Well. Day two of the circus. Everyone must have had a good night sleep, because boy did people come out with a lot more emotion today. Exciting? You bet! Controversial? Absolutely! Mud slinging? Yes! By lunch time it was obvious people were just getting warmed up. Stepping up to the microphone was the trendy thing to do. It was almost contagious. One after the other, voices were heard, and really good topics were discussed. My general impression was of the membership complaining about transparency. What is that exactly? We want to know more about the process of decision making behind the scenes, what are the factors? Who is deciding? How do we find these answers? Stop hiding in closed meetings and provide information. Period.
The demands people were making were legit. The concerns are real, the questions were not in any way frivolous. The USHJA committees wanted feedback? I’d say today they received it. The drama unfolding seemed new to a lot of people, although it is probably very typical of this type of convention. The first meeting I attended after the rule change updates and review was the International Hunter Derby Task Force. Discussion covered everything from how to apply handy points, to prize money offered (think 10k classes vs 35k) relative to difficulty levels, to course designer involvement and education, and basically an overall impression of how the last few years have grown. There was vigorous discussion on how to determine handy bonus points in an Int’l Derby. Should the handiest track taken reflect in your score despite what the judge thought of your horses style? Yes! Should the scale be changed from 1-10 to 1-5? Yes! No! Maybe! What? Part of the advantage of attending these meetings is clarification. I may not ever have this type of horse, but it does help to hear how the people that developed this class have come to the specifications that determine the factors that provide a high score. My interpretation was that the course designers have a personal vision that might not follow the Derby vision, and the judges have a personal style which also might not reflect the Derby vision. Yikes, this is actually kind of scary.
For example, two horses that choose the exact same path with the exact same inside turns, same amount of strides between the fences, should receive a similar bonus score. If they don’t then how do we have incentive for handiness? The ridability and style is reflected in the regular score, not the bonus score. How on earth are we able to fill all these holes in education?
Next I visited a meeting about Thoroughbreds. I think there was actually 100% participation from everyone in the room. That was fun because I brought up my personal observation that maybe the height of the USEF recognized division would be more prosperous and flourish at 2’9”, rather than 3’. Firestorm of opinions? YAAASSSS. How long has it been since Thoroughbreds were even discussed in such a manner?? Ummm, a long time. I would say this was progress alone. Do I care if the USEF makes money off the Thoroughbred division? Probably not. Do I care if Thoroughbreds make a comeback in our horse industry? Absolutely. They should and will, but not particularly through the USEF.
Next was a National Hunter Committee meeting and just as my eyes were glazing over, and I was considering a nap, I received a text that informed me Vick Russell had possession of the microphone, yet again, in another room across the hall, and was not showing any sign to relinquish it. I left everything behind and made a quick exit. Now, if anyone reading this knows Vick Russell, you know this man has an opinion on everything. EVERYTHING. If he gets a hold of a microphone, it is probably for a very good reason. This is a contoversial horse person. 48 years of personal horse industry involvement, and just about every relative, cousin, sibling, parent, grandparent, great grand parent, and offspring. Google him. Or here is something http://www.pnj.com/story/news/2014/01/11/pensacola-winter-classics-show-continues-through-january-at-equestrian-center/4424283/ I have no personal allegiance with him. However, I do listen to him. It is hard not to. The passion that erupts from hardcore knowledge and experience from the trenches is fascinating and real. I mean really real. I mean Vogue versus People magazine. He absolutely is the voice of breeders, young horse development, rider development, American culture development, and holds true those legitimate values. He knows he is outnumbered, yet rolls on, his sentiment is outstanding on every level and hard to turn your eyes away from. You don’t have to agree with him, it doesn’t even matter. His worries concern the entire industry, the sport, where we get our future horseman from, the examples these organizations are setting, and the cheaters that f*** the system up, which creates over regulating, incomprehensible rule changes, new ridiculous rule changes and a bankrupt horse club. His passion around the 25k Grand Prix classes and the sneaky August 1st adjustment to the rule change is proof there might be a rat in the room.
The drugs and medication Town Hall meeting was packed. Surprise, surprise. The new accountability rule changes are a scary topic. Most of it was clarified, some of it was left open for too much interpretation. If you catch ride a horse and it eventually tests positive for a banned substance, you are not likely to be held accountable. Same goes with a braider, or groom hired for the day. There must be a clear connection proven between access to drugs and application of said drugs to the horse in order to be held accountable. If you are not a member of the USEF and still get held accountable you will simply be banned from entering a USEF sanctioned event. The word transparency was addressed again. Membership really really really wants hearings published. This is for education, more than wanting to figure out how to get around another rule, but USEF was slow to respond. They defended their stance over and over again about where they were coming from for a cleaner sport, a more even playing field. Security was addressed. Empty stables at night at a horse show was a concern I thought I had alone, I even have the security cameras ordered from Amazon, but I am definitely not alone. Our livelihoods are not being protected enough unless you show at Tryon International Equestrian Center, where cameras are installed already, and incidents have already been reported. FEI shows provide more security for those stabled horses, but the rest of us? Not so much. Some Florida venues are showing motivation for cameras due to the recent slaughter rise, but we have 49 other states to consider. The future is surveillance in the barns. Great. This is good for sport, right?
Today might have held more focus to the higher competitive aspects of our sport, which at first was a little alarming after yesterday’s pledge for grass roots recruitment, but I could absolutely see the connection to the big picture. Our sport has problems, our industry has problems, and many of them came out today. There might be too many finals in Kentucky, there might be a lack of pipe line for the young jumper riders that are going from junior to Young Rider, to Under 25 to Grand Prix (think development of riders and horses) because the gap is too large between the Juniors and Young Riders, and our horse and rider combinations are struggling.
The Microchip rule goes in for another rewrite but the majority felt this needs to happen. And it does. Pet identification is our future. Horses being microchipped is going to be our future.
I just spent twenty minutes thinking about a summary before realizing, there isn’t really a summary to be made. This is December 8th at the 2015 USHJA convention. I am tired. I have been inside a hotel for over two days straight. Ironically in 80 degree weather, yet somehow I am glad I am here. Somehow I am glad I am witnessing all that is taking place right in front of me. That’s just it. It is all right in front of me.