Summary of Monday, December 7th at the USHJA Convention.
My expectations for the first day of the USHJA Convention were low. There are 138 pages of rule change proposals that people have been working on for months and months, that are to be read aloud, discussed, possibly altered, or language changed to satisfy the general membership. Breakfast is served at 6:45 am. The meeting begins at 7:30 in the morning, which means you are already fighting fatigue right off the bat (or at least some of us). I thought it a particular omen that the power to the sound system promptly went off as soon as the meeting started, but nonetheless, this was sorted out before 8 am.
Have you ever read 138 pages of any kind of material? It takes ALL DANG DAY. One lunch break, one afternoon break, otherwise you take a seat, and patiently listen. Luckily, a seasoned speaker was chosen. Luckily, there were fewer emotional pleas than normal. It went more smoothly than expected. People brought up good points. Promises for rewording were made and followed through on as best as I can tell.
Interestingly enough, there was a thorough acknowledgement of the USHJA’s areas of weakness. It is absolutely acknowledged that a 1% growth over the period of 9 years is not acceptable for sustainability. Better website design is desperately needed (think those raised fees you saw earlier) to clear the menus on menus within menus that are painful to navigate. Better use of Town Hall meetings are desperately needed. Better use of current social media venues are desperately needed (think the FB page, Insta, and other resources). Personally, I want to see the programs explained by way of YouTube, by someone famous within our industry (and maybe hot), and make them humorous and fun, and short. Like a Smartpak video for us that we can make viral. How these programs get communicated to the membership is key, who is responsible for that? Does it come from advertising? Maybe Ambassadors to the sport, like The Plaid Horse has ambassadors for its magazine.
Probably the biggest point made was about the lack of focus on the youngest equestrians and a way to feed them into the pipeline; and finding a way to encourage anyone involved in riding, in whatever discipline, to eventually see a benefit for joining USHJA. Riding programs in schools were mentioned. The USHJA would recognize a defined curriculum, instructor criteria, levels of achievement by offering exams of different levels (think Pony Club), which would maybe connect a couple dots. maybe. Implementing is always the biggest challenge. That being said, it is a serious issue, and a social issue as well. The USHJA wants feedback, they want further analysis, they ask for broader involvement in specific initiatives…but the society isn’t exactly geared for positive feedback, it is generally geared for negative. What do we have to put aside in our own personal differences in order to figure out how to grow? The CEO of APPLE might have a different approach then the head of a horse club. No less important, but different approach. The idea of Apple is user friendly – if you know how to use one device, you know how to use all of the devices. The organizations that work together and share information are going to be the ones that grow. So do you know how to use each device? Are we using all of the organizations to our advantage? Not yet, but the possibility does exist.
Tom Struzzeri, the head of HITS, which is the sponsor of this week’s events, took the time to walk up to a microphone today during the proceedings to commend the USHJA for shifting the focus back to the bread and butter of the horse show industry, and away from the top echelon of showing. This is huge. This is a direct consideration to all of the hard work people behind the scenes are volunteering their time to achieve. Volunteering. Maybe the largest proportion of members do not understand that the people here today are volunteering their time to interpret the rules for you, and sometimes without enough of your input. Are you filling out the forms at shows? Are you submitting suggestions? Solutions? I am not advocating either way, but I do not believe you think people within the USHJA are not getting paid. Does that make a difference? Do you feel people should be paid for your voice? Regardless, finally, after nearly a decade, it is pretty obvious people jumping and competing at a height lower than 3’6” might outnumber the people jumping above that particular height. This might be a “duh” moment for you, but it is a humble recognition for the organization. Now, do not be fooled. I do not believe a NATIONAL competition for a 2’ class on the opposite side of the country is reasonable. Do you want to see a 2’ National Final at Harrisburg?? Well, it could be a possibility.
Other issues I witnessed were specific. The stirrups might still be an issue. There is disagreement on use of safety stirrups; black stirrups versus old fashioned steel stirrups. Debbie Stephens firmly believes in the free jump stirrup technology which will inherently prevent a rider from being dragged in an accident, yet there is little ability to make those stirrups a grey color.
Safety vests are being discussed as to the need for you to have two for competition – one for over the jacket, one for over a polo shirt. Who wants to buy two? Well, you might need two for decorum sake.
My point is my interpretation of today was actually pretty interesting. And positive. If there was a way to make these meetings available on live feed so everyone in our community could witness the discussion, we might have the capability to move forward quicker. (Maybe for next year). So many issues have yet to be discussed. There are stigma issues in the hunter industry that might seem taboo here, but should be addressed. I hear them at zone meetings, but I’m not convinced I can bring them up in discussion here…maybe an outlet needs to be provided in a sort of suggestion box? In regard to the APPLE reference, the lack of education as far as navigation throughout horse shows alone is lacking. New exhibitors learning how to attend Premiere horse shows might find the process intimidating. From the office to the ingate, to the stabling manager, to the show pass fee discrepancy……not acceptable. So the spider web across the board has room for improvement, are you willing to help us? Am I willing to help the USHJA? Is there an app for that??