January 13, 2002, Charlotte, NC -- Rule changes, turmoil and glory shared the spotlight at the USA Equestrian annual convention, which ended this morning, I'm happy to say. The dramatic mix allowed little time for sleep -- especially with meetings starting at 8 a.m. or earlier every day, and the action not winding up until 10 or 11 p.m.
Sightseeing? Forget about it.
A lot got accomplished, including passage of a requirement that all horses competing in USA Equestrian shows must obtain an ID number from the organization.
"It's a pretty historic step," said USA Equestrian President Alan Balch, noting this was draft seven of the rule, which the breeders' committee sought in an effort to track horses' parentage and performance. The idea is that it could help develop America's sport horse breeding efforts.
Your first question, of course, is what it will cost. The effective date is Dec. 1, and for the first year, ID numbers will be free. After that, there's no charge for those registering on the internet, with numbers issued by mail for a $10 fee and at shows, for $20. Horses that are life-recorded with USA Equestrian or registered with affiliates would be exempt from fees.
This one got pushed through; no more waiting, Balch insisted. But at the other end of the scale, it will be some time until the U.S. Equestrian Team/USA Equestrian consolidation as horse sports' new National Governing Body can be wrapped up.
On Thursday, as I told you in my first postcard, both the USET and USA Equestrian approved a basic structure for their merger. They still need to spend the next few months working out the details before a final vote is taken on whether to make it happen.
Whoever said "the devil is in the details" had this situation in mind. The proposal has caused some rumblings in USA Equestrian. The National Hunter/Jumper Council is disturbed that it would lose the jumpers under the plan, since the jumpers would move to the international side of the organization and the hunters would stay on the national side. Balch even mentioned at one point that he could see separate organizations for the hunters and jumpers.
It's a key issue, because the council is trying to become independent of USA Equestrian, which funds it and now has a very tight rein on the purse strings. The council needs USA Equestrian to make membership in the NHJC mandatory for those who want to show in hunters and equitation at least, so it can support itself financially. Competitors also would have to join USAE, where they would pay a basic membership fee and probably a reduced discipline fee.
That all remains to be worked out, however, and it's an extremely complicated issue. Larry Langer, who took over the NHJC presidency from a frustrated Tom Struzzieri after what the latter called "two very slow years," said he believes the council will be preserved.
However, he said the name probably would have to be changed. How about, "The Organization Formerly Known as the National Hunter/Jumper Council?"
Meanwhile, national breeds and disciplines are concerned that the organizational chart for the new NGB as outlined would not give them sufficient representation in relation to the international interests once the merger takes place.
Bill Pennington, president of the powerful International Arabian Horse Association, said that unless the national breeds and disciplines get more representation, his 28,000-member group will pull out. We've heard this at crisis points in past years too, and the Arabians have always stayed, but it does add another potential stick of dynamite to the mix.
"Personally, I see the benefits of being one organization," he said. "I think it will be worked out; I'm a positive thinker."
Balch met with the breeds and disciplines at their request, telling them "everyone has the same goal, to serve the interests of the sport." Outreach groups have been started with various constituencies as negotiations move along.
But the way this plays out is among the many things that remain to be seen as the project moves forward and consolidation goes from theory to reality.
The things I just mentioned were red-letter items on the list of what happened here, but I do have to make a few more mentions of the rule change process in order for you to be well-informed, so bear with me.
Among the proposals that didn't pass was one which basically would have eliminated the controversial mileage rule for hunter shows. So it's status quo for this problem that has been unsolved for what seems like eons.
Meanwhile, a rule change that would allow USA Equestrian to assign stewards and technical delegates was referred to the planning committee for further work. There has been concern that since stewards or TDS are chosen by the shows where they work, they may not be unbiased in handling their duties.
"I feel it's premature in this form," Alan said about the draft of the rule, but he noted "the time is coming when stewards and TDs need a degree of independence they do not have."
Other items of interest? Jo Whitehouse, executive director of the U.S. Eventing Association (the former USCTA) said ASTM/SEI-approved headgear will be required for all eventers starting Dec. 1. The rule change proposal hasn't been submitted yet, but get that on your radar screen, as the USAE board probably will put it to a vote in the coming months to make it official.
There's going to be a dressage medal for junior riders, similar to the hunt seat, saddle seat and reining seat medals. Semi-finals will be held this year in connection with the U.S. Dressage Federation's regional championships, with finals at the USA Equestrian Junior Dressage Championship in 2003.
So enough about the rules. The fun part of the convention was the Pegasus awards dinner, which is always as moving as it is entertaining.
I was sitting at a great table for the dinner, where the centerpieces of white roses and carnations sat atop checked black and white cloths for great effect. Across from me was Joe Dotoli, whose face was a study in stunned surprise when Alan announced him as the winner of the new service award for his efforts to get junior hunt seat riders into ASTM/SEI headgear by Dec. 1, 2001. Joe was worried as he walked to the dais because he hadn't prepared a speech. He did fine though, and thanked everyone involved with one exception -- his wife, Fran.
The Equestrian of the Year award also was done as a surprise for the first time, and it went to jumper rider Todd Minikus. As soon as I saw him go in the door to the dinner, I figured he was the winner and asked him point-blank, but he wouldn't tell me. Though Todd is one who usually speaks his mind, he also knows when to be tight-lipped.
The biggest moment of the evening was the presentation of the video celebrating the Lifetime Achievement Award. Balch spends a lot of time setting photos and old films to music, and I can't imagine anyone doing it better.
The subject this year was Frank Chapot. Since Chapot is a six-time Olympian and has won hundreds of blue ribbons, Balch had a lot of material with which to work. The show started off with "Those Were the Days, My Friend" and highlights were shots of Chapot on a horse passing Jack and Jackie Kennedy at, I'd guess, the Washington International, as well as accepting a trophy in Britain from Queen Elizabeth.
Receiving the honor means trying on its silver cowboy hat trophy, a replica of the headgear worn by the late west coast trainer Jimmy Williams, the first one to get the award.
The moment usually comes at the close of a career, but Chapot couldn't wait to tell us all that he just has been chosen as the USET's first jumping coach in more than 20 years. His mission is to get our riders ready for gold at September's World Equestrian Games in Spain, where he also will be chef d'equipe.
"This is something that gives me authority to guide and help all the U.S. riders' day-to-day performance and hopefully help us get back on top," he told the cheering crowd.
The next night was the Horse of the Year dinner, with too many winners to go into here, of course. But the trophies alone are worth a story (and a fortune). My favorite is the bronze that is the David Kelley Memorial Trophy, depicting a horse wearing just a bridle, waiting for a bath. There's a little bronze bucket with a little bronze sweat scraper and a little bronze sponge and a little bronze dog. You get the picture.
A SAD NOTE -- A graveside service will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Clove Cemetery on Route 23 in Sussex, NJ, for Milton Long, who was well-known in the driving community. Mr. Long, 31, died in North Carolina last week of injuries suffered in an October 2000 motorcycle crash.
He was the son of top four-in-hand driver Bill Long and his wife, Linda. Mr. Long also is survived by his brother, Billy, of Hardwick, NJ.
Although he was a skilled driver himself, working for Willard Rhodes of Vermont and North Carolina, Mr. Long probably was best known as a navigator for his father.
"There were few people more enthusiastic about the sport than Milton," said Heather Walker, former director of the Gladstone Equestrian Association. "He always had a smile and a laugh; he was one of the most likable people in the sport."