It is a long week. A long week I am not making any money. In January. It is not a good week. The drive over the mountains from Baltimore to Paris was timed unbelievably with luck to be edging out a snowstorm creeping across Kentucky. The first flakes were falling as I crept down the dark roads to Paris and found my residence for the week, Hickory Manor. Kimmy Risser’s farm was just north of Lexington, a 20 minute drive from the convention, and she had graciously put me up for the duration of the meeting. Without her, I could never had afforded the week.
Carefully following a snow plow the following morning, our 20 minute drive was nearly doubled from the impact of the storm. I imagined it would disrupt other people’s travel plans as well, and on the drive, we wondered who might be attending the meeting.
The “Pre-Meeting” meeting was named a Competition and Member Summit: Facing Challenges Together. It was not officially part of the big week, more like a bone thrown out to attendees to say here “We discussed things here, see?” But the title was alluring enough to get me there, it sounded like something I should attend. Looking back, it may have been the only meeting worth attending.
Panels of four people were placed on a stage, a man named Tom O’Mara was placed behind a podium with a book of questions, and he deliberately moved discussion around with handy topics like Calendar Management, Competition Standards, and the Cost of Showing. Each topic afforded a new panel, each representing a different discipline. I realized most of the attendees were actually members of the panel and a few other curious spectators. Some big players, some regular people, and me. I couldn’t quite figure out who they were actually presenting to, per se, but we were assured the event was being recorded and would be offered to members later. There was some recognition that horse shows are getting too expensive, and clearly competition standards could be stripped and realigned, but little move to actually pull out pen and paper.
Maybe the most exciting moment was watching Tom Struzzieri indicate he had beautifully created the perfect horse show facilities, only to see the numbers drastically declining in the hunters and that he would like to know where the clients are. I squirmed in my seat. Was he serious? I squirmed some more,and groaned. Someone in front of me raised a hand…. the exchange was the epitome of an ostrich versus the cheetah while the lemurs pulled out the popcorn.
But the elephant in that particular room was still lurking in the corner, which seemed to be the inability to address multiple levels of financial backgrounds of the actual people who want to horse show, and how it is drastically affecting the horse show community, our livelihoods, and the Federation.
Tuesday morning started with what I considered two very important meetings happening simultaneously, the Vet Committee and Competition Standards Committee. I was going to have to split my time between both somehow. I started to walk toward Competition Standards, but Stephen Schumacher caught my eye inside the Vet Committee room, and I changed course. At that moment I thought hmmm, there is a touchy subject floating around the hunter community, maybe I could find answers here.
Fifteen minutes into the meeting, bored, and scrolling through FB, I found the press release from the USEF describing the results of the arbitration ruling in favor of Larry and Kelley. I froze. Then I squirmed. I showed Kimmy. Every expletive went through my mind. I couldn’t focus. The conversation continued.
I sat there and listened to the discussion of various rule proposals being put forward (collapse rule, willful toleration of abuse, and some other random thing) and also the depo update, how 4 or 5,000 forms had been submitted since September, USEF had to hire a temp to sort through them all, and wouldn’t it be nice to require all members to file electronically by February 1st, to get out of this quagmire of paper? Bill Moroney reminded the group that people might only be filling out the paperwork at the horse shows when they actually see drug testers on the grounds and my head began to spin. Another exhibitor fail. Now the results will be forever skewed. great. Exhibitors might never get it together.
One positive topic was the use of Pergolide or medication for Cushings horses…. Following the direction of WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and the use of TUE’s (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) these forms would allow all users of Pergolide to file just one time and show their ponies on the drug. There was acceptance in the group that this allowance would be fine under the Federation’s Drugs and Medications policy. So it was a good step for those ponies….
I was just about to give up on the rest of the topics, however, (even leaving the room to visit next door) when the lurking elephant finally came to the table. Thankfully, Kimmy pulled me back just in time and I heard Susie Schoellkopf’s recognizable voice coming through the telecom, asking when we were going to talk about the real issue. This was it! And it was awkward. So I will just leave this right here….
(Sadly, I cannot share what I witnessed through the blog. Video had to be removed)
Still mildly fuming, and internally frustrated, I moved back into the Competition Standards meeting……. After witnessing the summit the day before, I was prepared to watch the committee members to be hard at work deciphering exactly what needs to be on the list of requirements for each level of showing. I was disappointed…. extremely disappointed. Instead of breaking apart the requirements there is actually a Super Premiere show option up for debate. How is this even possible? Another level beyond Premiere? How can you fix what is broken by inventing another avenue? I already have HUGE issues with the idea of reducing the amount of Premiere shows from 250 to 25 per year, and now this.
If this is hard to follow, it is, but it is crucial that it doesn’t happen, simply for the welfare of the horses, which few people seem to remember in these meetings. There are members insisting that National points and Premier points are the same. (they aren’t) Those same people did not predict that 250 shows per year would acquire a Premiere rating (they did). Feeling like that is saturating the market, these people would like to see all those shows reduced to a National rating (how?) and see this country only offer 25 Premiere horse shows per year. (which ones?) First of all, circuit showing will be greatly affected, but have you seen how many points it takes to get into Devon and Indoors? Without a cap on how many shows ponies can show in per year, to get the points needed these ponies would be subject to a horrific show schedule. This is in direct conflict of horse welfare. You can’t do one without the other, and this is beyond over regulation of a Federation.
I am not sure what the hesitation is to address the actual standards, but start there first, and give the stewards the same checklist to review. If the stewards aren’t aware of how the shows actually qualify for their rating, how can they report properly? And how can improvements be made?
The amount of people seeking out unsanctioned shows is on the rise in many parts of this country, and they are sacrificing amenities to accommodate their budgets, time, and energy to have a simpler, shorter, and more gratifying experience. I know this to be true, and not just because I polled the public.
That afternoon, we were subject to some more theatre. The forum on Safe Sport I feel has been hammered into us repeatedly, with much the same affect each time, and yes I get it, the gymnasts fucked us all, but really, our horse community is not wholly on board. I am not personally opposed to the training, it is not that, but when I asked the speaker to tell me how many of the 150 grievances reported in last year were actually equestrians? She had to think. Maybe 5 or 6. And of those 5 or 6, only half had enough evidence to substantiate an inquiry or investigation.
Maybe we are too early into the process, maybe we will see more, and maybe this is out of our hands, but that elephant has yet to leave the building in this discussion.
The irony of the next speaker did not escape me, and although she was quite capable, and a talented speaker, I felt Sarah Hamilton’s forum on Crisis Management could be directed solely to the Federation and it’s employees. She thoroughly explained how to get in front of a crisis, and the tools needed to save an organization from a complete break up. I looked at Kimmy… was this for us? or for Murray?
I skipped the Coaching Register, which may have been a mistake, but I was cooked. I had to hear later how USEF will eventually be moving forward with much the same requirements for Coaches and Trainers that USHJA will be implementing, Safe Sport training, certification, and another background check. The only problem (a big one) is that the requirements are not aligning with all of the organizations, and certain background checks are not acceptable to the USOC, USEF, USHJA, and other affiliates. The certification requirements are vague. So this might be getting tabled until the details can be scrutinized a bit further. Yikes.
Moving on to the Ted Talks.
Thursday morning came quick. I was slowly losing hope on any sort of forum to vent frustrations, but tried to enjoy the nice breakfast anyway. I wanted a front row seat for our Murray Kessler presentation, so we finished quickly enough to make our way to the ballroom a few minutes early. When the minions outside the closed doors told us we couldn’t go in until everyone else had arrived I was like what? Why? Is this high school? I thought they were kidding, and didn’t feel much like standing around like an idiot, so entered the room, finding a table closest to the stage.. Jesus Christ, get over yourselves. Kimmy followed me. I looked around, bewildered at the Las Vegas style stage, house music blaring, and an intense light show. Within a few seconds of sitting down and pulling out my notebook, Murray Kessler was hurrying to our table in dramatic fashion to inform us we had entered the room too early. I stared at him, trying to comprehend. It was 8:26 am. He didn’t want us to panic that we were the only two people in the room. I looked around again. I hadn’t noticed. Nor cared. I suggested he open the doors, and he left us. I looked at Kimmy. What in the actual Fuck?
What followed for the next four hours was painful. We were berated with an ongoing celebration of US Equestrian patting itself on the back and films or slides describing the steps they were taking to move ahead. I pulled out my phone and used FB Live to put the whole craziness online. I sympathized with his staff. A young staff. Dozens of wonderfully endearing cheer leaders clearly dependent on their income to celebrate and sell the Joy of US Equestrian. In fact, it seems he has cleverly and deliberately positioned young people in their 20’s and 30’s so maybe they can not and will not call him out on his mistakes, or warn him of his narcissism, and they somehow enable him as he continues to stabilize the Federation financially, at seemingly great cost to its members. It is almost too clever. The clash of a corporate leader with a fan club in an emotional and draining sport is almost too much to bear. How in the world did we get here?
The USEF ‘Ted Talk’ left me stunned and sour. No bigger disconnect could easily be described. The zoo this organization has become has turned to blatantly burning cash for no more than a fancy slide show, while all of its members, (including all of my friends) are on show grounds all over this country cleaning the shit out of their horse’s stalls, braiding, bathing, prepping, learning their courses, and actually working to make a living with the creature who brought us here in the first place. The horse.
For the rest of the day I wandered in and out of meetings, challenging myself to pay close attention, but missing reality outside the walls. Sure, some moments were important, and I was happy to share any experience with others, I utilized my phone to broadcast to members, because why not? The more that time passed, the more I realized what I actually wanted. Needed. Was desperate for. I wanted answers from Stephen Schumacher. I wanted a conversation with the Chief Operating Officer of the Drugs and Medications department of US Equestrian. I couldn’t find him. He had mysteriously vanished. I sent an email to him. I asked Murray and his assistant where he was. I asked more minions. I got nothing. I gave up, hoping to hear from him by email. I returned the next morning to wait in the halls for him. Most of the meetings were closed to the general public, so I waited. I snuck into a Closed meeting and watched some more boring and depressing discussion. I waited for a few more hours then returned to Kimmy’s farm. I suspect he doesn’t want to talk to me, but I have these questions for him…..
Who was responsible for the broken chain of command in the Glefke/Farmer case?
What will happen to that person?
How will an ‘Outsourced Audit’ of the Chain of Command within the USEF Lab help?
How will the Drug Testers be educated from here on out?
How do we report bad Drug Testers?
Can we ask them to wear gloves?
Shouldn’t they be wearing gloves? Hospital workers wear gloves.
Can we report to you how vials are handled?
Is it ok when Drug Testers open vials with their teeth?
Is it really ok to have a Drug tester demand to test a horse between rounds of a class? (Yes this is actually happening.)
Do Drug Testers get randomly drug tested? Should they?
How come you cannot outsource the Labwork?
How long will it take to see improvements with Drug testing?
What actions are being taken to restore faith in the members regarding Drug Testing?
Will it be enough?
Proposed GR414.6 is on the table which will Prohibit the Possession of Magnesium Sulfate on Competition Grounds. How do you plan on enforcing this? Will you be giving the authority to Drug Testers to raid tack trunks looking for bottles of an illegal drug?
If this rule passes, will it open the door to other random inspections of possessions?
I am still here in Kentucky, I want to go home, but instead, I am going to walk through the convention doors tomorrow morning and wait one more time for that interview. We’ll see if I get it.