It Feels Like Ho Hum But In The End You Realize You’ve Learned a Lot!

Sunday, January 18, 2009
Posted by Diana DeRosa


DeRosa Daily - Inside Reporting for the 2009 USEF Convention

The Dressage Committee started early on Friday morning meeting and discussing all the dressage rule changes. I was expecting some major topic to be debated but the meeting mostly had housekeeping and rule changes that were easily passed or withdrawn. Many rules were non controversial. For the FEI portion the High Performance division had to change or amend some rules in order to be in line with the FEI.

There were some controversial issues discussed, but nothing that took up much time. Topics are too numerous to mention and focused on a wide range of subjects such as notifying the membership that score sheets for freestyles are on the FEI web site, having judges for the semi finals officiate together or allowing stallions to compete unless the prize list prohibits them.

There was discussion about what kind of bits can be used and George Williams even brought in a new bit for the group to see. Other discussion focused on a bunch of “para” rules that are being proposed. The riders with disabilities program is really growing and dressage appears to attract a lot of riders with all types of abilities and disabilities.

After the committee went over their own rules they reviewed rules that other committees were discussing that might affect the dressage riders. For instance the Eventing committee proposed a rule of why management could reject entries. The Dressage Committee felt that competition management should not be able to reject competitors just on a whimsical basis as they felt that was unfair.

So much was being tossed out at the meeting that afterwards I met with a few different people to discuss issues in greater detail but before doing that I noticed some questions coming in on my blackberry from some of you. Naturally I took the opportunity to get answers to those questions.

DressageDaily Readers Speak Out

The first was from Karen Smith who wrote, “I see that you mentioned the committee feeling the lack of growth was due to the economy. I along with many others have not renewed memberships to USEF and USDF because, based on the qualification rule discussions these organizations no longer want to represent the AA hobbyist, the grassroot members. Could you ask about this and if they intend to take the ‘little people’ into consideration with more programs, education, etc.”

In order to answer Karen’s question I want to first explain briefly what she is referring to as far as the qualification rule. I spoke to Janine Malone, who pretty much handles all the rule change proposals for the Dressage Committee. Janine helped clarify both the verbiage of what was proposed and the intent of why it was proposed.

While the rule started out in one format it went through a variety of rewrites that basically focused on requiring competitors to attain certain scores in order to move up a level. Initially it was suggested to start at 3rd level but even that varied depending on which amended version you were reading.

The good news for Karen is that for now the rule has been withdrawn. The reasons for this are manifold, including the present state of the economy and not wanting to make any changes right now but also because they received a lot of feedback.

What is being discussed though is how they fulfill the original purpose of the rule proposal while being fair to all levels of competitors. One suggestion is to focus more on the rider and not have the quality of a person’s horse be considered in the judging (so a really super horse won’t get a higher score and one that lacks talent or gaits won’t affect the score of the rider.) It would be a rider test and they would get a score based on the rider, discounting the actual talent of the horse. Janine noted that the Committee is going to look at ways to allow riders to progress up the levels as their competence increases.

When discussing the grassroot, many of those that I spoke with felt the USDF does a good job of being geared towards the amateur rider. Some felt that this is the way it should be while others believe the USEF needs to think of ways to be more inclusive. The USEF’s Opportunity classes have helped. These allow grassroots level riders to show at licensed competitions without being a member of the USEF.

One person, who asked to remain anonymous commented, “The little people have always been looked after by USDF, not so much by USEF. “

I also heard from Christine Lima who asked if I knew the outcome of the following rule change proposal GR907.2 which is about the horse’s name. “All horses registered with a breed association must be entered using the horse’s registered name. This name must also be used for recording the same horse with USEF for use in Horse of the Year Awards.”

Overall it is the feeling by those I spoke to that this rule will not pass. The key reason for this proposal was that people with the breed organizations want to be able to identify their horses based on the breed. In principle it sounds like a good idea but the problem is that it wouldn’t allow for name changes and that is something that happens quite often in the horse world especially by including sponsors names as part of the horse’s name.

USEF Members Speak Up

I asked some others at the convention to give me their thoughts about the economy and the above questions. At lunch I was sitting with some Andalusian folk and Warren Mather, a trainer, feels the economy is definitely having an impact. “People are apprehensive about spending money on their luxury items.”

A judge, owner of Arabians, Morgans, Friesians, and Andalusians noted that while he may not agree with everything, he said that the USEF is made up of many volunteers who devote a lot of their time and energy and do a good job. “It’s easy to be on the sidelines and complain but they (the USEF) are doing the best that they can.” He did add though that in the meetings he was part of the qualification rule was consistently voted down.

I chatted quite a bit with one other person, who also asked to remain anonymous. She’s a mom who had taken out a second mortgage on her house so that she could send her daughter to Spain to bring back an Andalusian. Sadly the horse died from a very rare case of colic in August of 2008 and when I asked my new friend if she feels the economy is impacting the horse business and her personally she commented in a half serious tone “I sometimes think he (the horse) made a decision not to survive in order to save me from financial ruin.”

She continued to explain about how she passed her passion for horses on to her daughter despite the fact that “it was out of our reach to begin with but we started out on a small scale but it kept growing to the point where the commitment was one that just makes you keep going.”

Her story reminded me of many others. “When I was young I always loved horses. It was my passion and it became hers. We started out very slow doing a half lease on a Quarter Horse. Once you enter into the horse world it seems like all things center around horses.”

Our conversation turned to the role of the USEF.

“It is a big organization that encompasses a huge array of horses and disciplines. You get out of it what you put into it. Anyone can enter an Opportunity class and thus it draws them into a structured show environment that is safe.”

She was referring to the benefits for the grassroots horse owner to be a part of the USEF and continued saying, “Backyard people don’t have the same sort of safety awareness that show people do. There will be kids riding with no helmets and flip flops. It is not safe. For the USEF it’s not about creating a look to be elitist. It is about safety. Rules are created for a reason. You put a bunch of kids in an arena together, they have to be able to control their horse. There is a great deal of judgment that riders need to have.

“The USEF is about the performance horse – about showing. The grassroots is where you learn but then if your desire is to grow then you join the organization to grow in their direction. No one organization can be everything to everyone. USEF is about equestrian competition.

“It’s not about anyone pushing his or her agenda through,” she continued. “It’s about putting a compromising agenda through that We had talked for awhile and our conversation continued about the good that the USEF has done and continues to do. For instance, the Youth Council has been a great boost to the organization. “Kids are learning to work together, cross disciplines and grow together. More kids are entering classes. Educating the youth helps keep things moving forward benefits the group. You need to be involved.”

The USEF Works for All of Us

While it’s easy to criticize different aspects of any large organization, we as horse people are lucky to have a group as large as the USEF to carry the torch for us. It gives horse sports legitimacy and let’s others know that horses need to be taken seriously. For every negative that happens in this organization, there are 100 positives and for that reason we all need to support any organization that’s going to help promote horse sports.

I’m going to close with a cute picture. When Carol Lavell (I saw Carol when she rode Gifted many years ago in the World Equestrian and Olympic Games – I loved that horse) saw me with my camera she jokingly set up a cute shot for me. She patted her mouth and yawned making it appear that these meetings are boring. While I will admit there are times when I do actually feel that way those who came took the time out of their schedules to come and be heard. The Convention gives them that chance to voice their opinions and it gives you that chance too.

Well, it’s been a long day and I’m going to wrap up for now. The Horse of the Year Awards just finished with the big win going to Jamaica, Chester Weber’s key driving horse. It was a great way to end the evening because the applause he received was deafening.

Tomorrow the meetings continue – they really aren’t too ho hum. I am connecting with Gil Merrick in the morning and will be sure to pass along any more information I can glean. In the meantime, feel free to email me with any other questions you’d like answers to or just to say hi. (


Our On the Scene reporter known for her extensive coverage for our websites of the World Equestrian Games and Olympic brings us her impressions and conversations from the 2009 USEF Convention 2009.