The U.S. Equestrian Federation’s show calendar and its mileage exemptions have been eternal hot topics of discussion and dissension as organizers vied for competition dates in key locations.

A “test run” for a new approach involves amending the exemption rule for the busy first trimester of the 2022 season in Florida with a helicopter view of hunter and jumper show requests for the epicenter of U.S. winter competitions in those disciplines. The trimester runs from the start of the show year Dec. 1 through March 31. Taking a “global” look at that part of the calendar was designed to ensure there will be sufficient opportunities for licensed shows to meet the needs of members at all levels.

It’s part of a sweeping group of changes that are updating the USEF as a framework for equestrian sport, making it more responsive to members’ needs, with a number of proposals that include condensing the rating system for shows, changing the way points are tabulated, tailoring awards to make them more accessible and increasing the possibility of establishing more shows in areas of the U.S. where they don’t exist. One proposal would simplify the mileage charts for shows offering hunters, with 50 miles between regional shows but no mandated distance between regional shows and national or premier shows, though the mileage chart for jumpers would remain unchanged.

Over the years, some USEF members felt the organization wasn’t listening to their point of view. Now USEF is really paying attention to concerns, encouraging people to contact the organization with their thoughts and holding a variety of webinars on key topics as they move toward change. Following on to that, a presidential competition task force was appointed, while another task force deals with amateur issues across many of the federation’s breeds and disciplines.

The long-overdue revamping of significant areas in the USEF structure has been marching along under the guidance of CEO Bill Moroney and President Tom O’Mara, who came into office in January with a reputation as a problem-solver.

The entire exemption process for shows with mileage conflicts has been more streamlined through the Competition Task Force, dealing with greater transparency, accountability and efficiency, key words for what’s been happening with USEF in recent months.

“The reasons we’re doing this, we think will result in a calendar that’s best for the sport and best to serve the needs of our members and their equine partners,” Bill explained in an interview about the mileage exemption initiative.

Tom noted that “opening the whole thing up” meant “looking at it holistically, is kind of like white-boarding it” putting all the first trimester mileage exemption requests up at the same time to see “what makes the best sense…it gives clarity…and then everyone can plan their circuits.”

As showing numbers post-Covid have grown beyond what they were in 2019, while more people are getting involved with horses, the test run could morph into a nationwide template.

“If this goes well, it certainly is a tool we would consider for other areas of the country that face similar challenges…based on competitor migration and density, as well based on as density of organizers,” said Bill, noting that one of many criteria utilized in determining whether a show gets an exemption is its compliance with USEF standards, which include everything from footing to facilities.

When the federation looks at date situations, asking “How does this whole puzzle fit together in the best interests of our sport, in the best interests of our members,” as Bill put it, USEF works with the shows that have a date conlict to see if there are places for resolutions to be reached, which previously could not be done unless directed by a panel. At the same time, Bill added, the process says to priority date holders, “make sure you’re relevant.” If there are gaps in serving different constituencies, there may be another competition coming into the environment that addresses them.

At the opening of the collective mileage exemption application in April, there were 35 licensed hunter/jumper competitions already on the calendar for the designated period in Florida. At the close of the process June 1, USEF expected a decision by or before Sept. 1 on requests from 29 additional hunter/jumper competitions from four organizers. They included existing shows operating under an exemption (which must reapply every year) — Fox Lea Farm in Venice, HITS Ocala and The Ridge in Wellington, as well as a new entry, TerraNova, with offices in Sarasota. Like Fox Lea, it is on the west coast of Florida, while Ocala is in a central location about three hours north. The Winter Equestrian Festival on the east coast in Wellington does not operate under exemptions.

The new World Equestrian Center in Ocala, which just opened a 4-star hotel on its grounds, did not apply for any USEF hunter/jumper dates in the first part of 2022, after giving back the dates it was awarded for 2021. It is running shows featuring grands prix under the auspices of the National Snaffle Bit Association, which is not a national federation associated with the FEI (international equestrian federation.) If other organizers lease facilities at WEC, Bill said they could apply to run USEF and FEI shows there, and if there were a conflict, it would go through a mileage exemption process.

Earlier this month, an employee of Equestrian Canada stated she had heard that as of Jan. 1, 2022, FEI rules will mandate that FEI athletes cannot compete at WEC non-sanctioned competitions (not licensed by the national federation) and will be suspended up to 90 days for doing so.

However, the FEI replied to a query in that regard by saying World Equestrian Center’s competitions are not considered unsanctioned at the moment “as they have not been declared so by the FEI and we will not speculate on the potential of events being declared unsanctioned as of 1 January 2022.”

An FEI registered athlete “could compete at such an unaffiliated event as long as it has not been declared an unsanctioned event,” according to the FEI, noting similar provisions apply to FEI officials. They are not eligible to be part of an international or national event if they have participated during the six months prior in an unsanctioned event. Those events are defined as not having been published in the official calendar or authorized by a national federation.

“The FEI and National Federation must declare the event as an `unsanctioned event’ a minimum of seven days prior to the event,” according to the FEI.
The USEF does not have a rule enabling it to declare an event unsanctioned, though Bill said such a provision is being proposed and would have to go through the organization’s usual rule-making process.

Tom Struzzieri, who runs the HITS organization, said he has applied to have nine of his 10 Ocala shows be FEI. HITS is on the list of shows being looked at for exemptions by the USEF because several in his series are on mileage exemptions.

Asked for his thoughts on how the USEF is proceeding on the competition date issue, Tom said, “I’m curious to see what they do. We’ll react according to the rules they decide on and we’ll go from there. They look at a lot of ingredients. They’ve given out waivers; sometimes when I thought they were doing the right thing, sometimes when I disagreed with their decisions. But they haven’t been giving them out willy-nilly. They put a lot of thought into it and it looks like they’re going to continue that and get more people involved. I don’t imagine the outcome will be dramatically different. But I think it will keep evolving as the sport evolves.”