January 11, 2017 -- The U.S. Equestrian Federation, formerly USA Equestrian and the American Horse Shows Association, has been reborn on its 100th anniversary.
Its public persona will have a new U.S. Equestrian logo as the organization puts forward a revitalized approach in a fresh mission. President-elect Murray Kessler this afternoon unveiled the long-awaited 157-page strategic plan that is setting the federation on an energetic, multi-faceted course for its second century.
In a lively presentation before a rapt audience of approximately 300 in a Lexington, Ky., hotel ballroom, Murray explained “the organization had become somewhat insular and dysfunctional.”
That signaled it was time for an approach geared to growing the membership and bringing “the joy of horse sports to as many people as possible,” while continuing to insure cheaters will be penalized and horses would be safeguarded.
The emotional element of presenting horse sports often goes untapped, but the USEF will make the most of that connection, the special bond between horse and rider or driver, or the person who shows in-hand.
What understandably rankles those at the USEF is the fact that just 4 percent, or about 82,000 people, of the country’s 1.9 million horse owners, are its members. Most only belong because it’s a requirement of competing at recognized shows. Even many members of USEF affiliates, such as the Arabian Horse Association or the U.S. Eventing Association, don’t have a federation membership card.
Jumpers are the only increasing segment of the membership, with its 28 other breeds and disciplines in what amounts to a no-growth mode. Every year, the USEF gets 17,000 new members, but it also loses 17,000—many dropping out for college or due to starting a family, bleeding that the strategic plan is geared to stopping by getting more people involved.
The plan calls for having a “fan base,” like the Dutch federation, which was a model for some of the improvements proposed by USEF. Toward that end, 22,000 Pony Clubbers and intercollegiate riders were given free fan memberships for a year, with the hope that they will pay $25 to renew in 2018.
What will they get? A new educational program with fascinating how-to videos from top people in the horse business, access to the USEF network that airs major competitions, member benefits such as discounts on a variety of items, including equipment, and a redesigned website that is easier to navigate.
They will be part of a community that facilitates networking and generates social media activity.
Plans also call for finding a way to have unrecognized shows come into the fold, while giving grassroots riders a chance to get started in unrecognized classes at recognized shows.
At the elite level, the U.S. is one of the most successful countries in international competition, but instead of pushing everything to the top of the triangle, Murray described the continuum of sport as a circle. Although resources will go toward international competition, the success of riders in Olympics and other international fixtures can be used to attract more people to horse sports, which in turn will increase revenue, participation and a deeper talent pool for high-profile events. You get the picture.
In Britain, after the country’s dressage and show jumping teams won gold at the 2012 Olympics, membership in their federation increased by 41 percent. The U.S. plan also calls for increasing the base of para-equestrian sport in this country, something the British have done in their nation, which dominates the gold medals in para-dressage.
Murray announced that a new headquarters for USEF will be built at the Kentucky Horse Park, probably to be occupied after the lease on its current building is up in 2019. The structure now serving as its home is expensive to lease, and is unsatisfactory on several counts. It’s estimated that having USEF move into a higher quality building that it owns will save $300,000 a year.
It’s hard to summarize in a bulletin everything that was presented, but count on making many new discoveries about the federation in the coming days and weeks. Some things will take a while longer to organize, like the competition lite incentive for the grassroots, but Murray—who takes over the federation’s top spot on Saturday—got a standing ovation from his audience.
He deserved it, talking for two hours non-stop with nary a stumble and an enthusiasm that was catching.
I talked with Tucker Johnson, president of the U.S. Equestrian Team, which is building an endowment to offer long-range economic stability down the road for America’s international equestrian efforts. It should eventually generate another $2 million or $3 million a year to fund them when the endowment is completed.
I wanted to see what Tucker, a medal-winning four-in-hand driver before he retired, thought of the plan. When I gave him my opinion, he jumped right in with his. Click on the right-pointing arrow to hear what he had to say.
It also was interesting to speak with Allyn Mann of Adequan, a visionary who at the same time is a realist. He has been a witness to incredible growth in the industry, and was happy to tell me what he thought about the presentation. Click on the right-pointing arrow to listen.
After the applause died down, convention-goers headed for a reception in honor of the federation’s century. President Chrystine Tauber ran through the history of the organization, which began in 1917 under the leadership of Reginald Vanderbilt as representatives of 50 horse shows met in New York City. The goal was creating an organization “that would maintain clean competition and fair play in the show ring.”
That’s still the mantra of USEF, underlined today by word that two successful figures in the hunter world had been penalized under stronger drugs and medications penalty guidelines that went into effect Jan. 1.
Trainer Larry Glefke received a 24-month suspension and a $24,000 fine after Kelley Farmer's horse, Unexpected, tested positive for GABA, a calming supplement, at the Kentucky Summer Horse Show in July, the USEF stated.
The Hearing Committee also imposed a 12-month suspension and a $12,000 fine against Kelley, the rider, as a "Person Responsible," a wide-ranging designation under the federation’s drugs and medications rules.
The trainer’s previous violations, including a recent one involving acepromazine, a sedative, and filing a false medication report, got him a five-month suspension starting Feb. 1. His 24-month suspension starts July 1.
Although there were questions about why Kelley can continue to ride until July 1, when her suspension begins, USEF policy usually starts suspensions in the same month as violations, and allows time for horse owners to sort out what they are going to do with their animals after a trainer or rider is suspended.
The Hearing Committee expressed concern that Larry and Kelley did not attend the hearing or submit any witnesses or evidence to rebut the charges against them.
However, Bonnie Navin, an attorney who represents the two, said they never received notice of the hearing, contending the USEF does not have proof her clients were contacted.
“The only fair thing to do is vacate the order and reissue charges,” she said, maintaining, “they rushed this thing through.”