Where was the AM meeting this year? San Antonio, Texas. It’s nice there. Food is good. Temps are nice. Not that the temps matter because meetings are generally held inside, in windowless rooms. Sometimes small rooms. Stuffy rooms. I arrived, was handed a packet of information and a schedule. The schedule is a handful of cards with a list of meetings and events.
The first item of business is reading the giant book of rule proposals. You have heard me discuss this before. Brian Lookabill is the MC, from the stage at the front of the room, he quickly reads the intent of each rule in the book, pausing for two seconds after each one, and looks up into the audience to see who is brave enough to stand up at a mic and start discussion. This is when I start sweating. Actually I started sweating when I awoke at four am Monday morning. But now I am reminded once again why wearing black is so important.
I had questions and issues. and not just two questions and issues. several questions and issues. Throughout the week, in all of these large forums, or small, stuffy rooms, or in the hallways, I did the best I could to get my voice heard. I know I wasn’t right all the time, and I didn’t feel the need to be right all the time, but I found a way to at least speak out loud. I have to say, this year, more people knew my name. No one lynched me. People did sit next to me at meals. (at least a couple anyways)
The process from Day 1 to Day 5 is the longest five days of your life. From opening the Rule Book for the first time to watching the Final Vote the last day can suck the life out of your brain cells in your head. I have an enormous amount of respect for people closely involved in EVERY aspect of Governance.
So let’s get to it…
I personally think all falls from either horse or rider at a sanctioned competition should be noted and recorded. No matter the severity. No matter the circumstance. I don’t even think the amount of detail is necessary. But record keeping and data collection is the way forward now. Any sport which you are REQUIRED TO WEAR A HELMET probably ought to have an idea of how many falls from either animal or human occur on a yearly basis. To me it is a no brainer. pun intended. (Pun was used by several other people besides me). Some stewards are already comfortable recording all falls, some are not.
Now it is being discussed that falls of HORSES in a competition ring must be recorded by the judge and a steward must be immediately called, so it can go in the stewards report. Not just anywhere and all over the grounds. Just the ring. Let’s start with the ring and go from there.
I grappled with the fear people must have. I have a hard time identifying with fear of other people. I refuse to let anyone have that much power over me, unless they are literally holding a gun to my head. (that’s probably pretty scary). To every steward who is influenced by a show manager to withhold information regarding a fall FROM a horse or fall OF a horse, please help me out. Are you being pressured by a show manager to avoid recording falls at horse shows, because the show managers are afraid the data collected will affect their licensing? So is it easier to push back against a rule change rather than risk not getting another gig at the show? Am I saying this right? What if it was your own child who fell? Would it change your loyalty? If so, you should be reassured, you are so valuable as a steward right now, you will absolutely be hired all through the year by various shows around the country. There are not many of you out there. You are valuable. Please think this through.
And then I really started to worry, just exactly how many falls go unreported? Damn. By Thursday, this proposal was approved.
Numerical scoring required for A rated divisions. I’m a big nope, but on Monday I didn’t stand up to discuss it. Other people did, however. Passionately. Eventually the proposal was voted down this time around, but it might be back again, who knows.
The mandatory use of Safety Cups took up more hours than you can possibly imagine in discussion. I am not even going there. For those of us who already thought Safety Cups were mandatory everywhere, I think you should just assume this again.
50 shades of cruelty.
The new schooling rule proposal really set me off. Apparently a group of stewards (ironic, I know, right?) got together in a task force and created several pages of schooling rules to unite ALL the disciplines (Hunter, Jumper and Equitation) and respective schooling areas. Like… what? Since when are the jumpers preparing their horses like the hunters? and vice versa? The task force wants to see Swedish Oxers (still allowed in hunter/eq warm up) reduced to an almost imperceptible height difference of 6” from low to high and high to low. 6 bloody inches. And walk jumps? nope, they don’t want walk jumps. Regardless of the fact walk jumps are still allowed to be used in hunter course design…
Apparently it is deemed ‘cruel’ by some members in our community to achieve a ‘rub’ during the warmup of a class. I don’t think of it as cruelty, I like to think of it as smart training. Maybe you think I am wrong. I prefer not to have a horse be anything less than careful when in the show ring. I think it is terrifying when a horse hangs a leg or forgets to bring his landing gear up properly and falls over the jump. So yes, when I stood up in front of a room full of people and said “you bet, I need a rub sometimes for my warmbloods”, (not really the TB’s I ride) I was met with resistance. I wonder about the future of how we warm up horses is going to evolve and how far the regulations of this will become. If there is a constant push from a task force to eliminate the Swedish oxer for Pete’s sake, when will the jumping of a cooler become obsolete?
By Thursday, the proposal was set forth from the Jumper side, but disapproved from the hunter and equitation sides. (The rule is in the book three times) Although that doesn’t mean it won’t get pushed through in January, it gave me a small sliver of hope that we will still be allowed to set proper Swedish oxers in the future.
Bonus monies. Bonus prizes. You know when that cool wheel spins at the World Equestrian Center and gives you a cash prize if you win the class of the day? Know someone who won a saddle? A car? Lease of a car? Those “monies” or cash equivilants are supposed to be put toward the Jumper rating of the horse show, and directly affects the mileage rule and rating of the competition. Since the material in this rule change needs more clarification, it has been referred to January.
Stallions? Stallions in the Maclay? Thoughts? Yes, juniors can ride stallions in the jumpers, and in the talent search of the USET, but there is a bit of pushback to see more stallions in the warm-up areas and national equitation classes. I was so surprised to see the Jumper Working Group readily approve the rule proposal, but at the end of the week, the Board of Directors voted it down. Try again next time, I guess.
Notification of Special Competitions.
The debate is about having two Special Competitions occur next to each other. Unintended consequences? Example – One full blown national show is holding it’s regular horse show and offers a National Hunter Derby on Saturday Night. However, ten minutes down the road, a Special Competition pops up, and a generously funded National Derby with five times the prize money and better prizes. Everyone at the national show leaves for the day to go compete in the fancy National Derby. Should this be allowed or prevented? Who should the Federation protect here? It won’t matter right this second, it has been referred to the January meeting for further discussion. This is actually a bigger deal than I give it credit in this blog, and a lot of people should be very concerned about the term Special Competition. If you are one of those people I would highly recommend you read the rule proposal.
Dropping the age of Steward applicants to 21. At the moment, any 21 is allowed to apply for licensing within the USEF except as a steward. To meet the demand and fill the void of lack of stewards in this country, the suggestion to drop the age came up. and was shot down. But I questioned this, actually. It takes a long time to go through the process to become a steward. It is highly unlikely that a 21 yr old kid (probably still in college) is going to successfully earn a license within the year. Stewards get vetted very heavily and can be denied for a variety of other reasons which have nothing to do with age. The maturity aspect I get, but I am not so sure this proposal should have been disapproved.
Lunging. Should there be a rule about how many horses to lunge in a 10,000 square foot area?
Over legislating the show prep? Is this horse welfare? Sissy Wickes believes this is the start of grappling the harsh realities of lack of horse welfare at many competitions. She says we have to start somewhere.
Trainers are not taking responsibility for their horses being sent out to lunge. True.
I actually think it is about staying ahead of a serious issue. However this is also referred to January meeting.
The rule regarding nose nets was withdrawn. Maybe that should come back again next year with a nose net sponsor (kidding). Correctly written and promoted, it would stand a better chance.
Catch riding now has more definition within the rule book. Well, it will, anyways. Chances are this additional description will come into play at some point in the future, but will you have to have letters from peers to prove you are actually a Catch rider? There are some overlapping influences which blurry the lines between Catch riding and actual training or coaching. I am already thinking hmm, maybe I should start carrying an affidavit from the people I ride for. Yikes.
Think entering a ring, circling and leaving the ring without jumping a jump constitutes as a completed course in the hunters? Not anymore. That practice will have a rule change behind it now to prevent cheaters from splitting divisions.
We are still going to be jogging all sections of Green Hunters.
Background check for criminal activity? Start getting familiar with those words together in your life now if you haven’t already. This will be the future of our sport. If you want to sign an entry blank, you will be expected to go through Safe Sport Training, concussion education and a criminal background check. It might be shelved for now until the next meeting in January, but we have not seen the end of the discussion.
The practice of non judges judging Year End Championships (i.e. equitation) needs to stop in the eyes of many people. Those are not really all of my own words, but I did hear them this week. And I have heard this a lot. Remove the guest card for the Medal, Maclay, and whatever high profile classes riders qualify for. A third person is not out of the question, but two licensed judges need to be in the judge’s box.
So the USHJA put a proposal forward to add the newly formed USHJA 3’3” Jumping Seat Medal Finals class to the list of exceptions for ‘Guest’ Judges as it is currently allowed with the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search, US Hunt Seat Medal, WIHS Equitation Final, and ASPCA Medal Final. Guest judges do not necessarily have a judges card, in other words. There was overwhelming static about this practice, so the other classes might be reverting to the same guidelines in the future, and we might eventually be seeing an end to ‘Guest’ judges to those classes someday. Fingers crossed.
The rule was disapproved, by the way, so no ‘Guest’ judging likely for the 3’3” medals. Too early to tell if someone will put a rule change forward next year to remove other Finals from having unlicensed judges, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Now is your chance to think about how to start that ball rolling….
**CORRECTION: THIS RULE PROPOSAL WAS WITHDRAWN, NOT DISAPPROVED.**
Dangerous rule suggestion. Adding this sentence into GR702 Violations: Making untruthful statements, misrepresentations, or engaging in fraudulent behavior in any horse sales or lease transaction. This is where being married to an attorney is so helpful. When I pointed out this proposal to him, he said the challenges of enforcing that rule would exceed the capability of the USEF. So when I stood up sweating and said that I think this was why we already have attorneys in place to cover bad horse deals, I also took the chance to remind people we are all horse dealers, and that horse dealers go back to the beginning of time as having shady reputations. We all know what we sign up for here.
This was followed by a slightly condescending reminder that this was a direct request from the membership to put this proposal forward, and that USEF was simply listening to the requests of the general membership. The room was then told we were stubborn about accepting Safe Sport and it took 5 years to get Safe Sport to pass though the rule change process. When the scolding was finished from the USEF exec, I glumly sat down in my seat. Actually, I said to myself, when Safe Sport was introduced to us five years ago, it was being slammed down our throats with little or NO EXPLANATION. Five years ago we were all told we were in some sort of violation of sexual misconduct. Five Years ago, a room full of shocked horse people looked at the stage and said WHERE IS THIS COMING FROM? WHO MOLESTED WHOM?? It took five years to correctly learn about Safe Sport Policies, and understand where the hell it was coming from. Learning, Understanding, and Acceptance is a process of yeah, just about five years with horse people.
Hunter Breeding outcome. One horse per handler per class? What exactly happened? I can guarantee you each voice was heard. I can guarantee each side was argued. I can guarantee you the BOD felt they each received too many emails over this one. In the end a sort of compromise was made. Only at National and Premier horse shows will the rule of one handler, one horse, one class apply. At Regional shows, it will be entirely up to the show manager. This now has to go forward in January at the Kentucky meeting.
From Kimmy: “To say this has been a long and emotional week has been an understatement. Breeding people are a passionate group, I think after this week there’s not a one that can deny that. Passion derives from an intense belief in something, and that is how I describe my experience and opinion this week. Passionate Belief. I believe that hunter breeding is an excellent tool in the toolbox of young horse ownership, but unfortunately that tool has gotten a bit rusty creaky and on it’s way to being replaced. I came this week, along with my fellow committee members, to bring about a plan to revive this ‘industry’ and bring in new blood, as well as encourage our current exhibitors to stick with it. We as a committee educated ourselves to the needs of the members as a whole, and I can assure you that every one of us made these decisions based on our total commitment and love for hunter breeding and young horses. I am walking away this week with a renewed belief in the process of USHJA, albeit a little less naive, but most importantly feeling that I put my passionate belief behind a rule I feel will be one step (among many steps) to revive hunter breeding and the involvement of the horse industry.”
From Emily: “I wish the Board would have left the entire restriction up to the individual horse shows. Many struggling areas only have access to the HB through A and AA shows where multiple handling is taking place to keep the shows filled like Florida, Connecticut, and PA . The best compromise would have been the recognize the regional differences and allow the horse show managers to restrict as their individual horse show’s exhibitors needed/wanted. Not all A and AA shows are created equal in the terms of Hunter Breeding. While I am extremely appreciative to a small concession, I know from experience that this was not the best choice for the exhibitors in each sect of the country.”
Extreme Side Note: Kimmy Risser received the distinguished service award forth USHJA at the awards banquet Tuesday night. This is a big deal, and I am happy for her recognition!
Moving on from sweaty armpits. Some meetings were about information gathering, not about rule proposals, and how to move the sport forward, and maybe to get a feel for what the members are going through this year……
The vice grip of horse show managers…
I cannot even imagine the dinner talk about my daily explosions regarding various horse show managers in this country. But I likely couldn’t help it. Why couldn’t I help it? Because I had to endure a presentation of a new USHJA Championship event..>>> A Finals to be held in Las Vegas geared to all of the C rated divisions in the USHJA, think Children’s, adult and children pony hunters… Guess who was running the presentation? I’ll give you a hint. His name was Tom Struzzieri. The amount of energy he is putting toward this event in Las Vegas? Apparently an enormous amount of energy and time, which I wonder should not be put toward his own existing facilities and shows in this country. Forgive me if my reluctance to jump on the USHJA Vegas Championship train is a direct reflection on my view of HITS horse shows.
But that wasn’t all of it. Later, I walked into a Competition Management meeting and took a seat. The room quickly filled up to standing room only. The chairman had prepared and distributed a spreadsheet. I looked at the spreadsheet. An eye twitched. It was my eye. I started sweating again.
So the Chairman flew his own plane to the Annual Meeting the night before his committee meeting, distributed a piece of paper which basically says, “see? horse shows are not the problem”, and sat back to let us consider that a bit. I am pretty sure that I was so set off by the arrogance of it all that I made little sense when I stood up and questioned it. But I was fuming…..Why was I holding the spreadsheet in my hands? What was the purpose of putting it out there? Was it because there is concern that horse show managers are seeing a drop in business??? Ya think?? Where is the innovation you need in a business model to attract a clientele? Where are the horse show managers who answer the multiple pleas of exhibitors for a break?
Oh wait, World Equestrian Center. Did I mention the World Equestrian Center was this year’s main sponsor for the Annual Meeting in San Antonio? I meant to, sorry, my bad.
Maybe that’s a bit too snarky. I actually have heard appreciative gestures and reduced office fees of a few show managers around the country, so there is some action between managers and exhibitors. You are being noted, and I hope those gestures are working. But I am still fuming. Being part of the solution might be a better way forward for the horse show managers.
Later in the week, I reacted similarly in the Competition Standards meeting..
I. sat. on. my. hands. for nearly 90 minutes while the room around me disclosed the deepest and heartfelt problems horse shows/managers are causing to our lives. Yes, LIVES. The lives of horses and people depend on the quality of show standards. Mainly Footing. Most of us can live with other subpar conditions, but footing? Not so much. Not enough science is being contributed to improve footing right now. And wow, horses are really, truly breaking down at a much faster rate than they should be. It was suggested that the veterinarians provide some data about the effects of bad footing to the USEF, so we can better help the industry, our lives and the lives of our animals. I listened and listened and listened. So did the committee. But the elephant in the room? Guess who wasn’t there? The irony was not lost on me that the one person who should be hearing the 90 minutes of gruesome details of the realities of crappy footing refused to be in the meeting, nor was he ever seen again after making his Vegas Championship presentation. My hand crept toward the sky and that was all she wrote. My apologies Frank Madden, but this is why you are in the Chairman seat, and not me. What else can I say? I am really pissed off.
It appears the compliance officer of the USEF IS working hard to meet the demands of exhibitors, (mainly requiring improvements on show grounds) but in all honestly, we are probably a few years out before those demands can be met. The only hope is that the realities of removing licensing from horse show managers will make them care a little more.
Irony is a funny thing. Someone like me never forgets about irony. And I never fail to notice an opportunity for hush $$$.
The also very grim reality is convincing you to fill out the three questions on competition evaluation when you see something bad at a horse show. (Like footing). I think you would like the USEF compliance officer, Matt Fine. He is super calm, super patient, non confrontational, and appears compassionate for our cause. But he can’t work without you. How do I implore the importance of filling out competition evaluations? It is a simpler process, it is now fully anonymous, and here’s the thing. Sally Ike really does read them. Every single one. So does Matt Fine. And without the information from the members, we really are in an uphill climb. It is online. It is three questions. Please, Please, Please.
To me, (and I said this out loud) the perception is one of two things.. A – The Horse Show managers are in denial about the fact that horse shows have footing issues. or B – Horse Show managers do not give a shit.
Another very alarming discussion (not a rule proposal) was about reducing the amount of Premier shows in this country. I guess there are people who believe the national and premiere points are so similar, that it shouldn’t be a big deal to lessen the over 200 shows listed as premier. Just make most of them rated national. (or single A.) Let me tell you the fall out of this…. Have you seen how many points it takes to get ponies into Devon and Indoors???? It is outrageous. Those ponies will end up showing more, not less, to get into those big shows in the culture we have created, and it will be really, really bad for ponies. Don’t do it. But if this does happen, in order to prevent a monopoly, take the suggestion from Swan Lake’s manager Mary Bast, and limit each show manager to no more than 2 premier shows a year.
The TCP needs it’s own post. stay tuned.
It is done. I am heading home. There were other issues popping up here and there, but I would be surprised if anyone is reading this far into the summary of the 2017 USHJA Annual Meeting. I mean, it is dull, I get it. But each year a little more clarity is earned. Just a little bit.