A Report From AHSA's Meeting

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Over five days, all the American Horse Shows Association (AHSA) breed and discipline groups met to discuss rule change proposals brought before them as well as any other key issues. On the final day, the board of directors met to decide the fate of the many proposals. Rule changes that were passed went into effect immediately—if they affected the health or well-being of the horse or rider—or on December 1, which is the date set for most new rules to go into effect.

Since the list of those rules is long and can be reviewed in detail by visiting AHSA Website (www.ahsa.org), included here are highlights and key issues.

Creating a New NGB

Undoubtedly, the most controversial and emotional discussions centered on the fact that the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has mandated that a single organization will govern all equestrian sports, rather than the combination of two groups that has operated the sport since the inception of the U.S. Equestrian Team (USET) in 1950.

Currently, the AHSA is considered the national governing body (NGB), but unlike the way things work in other sports, it alone does not do all the functions required of an NGB. Rather, it depends on the USET to select, equip and finance riders who represent the U.S. in major international competitions. Yet, the AHSA is the regulatory body of the Olympic and World Equestrian Games disciplines, as well as many of the other breeds and disciplines.

To tackle the problem, a 20-person task force was formed of key individuals from both groups. They ultimately came up with two proposals: one merges both organizations and creates USA Equestrian; the other makes the USET the sole NGB.

Those two proposals and the heated conversations that followed became a prime topic at this year’s convention. One question asked by many was why was there no proposal with the AHSA continuing to be the NGB. David O’Connor, who is on the task force, explained that the job is about what is good for the sport. He further acknowledged that the tension between the two organizations would continue unless the two groups merged, led by a single CEO with subdivisions maintaining the functions USET and AHSA (under different titles) do best. The task force hoped to have a decision by February 1.

Implementing breeding incentives was also an issue at the convention. Denny Emerson spoke about the reasons, explaining that out of 193 horses at the Olympics, only seven were American-bred and those were in three-day eventing. Emerson noted that “up until now there has been very little support for breeders.” He added, “We don’t need to go to Europe to get all our horses, but we need your help.” AHSA’s recent acquisition of a database for horses bodes well for being able to better track the performance records of horses.

Finally, the Drugs and Medication forum had its own share of controversy. In addition to topics covered in our cover story, page 29, further discussion centered on the fact that herbal medications are not necessarily safe. “If you do not know what is in these medications, do not administer them,” warned Dr. Kent Allen, moderator. Yet another topic was the fact that the AHSA is considering split sampling, whereby a sample of urine is taken from a horse and is split into two vials for separate testing.

Rule Changes

The convention’s main focus was debating the many rule changes. Some of the highlights follow:

Ponies: The issue of measuring ponies focused on the fact that many stewards, although responsible for doing the task, often turn it over to veterinarians. Citing cases where there was incorrect measuring, a call was made to take this situation more seriously. As a result, teaching stewards how to measure ponies properly will become part of their education.

The board approved keeping stallions out of pony classes. There was an overwhelming feeling among committee members that today the pony ring has become big business and that there is a need to get back to the concept that ponies are for kids and for teaching them how to ride.

Equitation: Discussion centered on the fact that equitation riders do not do a good job of tracking their points, which can result in preventing another rider from qualifying for the finals if a rider competes in more classes than are necessary. It was suggested that a passport could be created to help them track their points. Further discussion centered on equitation riders being allowed to cross their stirrups when being tested.

Jumper: In this forum, organizing the point system was debated. The initial proposal was to do this as Table I, and to move “touches to count” to another table. Debate here centered on the fact that in certain areas of the country, touch classes are all but extinct, while in other areas, especially at the grassroots level, they are prevalent. Those who compete at the grassroots level felt it would be a mistake to change the existing Table I and preferred adding a new Table V. Mandating the use of safety cups to make jumping safer for horses and riders was passed.

Western: In the western forum there was discussion about the new Reining Seat Medal Finals, which has rejuvenated the equitation division going, as it did, from three riders to 47 in one year. An announcement was also made that the Reining Championships, the Futurities Finals and a Nations Cup will again take place at the Festival of Champions in Gladstone, N.J., in June. Further discussion centered on deleting mounting and dismounting from the testing list because of the fact that more and more people with disabilities are showing. Rules were also passed in both dressage and driving to help make it easier for people with disabilities to enjoy horse sports.

Dressage: In dressage a new U.S. Freestyle League, which is expected to help the sport grow, is being implemented. Also, they are working on new tests for 2002.

Endurance:?Endurance incorporated their rules into the rulebook. In addition, ten 100-mile rides were added to the calendar for this year.

Three-Day Eventing: In this forum, noted three-day course designer Roger Haller explained that the FEI is looking at the possibility of making the sport a horse trials competition and not three-day eventing. The eventers see this as a mistake, since they believe the three-day event aspects of roads and tracks and steeplechase help warm the horse up for the cross-country jumping phase. There was also discussion of changing the format for the Olympics back to one competition to decide both the team and individual titles, rather than keeping them as two completely different competitions. An announcement was also made that the United States Combined Training Association will be changing its name to the U.S. Eventing Association.

AHSA’s 85th annual meeting will be held in Charlotte, N.C. in 2002.