An innovative video forum on calendar management on Dec. 8 gave the U.S. Equestrian Federation an opportunity to provide insight into its easily misunderstood mileage rule, while offering explanations following a storm of controversy last month after it decided not to recognize any of the 2021 winter shows at the lavish new World Equestrian Center in Ocala, Florida.
USEF CEO Bill Moroney and incoming President Tom O’Mara appeared on members’ screens in the first of a series of “conversations” that will address often-voiced concerns, but nothing has been hotter recently than the WEC situation.
When WEC couldn’t get all 12 of its “Winter Spectacular” fixtures recognized by USEF because of the federation’s mileage rule restrictions, it chose to run the remainder under the auspices of the National Snaffle Bit Association. That would have meant a mixed format involving the two organizations, which USEF called “confusing,” to participants and a danger to horse and human safety. The USEF at that point had “no choice but to withdraw the four licenses it had given to the operation,” Moroney stated at the time.
The safety remark raised the ire of WEC’s Roby Roberts, since his state-of-the-art facility has a full-time professional security team and more than 800 security cameras, in addition to other precautions.
Asked on line this afternoon about the reasoning behind the safety remark, Moroney insisted, “USEF didn’t say the venue itself was unsafe.”
Explaining that USEF rules have been developed over time by experts in the sport (from vets, to owners, riders and trainers), its officials, licensed and trained by the federation, “are experienced at interpreting and enforcing USEF rules. Judges are experienced in scoring and understand the scoring system,. To the extent we can see, none of that framework exists for these non-USEF competitions that are to be held at the Ocala facility” in winter 2021.
“That’s what our foremost concern is,” he added. NSBA is in the process of developing a hunter/jumper rulebook.
Under the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act passed by the U.S. Congress, National Governing Bodies such as USEF in each sport are mandated to organize a calendar of competitions.
Moroney explained that calendar management creates a competition environment offering sufficient opportunities with defined standards for horses and riders to develop and meet the needs of the sport at all levels within a geographic area.
“Viability is a key element of that,” he said. “In order for competitions to maintain standards and improve, just like any business, they need to be viable. Competition licensing forms the basis for competition management.”
He added, “We work to coordinate our calendar of competitions to provide for varying degrees of regional and national competitions across multiple breeds and disciplines, to increase the breadth of competition and the depth of sport throughout the country.”
The calendar also insures that for international athletes, FEI-level opportunities are available domestically as well.
A framework of rules, regulations and policies has been created by USEF, with the idea of insuring horse welfare and a fair and level playing field.
“Wherever you go, you are operating under the same set of rules and as a competitor, you know what to expect regardless of where you’re at,” said Moroney. He contrasted that with the situation in horse racing, which has different rules for anti-doping and medication control in every state, prompting Congress to step in with the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020. The NSBA does, however, conduct equine drug tests which are examined by the University of Kentucky laboratory that also handles the USEF’s testing. Like USEF, the organization has its own disciplinary procedure for cheaters.
WEC is offering a large amount of prize money and free stalls for its NSBA series, which raised the question of whether FEI riders and their owners, as well as FEI licensed officials, would be sanctioned for participating in the shows not recognized by USEF.
“Under the FEI rule, potentially they could be,” Moroney said, noting that might make violators ineligible to compete in FEI competitions for up to six months.
The USEF does not have an unsanctioned rule for national divisions, so no one would be subject to sanctions unless they were a competitor, owner or official registered with the FEI. That also applies to horses registered with the FEI.
For great clarity, competitors competing at an unsanctioned event in national divisions (such as hunters, equitation, etc.) would not be affected. Similarly, USEF-recognized officials who are national-level judges or stewards but NOT registered with the FEI are not at risk of being sanctioned.
“We don’t know exactly what the outcome (will be) once the FEI decides whether they are going to impose that unsanctioned event rule, as people refer to it,” said Moroney. The FEI was supposed to take up the matter last month, but put it off until Dec. 15, saying it needed more information. It also has to decide what will happen to the Nations Cup that was set to run at WEC. It would have been the USA’s only Nations Cup that serves as a qualifier for the finals in Barcelona next autumn.
So USEF is waiting to get a decision and “as soon as we do, we’ll convey it to our members, so everybody knows,” Moroney said about the sanction situation.
“My understanding is it’s not a retroactive rule. There is a provision in the rule that requires a minimum seven-day notice if a competition were to be considered unsanctioned by the FEI. So there would be advance notice” for those riders, owners and officials, he continued.
Mary Babick, president of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association that is a USEF affiliate, reported she has talked with NSBA Executive Director Stephanie Lynn to say “welcome to our side of the sport.” She found Lynn to be “a very forward-thinking person.” Babick suggested that USHJA could help train NSBA officials.
She acknowledged during her organization’s annual meeting, which is running virtually this week, that “There are a lot of questions about FEI riders competing in non-USEF shows with prize money” and had conversations with USEF officials about the situation, but could not reveal what was said. While current USEF President Murray Kessler said she was the only one asking questions about the WEC situation, Babick said while she might be the person at the front of the line, “a lot of people are standing behind me.”
Of USEF, she said, “They realize now they need to give a little bit of an explanation.”
USHJA Director Joe Dotoli cited, “all the rancor surrounding show dates,” while another USHJA director, Britt McCormick, commented, “the problem is the small number of people making decisions that have impact on the industry.”
USHJA is looking at a rule that deals with establishing and training a mileage review panel to handle mileage exceptions. The rule will also be on the agenda at next month’s virtual USEF annual meeting.
When someone asked if WEC triggered this rule, Mike Lowry, who was helping present at a rule change forum said, “This has been going on for a long time.”
As O’Mara noted, “calendar management is a complex subject. But we’ve got a lot of smart people in the industry who will give us really good feedback and suggestions and help make the process better because that’s what we really need to do.”
He emphasized that USEF is seeking members’ feedback that could enhance the competition environment and identify new opportunities for growth in sport, saying people should submit suggestions to [email protected]. Meanwhile, a survey goes out tomorrow to members to find out their views on a variety of topics.