is there a pre-green challenge class? I don’t get this. Pregreen horses show in the same division all year long and still need a challenge class?? Yet, it is not a two round classic, for money., for example. They already have two years of being allowed to show in a pregreen division, why is this necessary?         

The USHJA Pre-Green Challenge is an exciting addition to the USHJA Hunter Programs; designed to showcase Pre-Green Hunters as they develop through the early stages of their careers. The program debuts December 1, 2014, for the 2015 competition year.      

            

Again, nope, I mean what??:     Competition management will collect and remit to USHJA the $15 per horse entrant fee at Premier and National rated competitions and competitions that have been approved for a Special Competition status, and the $10 per horse entrant fee at Regional I and Regional II competitions within 10 days of the conclusion of the competition. The per horse entrant fee may be added to the entry fee.

Why is there a 3’3” junior medal class offered? The Josey Mohler, MHSA junior Eq 3’3”, Gittings Horsemanship, VHSA, NCHJA, USEF Medal, Maclay, etc. aren’t enough? Who asked for this and why? Did anyone calculate the manpower to keep track of a 3’3”  medal??   I have never even seen this class in a prize list around here.

   A USHJA 3’3” Jumping Seat Medal may be offered at USEF Licensed competitions. B. Competition management will collect and remit to USHJA the $5 per competing entrant fee within 10 days of the conclusion of the competition. The competing entrant fee may be added to the entry fee. C. Competition management will remit complete results to USHJA and USEF within 10 days of the conclusion of the competition.    

Get rid of IN STRIDE, everything is online, no one wants more trash in their house: USHJA In Stride Magazine is a member benefit. $9.00 of your membership dues include a one year subscription to USHJA Magazine.  There is another 400k you can have back..

Catering primarily to the “Upper Eschelon” is not the way forward. I am not going to address business practices of the Upper Eschelon either, this is not constructive. Nor do I believe I could wrap my head around the controversy of “preparing” horses for the hunter ring at this point. Most of us could write a book about how we get a horse to win in the hunter ring…

I also do not want to leave the A Circuit, I like it, I have been on it for years, brought kids up through the ranks for years, I think it is a great system, we do have great horse shows, standards are improving,  footing is gradually improving, we have more choices about where to show based on facilities, good management, but we have major gaping holes at the same time. I personally see no benefit to an organization whose favorite words seem to be “appeal denied”. Umm, what? You work for us, we do not work for you. $300 for a protest or claim/appeal? no. This is not working. It is scary. The backlash from scandal over drugs and medication alone could probably take hundreds of man-hours to sort through and no reasonable outcome would land at our feet. The USEF seems prepared to bleed a good horseman dry in attorney fees before admitting defeat surrounding a controversial suspension. And not only that, the BASELINES for suspension seem more and more arbitrary every year. Setting the tone, setting an example, or putting horsemen out of business for months at a time, really leads people out the door to……unrecognized competition…..

I classify myself as a mid-level professional. There are many of us around, making the decisions with owners and horses, far more than the ELITE professionals we read about in your  (USHJA) magazine.

I do believe there is an in-between, a better crossover for development of horses and riders. Less pressure, more desirable education, less paranoia, all of that toxicity, that gets fueled by greed.

Question from the organization side might be (at least I TRY to think of the other side)  – “well, if the USEF and USHJA are so called broken, how come more people are not protesting?” My answer? Well that time you fined Jimmy Torano and Don Stewart for voicing an opinion might have something to do with it. Censorship will not create loyalty, only dissent. In this country, in this time, you DO NOT censure people for voicing an opinion. EVER.

I realized over the last few nights when I tried to put my thousands of thoughts together to address my issues concerning the USEF and USHJA, that it is actually impossible to address all of the sources of my grievances. It is an overwhelming and ridiculous task to even consider. I am not wealthy, nor do I pretend to be, but the more I delve into the intricacies of this industry, the more I have to accept wealth will prevail in the end. So be it. Let little or no change come over an incredibly special and endearing world. Passion for animals is what brings us all together, but incohesive structure is what will drive us all apart. For as many members, there will be opinions. I am not right or wrong, but what I am feeling is helpless. It is such a daunting task to ask for change. The future economy in itself will gradually affect the circuits, just as it did in 2008, when a tremendous pause was put on our enthusiasm for horse sports. Yet, we hear stories about superfluous prize money in the hunter ring, in the jumper ring, million dollar classes, held for million dollar horses, etc etc, but when the majority breaks away and carries on WITHOUT the benefits of your organization, what will you actually do to get them back?

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4 thoughts on “My reaction to the USHJA increase in dues for 2016

  1. Deloise – you have definitely raised a number of interesting questions and ones that I have asked myself once I heard about the fee increases. Why do I continue to be a member of an organization that does so little for me and my horses? My only answer – I have to be a member so that my horses can show in the few recognized shows that they do each year, and I have to be a member to keep my steward’s license. Otherwise, I would not renew my membership anymore because the organization does nothing for a small time horse owner/professional.

    I have competed at USEF shows since it was the AHSA back in the “good old days” and have watched the decline of horsemanship and sportsmanship over the years. My response was to get into the education side of the industry – both at the high school and the collegiate level – so that I can hope to influence some of the upcoming young people who are going into the business. I include sections on ethics in all my courses and continue to believe that some of my students are taking this out into the world with them upon graduation. I became a USEF steward so that I can educate people at shows – does it work? Who knows. But if one person goes home at the end of a show knowing more about the rules, that is a good day. Will I be the one to change the industry? Highly unlikely! But I’m trying in my own little way to do some good and that is certainly more than it seems the national association is trying to do.

    Please keep blogging your thoughts and comments. Perhaps they will encourage people to think and start conversations. Increasing fees is not the way to include your members – providing programs for everyone that are inclusive and beneficial (and understandable as you point out) will create a lot more good will.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are doing a great job Cricket, I also love the education side of it, for many years this is how I coped with many of the same issues, and hoped it would stick with my students. This time, I would like both organizations to start thinking about catering to the highest percentage of participants in Recognized and Rated shows, not just the top 1-5%. It is time, and I am willing to keep these conversations going. Thank you!

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  2. Thank you so much for not only attending the Colonial Classic but also for the wonderful review. We are proud to offer a high quality horse show for everyone. I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions on how to improve our show.
    Brooke Brown

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  3. “A” shows are a microcosm of our society today. An elite few enjoy all the riches. Back in the day a middle class kid like John French or Susie Slacum could afford the “A” circuit on a budget. Problem was, they were beating the “Bunnie” French’s(mustard heir) and today’s Destry Spielberg’s, who spent big $. The solution was to price out the middle class, which they have succeeded in doing. To keep it a sport of king’s, you must price out the “working” class. I’m an RN who enjoys showing as a hobby and will be just fine enjoying my horse at the local level. Enjoy the “A” show champions with 5 or 6 in a class, LOL. Back in my day we had 40 large ponies in a class. Maybe one day we can have a locals vs. elites end of year competition. May the games begin.

    Liked by 1 person

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