Postcard: 2016 U.S. Equestrian Federation Annual Meeting

A lot was accomplished at the U.S. Equestrian Federation's annual meeting in Lexington, Ky., where good discussions on longstanding issues, such as drugs, and new topics, including coaching, highlighted the sessions.

January 17, 2016–The U.S. Equestrian Federation got right back on track at its annual meeting after a shake-up in the CEO position, with Chris Welton departing and U.S. Hunter Jumper Association President Bill Moroney replacing him on an interim basis. Read about it here.

This will be the meeting that is remembered for passing a rule requiring microchipping of hunters, jumpers and hunt seat/jumping seat equitation horses. There was opposition to the idea when first proposed, but proponents–particularly the energetic Summer Stoffel–kept micro-chip, chip, chipping away to earn their victory.

As National Breeds and Disciplines Council Chairman Mary Babick put it, there’s a long entry ramp to get the rule fully into effect. It will take a while for the word to get out and people to get used to it, in addition to developing enforcement protocol.

The rule kicks in on Dec. 1, 2017, when horses will need microchips in order to earn points, though they can still compete without them. A year later, they will have to be microchipped to compete in a USEF show.

This speaks to the integrity of the sport, so people aren’t tricked into a buying a horse that was represented as one thing–in terms of age, breed, experience and even identity, but turned out to be another.

I was interested to learn that the breed groups do not want microchipping, at least not now, though they certainly will be watching to see how it goes for the hunters and jumpers. If one of the breeds, such as the Morgans, Arabians or Connemaras, is competing in a USHJA show, it must be microchipped, but for a hunter class at a breed show, it is not required.

USEF board member Cynthia Richardson, president of the Arabian Horse Association, told me that all purebred Arabians are identified by DNA, and people in her organization are satisfied with that at the moment.

“We do a lot of import and export and the DNA is rechecked to know horses are who they say they are,” she said. Spot checks include pulling the horses’ hair to be analyzed for DNA.

There were plenty of lively discussions during the five-day meeting at the Lexington Hyatt Regency, but the liveliest was on an always-hot topic, drugs. Ernie Oare, chairman of the Virginia Horse Center and a respected trainer and horseman, got up to say that “conversations on the rail” at shows he attends often turned to the idea of being able to use a little acepromazine (tranquilizer) to keep a horse calm.

In his opinion, he said, “99.9 percent of the drug (rule) violations involve someone trying to get a horse quiet.” So why not a half-cc of “ace?”

Speaking of quiet, you could have heard a stock pin drop when that came up.

Those offering objections to the comment mentioned liability, while veterinary committee chairman Dr. Kent Allen noted that the FEI and International Olympic Committee would say, if it is allowed “you can’t play with us.” Bye-bye Olympics, world championships, World Cup, etc.

Kent mentioned that if someone has to use a tranquilizer to ride their horse, they should choose a different game, maybe foxhunting, where “it’s about safety, not competition.”

Bill Moroney suggested starting from scratch when purchasing an animal and asking, “Is this horse suited for what we want him to do?”

Another subject that revved some motors was how to expand the base of the sport. There have been attempts in this regard–outreach and opportunity classes, and a format called “competition light” that was shelved by the USEF to the ire of some, and will be making a comeback.

Cynthia Richardson (she is very articulate and not afraid to speak up, good for her!) explained it is important to many recognized shows to have special classes for people who are not USEF members, so they can introduce them to showing and hope they aspire to becoming members and riding at a higher level. The more of these classes, the merrier.

“The USEF needs a place for people to come and get started, and see what’s happening on the other side” (meaning the recognized classes at the showgrounds).

If there is no opportunity for unrecognized classes at recognized shows, the USEF “will lose shows, and if people don’t have a place to show, we will lose members,” Cynthia stated.

Bill said the various breeds and disciplines have to figure out what they want from a competition light format. That will go on until there is a more formal consideration of the concept at a USEF board meeting later this year.

I asked Mary Babick to speak to me about growing the base and her thoughts on the subject. Watch this video to see what she had to say.

Another “town hall” session involved the need for more structure in coaching. USEF Director of Sport Will Connell chaired this one, and came up with an extensive list of what could be done to improve coaching at every level, and help the coaches as well as the students. This is something that is needed to insure the U.S. excels on the international scene, and that riders coming up through the ranks get the proper foundation.

I asked Will to explain this, since it is his baby. Click on this video to get more detail about his ideas.

Lisa Roskens, who came up with the idea of staging the 2017 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals and the Reem Acra World Cup Dressage Finals in Omaha, made several presentations during the meeting. Accompanied by Mike West, CEO of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation, she asked for help with finding horses that will come to the finals for exhibition purposes and to put on demonstrations. The idea is to give those attending the Cup an entertaining introduction to the variety in the world of horses, and do it with top representatives of the breeds.

Omaha Equestrian Foundation CEO Mike West with Lisa Roskens at their table during the USEF annual meeting, where they promoted the 2017 Omaha Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals. | Photo copyright 2016 by Nancy Jaffer

Education has always been an important part of the shows held at the CenturyLink Center, but with a bigger stage in 2017, Lisa and Mike are hoping to take advantage of the Cup’s draw and show even more people the beauty of horses and what they can do.

Unlike the old days, when they called the annual meeting “the convention” and it was held in different parts of the country, few who aren’t members of committees or involved with governance attend the forums in Lexington every year.

But the awards dinners are another story. Folks ship in for their special night, with women going all-out bringing along their evening gowns (saw some gorgeous dresses, and in good taste yet!) A lot of money and effort has been spent for the privilege of having a photo taken with one of the extremely valuable venerable trophies. They’re only the property of the winner for a few moments, until they go back to the awards table and get swapped out for a small trophy that nonetheless will sit proudly on many a mantle or coffee table.

This is just a small sampling of the bronzes and sterling silver trophies that are part of the impressive USEF collection. | Photo copyright 2016 by Nancy Jaffer

The decor is always special. Towering vases filled with red roses helped set the mood on Friday evening for the Pegasus awards, offering a variety of kudos for those active in the sport.

The chief honoree was Lana DuPont Wright, the first woman to compete in Olympic three-day eventing. It was quite a different, much rougher sport in 1964, when she went to Tokyo with the U.S. team and her beloved horse, Mr.Wister. Lana fell off twice on cross-country, but got back up from the mud to finish and stand on the podium as part of the silver medal squad. That sort of persistence also served her well in driving, where she was on the 1991 U.S. gold medal world championships team, and endurance, which she took up later in life. Her homebred horses always served her well, whether in competition or foxhunting.

At age 77, she was awarded the accolade of the silver cowboy hat, the Jimmy Williams trophy, named for the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lifetime Achievement Award winner Lana Wright proudly wears the silver Jimmy Williams cowboy hat trophy at the Pegasus Awards dinner, flanked by U.S. Equestrian Federation President Chrystine Tauber and Richard Nicoll | Photo copyright 2016 by Nancy Jaffer

Howard Simpson, a retiring member of the board, was honored twice during the evening and received a standing ovation for his service, which included hosting the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships–of which he was the patron saint–a record number of times at Tempel Farms in Illinois.

Another highlight was the Equestrian of the Year Award, for which voters nationwide, even non-members, were eligible to cast ballots for their favorites.

Hunter rider Liza Boyd was on hand for the Equestrian of the Year proceedings, for which she was nominated, losing to saddlebred rider and USEF Vice President Elisabeth Goth. But sadly, Liza couldn’t stay for the Horse of the Year ceremonies the next night.

USEF CEO Bill Moroney with Liza Boyd, whose three-time International Hunter Derby winning ride, Brunello, won the National Horse of the Year honors | Photo copyright 2016 by Nancy Jaffer

So she had Bill Moroney read an adorable tribute she wrote for Brunello, when the three-time International Hunter Derby Winner was named the National Horse of the Year. Here it is.

“Brunello–B: Brave to gallop under the lights. R: Rideable, to turn oh-so-tight; U: Unique, not your typical hunter type. N: Naughty-In his stall he will bite. E: Ego he thinks he is always right. L: Longevity-At 18 he is still jumping with height. L: Lexington-3 times he has had a magical derby night. O: Owl-For his wisdom and insight.”

International Horse of the Year honors went to Suzy Stafford’s PVF Peace of Mind (wouldn’t you love to have a horse called Peace of Mind who really deserved the name?)

It was pretty amazing that this champion combined driving mare won the hearts of the voters over such high profile stars as McLain Ward’s Pan Am Games individual gold medal mount, Rothchild, or Laura Graves’ sensational Verdades.

As Suzy explained it, the mare (nicknamed Honey) has a lot of fans. As well she should–this 9-year-old Morgan by Statesman Signature won all three of her combined driving events this year. She took the national single horse driving championship with a 14-point edge over her closest opposition.

I chatted with Suzy after the dinner about Honey. Click on the video to learn more about this personable mare.

There was so much that went on at the annual meeting; I really only scratched the surface. But I hope you got the idea that while governance isn’t usually very exciting while it is ongoing, the decisions made at these meetings affect everyone who shows or wants to compete, and make a difference to the growth and prosperity of equestrian sport as well.

I’m back to covering competitions next month when I head to Florida. My first stop will be Wellington. So much is going on there; a new show at Deeridge Farm, across from the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, which is also going to be buzzing, and just a half-mile from the show jumping and hunters at the Winter Equestrian Festival. Later in the month, I head to Ocala. So be on the lookout for my postcards.

Until then,

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