There was also some impromptu partying during the convention. A group including USEF President David O'Connor and the normally staid four-in-hand driver, Tucker Johnson, wound up at a hip-hop club, an evening memorialized on many cell phone cameras. A black knit hat David picked up outside the club found a new home back at the Hilton the next day, sitting atop a placard listing the location of meeting rooms.
What the convention is really about, however, is the business of running the federation and its affiliates. The sausage-making of the rule revision process is never fun, with talk grinding on interminably over what seems like minutiae to all but those who have a stake in the outcome.
A case in point was the debate over the rule against riders holding a dog on a leash while mounted. Apparently there have been several accidents recently in which leashes got tangled in horses' legs. Duh. This is in the same death-of-common-sense category as having a warning on a shirt saying it shouldn't be ironed if you're wearing it.
But things do get accomplished at these meetings and the federation seems to be clicking along, having found a way to address problems and move on. Want an example?
They worked out a method to tackle the tangle caused by a decision to improve the show schedule by arranging dates on a calendar starting Jan. 1 rather than the old method, which had Memorial Day weekend as its starting point. The new approach would have caused shows traditionally linked to a holiday, such as that formidable Labor Day weekend fixture, the Hampton Classic, to be held on a different date in the future. In the case of the Classic, that would have been after all the summer visitors went home. Who would drink the champagne?
"The new system made the problem worse instead of better. We messed up," said California show manager Larry Langer, who devised it with competition management committee chairman Glen Petty. Together, they worked out the solution: Going back to the old system in 2009, and trying to find compromises that will let shows come up with livable dates in 2007 and 2008.
The scariest moment of the convention came when David -- who has led the federation brilliantly since its birth two years ago -- reported he had taken a job as technical advisor training the Canadian eventing team. He said it was time for him to get on with his life and his goal of coaching. David left it up to the USEF board members to decide whether this acknowledged conflict of interest was acceptable. Luckily, they decided it was. And let's face it, the Canadian eventers aren't much of a threat. Public recognition of David as an Olympic gold medalist, along with his drive, charm and sense of the right course for the federation would have made him hard to replace at this juncture.
There was some intrigue in the air, too, as Alan Balch, president of another USEF predecessor group, USA Equestrian, returned to the board. Balch was at the center of a heated legal battle that raged expensively for several years between USAE and the U.S. Equestrian Team. As part of the settlement that formed the USEF, Balch was barred from the board until this year. While no one said anything publicly about his reappearance, there are some whose wounds from the war have not healed. They were not glad to see him back. Stay tuned on this one.
In the midst of all the politics and fine print, it's sometimes hard to remember what the annual meeting is really about, and why it's important.
"Let's remind ourselves why we're here, the horses," David told us in his keynote address. "The decisions we make here do matter and affect countless lives, both horse and human."