USA Equestrian Meets

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Equine welfare and fair sport dominated rule change decisions at the USA Equestrian’s 86th Annual Meeting in its hometown of Lexington, Kentucky, January 15-19, 2003.

In the Drugs and Medications arena, evidence of overmedication of the corticosteroid dexamethasone led to an extraordinary rule change.

Veterinarians prescribe it to treat allergic response, but reports indicate some hunter trainers use it for its mood-depressant effects. Equine practitioner and Welsh Pony breeder Ruth Wilburn, DVM, commented, “Dex should be 1 cc per 100 pounds once a week. Horse show forms were reporting 10 cc three times a day.”

Chronic overuse of dexamethasone can result in damaged cartilage and loss of muscle strength. To limit its non-therapeutic use, “dex” concentration is now restricted to a plasma concentration of 0.003 micrograms per milliliter, effective March 1, 2003. The abrupt constraint affects horses showing this spring. Some horsemen squawked about the short notice, while others applauded the crackdown.

Another rule change involved anti-ulcer medication, permitted for use in most competing horses. However, effective March 1, it is prohibited in the Endurance Riding Division.

“Endurance has consistently chosen ‘no drugs,’” said Jerry Gillespie, DVM. “Endurance is not opposed to use of the drug as treatment, but not during competition.”

Jim Baldwin, DVM, explained, “Historically, because of the strenuous nature of endurance riding, the horse shouldn’t be allowed to start if he has a problem. Yes, treat a horse with ulcers, but there should be no effect of drugs during competition.”

In another rule change, show officials can now issue warning cards as reprimands for situations that may not warrant an official charge. Examples cited could include overdisciplining a horse, failure to wear protective headgear, or an unleashed dog. A steward or technical delegate can issue a card to supplement verbal warnings when witnessing improper conduct or rule infractions.

The Jumper Committee encouraged safety of horses jumping wide obstacles through a rule requiring FEI-approved safety jump cups on the back poles of spreads. The rule applies to shows offering prize money of $10,000 or more. Shows must make safety cups, or breakable jump cup pins, available in schooling rings.

Andrew Ellis, show organizer and chair of the Safety Committee, noted, “When available, all divisions should use safety cups on the backs of all oxers. Most accidents I see are in pony jumpers and children’s jumpers. Now these cups are affordable to buy or rent.”

Proponents of “alternative” snaffles bits for dressage celebrated a victory—the Dressage Committee approved the design of a rotating mouthpiece. Originated by Myler Bits, the free-rotating barrel joint allows each mouthpiece to move independently. The Rule Book’s newly added illustration of this design indicates only the straight—not “ported”—mouthpiece. Riders can show in this bit effective January 1, 2003.

Other innovative rule proposals failed to change show traditions. A proposed change was to allow hunters to show with unbraided manes and tails, without penalty. Interestingly enough, there is no current rule that requires mane braiding, so there was a counter-proposal that the unwritten rule become law. What ensued was a vigorous debate about maintaining the tradition of braiding. In the end, there were no rule changes and the tradition of braiding will continue.

Also hotly debated was a proposal by eventers to improve riders’ comfort at horse trials with “lightweight sportswear” for dressage and jumping tests. The text of the proposed rule change also would have allowed officials to permit competitors to wear half-chaps with jodhpur boots. But tradition ruled here, too, and no changes were made.

In its role as National Governing Body (NGB) for equestrian sport, USA Equestrian’s (USAE) International High Performance Committee took steps to draft selection procedures for the 2003 Pan-American Games. Jumping and dressage teams will represent the U.S. this August, and riders need to plan now to compete in qualifiers. For more, go to www.equestrian.org.

The Breeders Committee considered an ambitious plan for education and publicity. Chair Denny Emerson espouses better marketing of U.S.-bred sport horses, and led a discussion about seminars to demonstrate how pedigree relates to performance. “We need to produce horses the American buyers are buying,” said Emerson.

A New Organization

At the 2001 meeting, the then-AHSA presented an innovative plan to combine AHSA with USET (United States Equestrian Team). Two embattled years later, both groups moved closer to such a new organization.

The now-USA?Equestrian’s vice president and treasurer, David O’Connor and Kathy Meyer, respectively, unveiled a plan for a new NGB. O’Connor described it as a “new corporate entity to do all the USAE and USET functions, except fundraising.”

And, in a surprise move, USAE president Balch announced that he would resign if USET agrees to the principles of the new organization. Balch has led AHSA/USAE for 6 years. O’Connor would be the likely successor.

For latest developments on the new entity, see these websites:

USAE at www.equestrian.org

USET at www.uset.org