USEF Competition

USEF: Time to Do Right By Our Horses

 “We all know things are going on. Lets deal with it,” said US Eventing Team Coach David O’Connor.

United States Equestrian Federation officials say we are at the beginning of taking a “honest, clear look at ourselves” to see if we can defend our practices in the light of day. The association held a Town Hall Meeting Monday night in Kentucky that was broadcast live to members across the country.

USEF Chief Executive Officer John Long said, “currently we have no protocol if a horse dies – that doesn’t make sense.” He said no outside force pushed the federation to this point, its just the responsible thing to do. Although many believe it was the New York Times front page exposé in December 2012. The hunter/jumper industry was put under the microscope after a pony named Humble died at the end of his trainer’s needle at the Devon Horse Show earlier in the year.

Two “extraordinary” rules were discussed and are expected to go before the Executive Committee later this month.

The Collapse rule applies to any horse that falls to the ground with no apparent cause. Proposed changes to the rule include lengthening the mandatory notification period to alert a steward from one hour, which was deemed too short by membership, to as soon as possible or at most 3 hours. Additionally, the rule states USEF may appoint a veterinarian to inspect the animal. The owner must be willing to cooperate with any exam or investigation done by the association into the collapse or death.

USEF officials say they are concerned with the injection practices of some members. They were clear that just because a substance can’t be tested doesn’t mean it is legal or should be injected. The second proposed rule will not allow any injections to be given to horses within 12 hours of competing. There are 3 exceptions and each have additional fine print. A horse can receive therapeutic fluids (can not contain electrolytes), antibiotics, or dexamethasone for hives. A veterinarian must give the injections and it must be “no less that 6 hours prior to competing.” Additionally, a Medical Report Form must be filed with the office.

Some believe USEF is now in the galloping lane to disallowing injections, just like the FEI. Dr. Stephen Schumacher says absolutely not. “There is a place for non-steriod use in the older performance horse.”

The proposed effective dates for the rules are June 14, 2013 and August 18, 2013 respectively.

Some audience members from the American Saddlebred affiliate seemed unsettled in their seats. One gentleman said “time is on our side.” Another suggested the USEF slow down and work to build a consensus among horse groups before putting the rules in motion. He said he felt USEF was using quick communications with committees to rush the rules. He suggested we should “build on something and be proud of the result.”

O’Connor stressed the need for serious discussions regarding changes specific to each discipline. He asked everyone to consider what is inappropriate in your discipline. “Could I do this on television in the middle of Central Park, in the middle of the day, with the TV camera on me?” Answering those questions and making the necessary changes will lead to the best outcomes for each sport, he said.

The association is also seeking guidance from other organizations like the American Quarter Horse Association and the American Kennel Club. They discussed a tip line, which is utilized by other groups.

Accountability was discussed – from the rider, owner, trainer, and veterinarian perspective. One owner in the audience asked USEF to help her police her trainer. She says she requires a contract, but can’t be present at every show.

The panel said it hears membership’s call for stricter suspension penalties. Bill Moroney, USEF’s VP of National Affiliates, said he is for Penalty Guidelines and suggested, “maybe we need to go to the three strikes and you are out approach for serious offenses.”

He says those working together will need to have a more transparent relationship now than ever. Before owners buy their next horse he says they need to have a very clear understanding from their trainer regarding what it will take to get that horse to the ring.

“Its time for everyone to be more proactive,” says USEF President Chrystine Tauber.

This is a new beginning.