by Bonnie Navin, Esq.
The United States Equestrian Federation voted to approve an extraordinary rule change of General Rule 404 on June 30, 2015. The new rule adds to the scope of those who may be charged with a drug violation at USEF sanctioned horse shows to “other persons responsible.” It goes into effect December 1, 2015.
Chapter 4 of the USEF Rule Book is an important section that affects all members. It applies to the drug and medications rules and requirements. It is important to note that the rule is a “may” and not “shall”, rule. The upcoming change gives USEF discretion to charge and penalize financially and by suspension, not just “the” trainer, but now multiple trainers, owners, riders, grooms, and other persons who may care for or be responsible for the equine at the horse show.
In the past, the USEF essentially operated under the legal concept of “absolute insurer” which meant the trainer was the one who would be the best individual to hold accountable in the presence of a drug violation of an equine. This concept was adopted by following how racetracks in some states hold trainers responsible in the presence of drug violations. (See, Hennessey v. Dep’t of Bus. & Prof. Regulation, 818 So.2d 697 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002).
Many racetracks take the position that “[i]n an animal protection context, a trainer is singularly the best individual to hold accountable for the condition of a horse. The trainer is either going to be with the horse at all time or one of his or her employees or contractors is going to be with the horse at all times, whether the horse is racing on an individual day or is merely stabled at the track.” Id. (The same rule applies in Florida with greyhound racing.)(This rule is commonly found in states where horse racing occurs.).
The rules are present so that trainers do not alter the pari-mutual wagering by trying to “fix” a race by way of drug use. It is important to note that racetracks are very specific who may enter the barns of the track by showing identification and also who may handle a horse. The same cannot be said for show grounds that allow spectators to traverse the barns and touch horses when owners and trainers are absent from their barn.
The USEF rule now notes that “in the absence of substantial evidence to the contrary” those persons who share responsibility in the care, custody and control of the equine, in addition to the trainer, may be charged and penalized. This is venturing away from the “absolute insurer” rule in some respects.
Perhaps most unnerving, is that the rule does not prohibit the charging and penalizing of junior riders. In fact, the rule specifically states that riders of ponies can be charged. In the past, the USEF did not involve minors in drug violations. Clearly ponies in hunter shows can only be ridden by juniors.
One cannot ignore the emotional turmoil that may fall on a junior rider having to face being charged in an administrative proceeding, giving testimony under oath, and further being faced with suspension because their mount contained forbidden substances. Perhaps the USEF has not considered the legal ramifications of charging a minor for drug violations or the angry parents that will likely follow when their child is put through such a devastating experience.
The new rule also includes charging and penalizing any persons associated with the equine that have some form of care and custody of the horse. In fact, it even applies to grooms. There is no provision in the rules to explain how the USEF has standing to charge and penalize non-USEF members, a category that most grooms fit into.
Will the USEF simply charge, penalize and document the name of that person on the suspension list? Or require grooms to have USEF memberships?
Those who should potentially be most concerned are the professional riders who simply meet the horse at the ring, school the horse and show. Their limited relationship with the horse ends when they hand the equine back to the trainer or owner that retained them for the catch ride.
Given that the person charged must demonstrate substantial evidence of not caring for or having custody of the equine, it would be best for all professional riders to contact their equine attorneys and obtain hold harmless agreements/contracts for all persons to sign that seek their services. Riders would need to obtain a new contract for each show, or show series, to ensure the trainer hasn’t changed the horse’s program.
Suggested language many include:
I, _______________, accept and agree that I am the trainer of the equine known as ___________________, with USEF Number:________________. I agree to hold harmless the professional rider _______________________ should this equine be found by USEF to have contained in its body a Forbidden Substance or Therapeutic Substance, over the USEF permissible limits and requirements. I have assured the Professional Rider that the equine has not been administered any such substances at this show.
This agreement outlines and confirms that the Professional Rider in no way has had any involvement in the care, custody and control of this equine. This hold harmless agreement sets forth that I will be responsible for any and all costs associated with the Professional Rider’s defense to the USEF which shall include but not be limited to, legal counsel, travel expenses to the hearing and to pay any fines assessed against said Professional Rider. I further agree should the Professional Rider be suspended by the USEF as a result of a drug violation involving this horse that I shall reimburse said Professional Rider all losses sustained as a result of such suspension.
Legal counsel can create a form that substitutes owner, junior, groom, etc.
This rule, as created, may be a slippery slope for the USEF. It may invite legal challenges given the broad sweeping scope, and that it affects minors.