MagazineNewsHorse SportsHorse CareCOTH StoreVoicesThe Chronicle UntackedDirectoriesMarketplaceDates & Results
 
August 31, 2007

Event Scheduling Provokes Discontent Among Organizers


Horse trial organizers share some of the frustrations they face due to scheduling and question what this means for the future of the sport.

Proposed changes to the 2008 eventing calendar, spearheaded by the National Calendar Sub-Committee of the U.S. Equestrian Federation Eventing Technical Committee, have rankled some of the country’s most venerable organizers. Some said they feel manipulated by the committee’s decisions, and many believe that their voices aren’t being heard.

The process prompted a dramatic reaction from Penny and Brian Ross, organizers of the spring and fall Virginia Horse Trials, the North American Junior and Young Riders’ Championships and six local, unrecognized starter events.

On June 1, the couple withdrew their bid to host the 2007 fall two-star championships, a vacancy left on the calendar since the demise of Radnor (Pa.). They also cancelled the CCI** and intermediate division scheduled to run at this fall’s Virginia Horse Trials, plus withdrew applications to run a spring CCI* and CCI** and a fall CCI** in 2008.

The Ross’ decision was also influenced by remarks made on an Eventing Committee conference call on May 30-31, attended by Penny, in which she believes derogatory remarks were directed toward the Virginia Horse Trials.

“The committee… [is] so out of touch with the organizers’ heartbeat in this country,” said Penny in a statement sent to the Eventing Committee. “It is not, however, a new concept of this board to build an organizer up and then leave them hanging when [they] feel ready to move on or a better situation in [their] business philosophy presents itself.

“What sub-committee has the right to tell any Area and its organizers what is better for them? It has been [the organizers’] business to run events for decades,” Penny  said later.

Malcolm Hook, Aurora, Ore., is the chairman of the Eventing Committee. “The authority to establish dates for championships, advanced horse trials and Fédé-ration Equestre Internationale competitions is given to the Eventing Technical Committee by USEF Rule EV 120,” he said. “Whether this authority also confers a right becomes a philosophical argument.”
Denis Glaccum: Give The Organizers More Influence
Organizers have absolutely no direct way to influence who is and who is not on the U.S. Equestrian Federation Eventing Technical Committee. The U.S. Eventing Association has the ability to name 2/3 of the committee. However, general opinion suggests that the committee passes their approval or disapproval on those potential members the USEA proposes.

Organizers can only vote for USEA Board of Governor representatives as members of the USEA. Organizers have, by themselves, no voting influence over board members or officers of the USEF. Not a single eventing organizer serves on the USEF Board of Directors.
 Who makes the decisions in the sport? What is the process for making these decisions?

I feel that the sport and the competitive opportunities we all seek will undergo major changes if the current practices are not changed.

I envision that in a few short years we will have only two types of events: 1) upper-level events, held at major venues, which cater to advanced and intermediate competitors, and 2) low-level events that most likely will not be licensed by the USEF and probably not by the USEA, either.

Many organizers are tired of the over regulation, structure and costs associated with running their trials. Organizers must satisfy the rules and requirements imposed upon them, but they are never given a chance to help determine what these regulations should be in the first place.

The procedures and processes for defining and changing the rules and regulation of the USEF must include greater participation of organizers. We are, after all, the ones who deal most directly with the consequences of these regulations and who, in many cases, have a historical reference for many proposed rule changes.

Organizers need to insist on voting representation and on committee assignments. As Susie Schoellkopf wrote in her Between Rounds column “New Faces Bring Fresh Ideas To Our World” (June 15, p. 30), “Our sport is a business and as such demands the rotation of committee and board members.”

The bylaws of the USEA need to be changed to give greater decision making to organizers other than through their vote as members.

Glaccum, who began eventing in 1956, started organizing events in 1976 at Chesterland (Pa.). He has also run events at Fair Hill (Md.), Plantation Field (Pa.) and Menfelt (Md.).


June 2005: Calendar Work Begins

The Eventing Committee decided to rework the calendar in June 2005 by appointing a sub-committee, chaired by Roger Haller, Oxford, Ga., to “identify how the calendar could grow in order to better meet the needs of competitors by 2010.” Other members of the subcommittee are: Andrew Temkin, Derek di Grazia, Katie Lindsay, D.C. McBroom and Darren Chiacchia.

The FEI prompted such calendar rearranging by mandating that riders need CICs (horse trials run under FEI rules) to qualify for CCI competition.

As Hook explained, “Every year we would reinvent the wheel to find out where the FEI competitions would be and who could run them. So it seemed like a good idea to look into a calendar that made enough sense
initially so it could stay in place for three or four years.”

The Eventing Committee charged its Calendar Sub-Committee to “create a calendar of destination events at the four FEI levels that: 1) meets the needs of competitors and horses for qualifying in all parts of the country; 2) expands the available competitions at the three- and four-star levels; and 3) makes the national championship more significant and more marketable.”

The plan was announced and discussed at the 2005 U.S. Eventing Asso-ciation annual meeting. By the 2006 USEA annual meeting, the sub-committee developed a “goal” 2008 calendar that was presented and circulated to organizers and riders, specifying potential CIC and CCI competitions, with proposed dates and general locations—Northeast, Southwest, etc.—but without naming specific events.

“We presented the basic outline of how we were going to proceed, but at each stage we would check ourselves against the calendar of existing events to see what was practical for organizers,” said Haller. “Then we said, ‘Come on guys, we want your comments.’ ”

The sub-committee presented a new calendar, updated to reflect comments received at the annual meeting and at subsequent calls of the USEF Active Riders and High Performance Com-mittees, in January 2007, anticipating “one last round of discussions with organizers and competitors” before a final calendar could be approved by the Eventing Committee and sent out to organizers for proposals.

Plugging In Names And Dates

By April of 2006, organizers were asked to bid for events. And that’s when some organizers began to feel miffed, especially those in Areas II and III, where scheduling changes presented the most conflicts.

“The proposed calendar didn’t, in all cases, match up with existing events,” said Ross.

Some organizers felt pressured to move their dates without any respect given to the difficulties they’d face in doing so. Others were annoyed that an FEI date appeared earmarked for an event that didn’t even exist as yet.

“There was little consideration for the complexity that the organizers ran into when changing their dates,” said Ross. “It was perceived that you either changed your dates and/or level of competition, or you would be replaced.”

Hook said, “The conceptual calendar was meant as an ideal and was never carved in stone. It was never meant to be exclusive to the extent that it forced an organizer to move [their competition date]. We were more concerned with building a logical progression of events than we were about setting specific weekends for specific competitions.”

Gretchen Butts, who runs the Waredaca Horse Trials (Md.), is an organizing representative for Area II.
“Some Area II organizers feel they have not been consulted as to perceived calendar conflicts that were quite obvious early in the discussions and subsequently have to accept what changes have been proposed and further change their own event in order to remain viable,” she said in a June 18 report to Area II organizers and the USEF Eventing Committee.

The 2008 provisional calendar placed the World Cup qualifier at the Red Hills Horse Trials (Fla.) two weeks ahead of the event’s existing date—a date that wasn’t feasible for the competition. Red Hills depends heavily upon the use of city services and the cooperation of city officials, who would be otherwise engaged on the proposed new date for the annual Tallahassee Springtime Festival.

“We weren’t trying to be difficult—our hands were tied,” said Red Hills’ organizer Jane Barron, Monticello, Fla. “We have a very narrow window, locally, in which we can run.”

A compromise was eventually reached, allowing the event to move forward one week on the 2008 calendar.

“There needs to be a whole lot more give and take between the people making these decisions and the organizers,” Barron said. “We were never consulted by anyone in advance about our ability to make the date change. This pronouncement seemed to come out of the blue.”

Hook said he doesn’t know how organizers came to feel pressure to change their dates. “As far as I know, organizers were asked to consider changes, and if it was put any other way, I would be very upset,” he said. “I’ve contacted every organizer who has called me with a question. We need to keep working on communication.”

The Red Hills date change prompted other organizers in Areas II and III who, drawing from the same pool of elite riders, changed their dates too, in order to remain viable. Organizers of the Southern Pines (N.C.) Horse Trials, held at the Carolina Horse Park, moved their two spring horse trials back to the fourth and fifth weekends in March 2008.

But the following week, the nonprofit park runs its most lucrative enterprise, the Stoneybrook Steeplechase, attended by 15,000 spectators. The park’s operating budget relies heavily upon proceeds from the race, whose date cannot be altered.

“This gives us only a week to put up tents and prepare the grounds for Stoneybrook,” said Carolina Horse Park Executive Director Gwen Parkins. “We’ll be stretching out our limited staff to the max to pull this off.”
The proposed calendar shifts affect even those events that didn’t have to move. The two springtime Plantation Field Horse Trials (Pa.), and the MCTA Horse Trials at Shawan Downs (Md.), both of which offer intermediate and advanced divisions, will be impacted by the change of date of the Jersey Fresh CCI***/** (N.J.), from early June to the second weekend in May.

“The only event you can say was given priority status on the calendar was Jersey Fresh, since we have known that June is not the best time to run a CCI in New Jersey,” Hook said. “You have to plan a spring CCI at a time of year that is fair to the horses.

“We knew the date would be a problem for MCTA, but I’m hopeful it will work out for them,” Hook added. “There’s a need for a later advanced-level series now in Area II, since Bromont [Canada] will run a CCI next June. No one knows how it will play out, but Morven [Va.], Plantation and MCTA may be part of a new, Northern tier of late spring events, geared to Northern-based riders who can’t travel south in the winter.”

Denis Glaccum, organizer of Plantation, isn’t so sure. “The [calendar] process has been controlled by the committee, and we organizers have no influence,” he said. “For the amount of financial riff an organizer endures to put on a competition, [we] should be allowed to have some input.”

Hook retorted: “The organizers’ views were solicited throughout the calendar process, but we got very little participation from them.”

Glaccum perceives another problem with the sub-committee’s role in scheduling: “The fact that members of the sub-committee, which has proposed these CICs, are also employed by many of these competitions
creates at the very least the perception of a conflict of interest.”

Haller, however, disputes this notion. “Almost everyone on every USEF or USEA committee is involved with the sport in some way, or they wouldn’t be there,” Haller said.

“The USEF requires every member of the Eventing Technical Committee—and all its committee members, actually—to sign a statement regarding any possible conflict of interest,” Hook added. “USEF committee members must abstain from voting on an issue if a conflict exists.”

Cost Factors In

Organizers have to pay more to host CICs and CCIs because of FEI regulations and requirements that don’t exist at national horse trials. Yet many organizers question whether the current number of elite riders supports the increase in FEI venues, which organizers allegedly are being pressured to support.

“With every meeting, there are new rules imposed, more paperwork required, and new constraints put on organizers, all of which cost money,” said Wezo Pierson, organizer of the Stuart Horse Trials (N.Y.). “We’re going to run events right out of town if this keeps up. There seems to be no comprehension of what it’s like to be in the trenches. They think everything runs like Rolex.”

FEI events require organizers to hire FEI-licensed judges, stewards, veterinarians and a safety officer, and to award specified amounts of prize money. CICs and CCIs usually neces-sitate an extra day of competition, incurring additional operational costs. Most CICs and CCIs draw comparatively light entries, so a competition’s events other, national levels, must make up that budget deficit.

“At Stuart this [July] we’ll end up with less than 30 riders in the CIC** out of 320 competitors,” Pierson said. “We have 98 novice riders whose entries, along with training and preliminary riders, will cover our costs for the CIC division.”

Barron estimated that the cost of FEI officials at Red Hills runs $10,000-$12,000 over the budget for the event’s horse trial divisions.

Parkins said that Southern Pines’ two FEI divisions, run at the March 2007 horse trials, lost money. “There just isn’t a large enough group of riders ready to compete at these levels, and the calendar offers them too many choices,” she said. “The result is, the entry pool then becomes diluted. We can’t afford to run competitions for riders at our expense. We all love the sport, but we have to run on at least a break-even basis.”

Even events separated by geography face conflicts. This summer back-to-back CIC competitions at Stuart, Maui Jim (Ill.) and The Event At Rebecca Farm (Mont.) must vie for officials from the all-too-short list of available FEI licensed-judges, technical delegates and course designers.

Certainly marketplace pressures dictate scheduling decisions, too. Parkins admitted that, “Southern Pines used to be the flagship event for the winter season in Area II. But now more and more riders are heading to Aiken, S.C. and Florida, so we’re losing entries to the events now offered in those areas.”

Butts, who with husband Robert, has organized events at Waredaca for almost 30 years, believes that organizers need to depend on their own creativity to remain viable. “There are no guarantees from anyone, and survival includes adapting to changes in the calendar that may get thrust upon you,” she said.

“If there are any stars [CICs] running against your weekend, it’s a fact of life that you’ll lose entries,” she said. “Whenever we run against Jersey Fresh we lose intermediate entries. So this year we dropped intermediate—which had 35 horses last time we ran—and added beginner novice, which brought in 110 horses this year. Do the math—it’s a no-brainer. You have to look at your market.

“Am I ecstatic to run against Jersey Fresh?” she added. “No, but you can learn to cope.”

Confirming The 2008 Schedule

After receiving and considering bids from organizers, the Eventing Committee held conference calls on May 30-31 and June 7 to confirm the updated 2008 calendar, which was then distributed to organizers. Both Areas II and III subsequently held organizers’ meetings and have agreed to abide by the final schedule.

Cindy DePorter, Area II chairman, Oxford, N.C., summarized the feelings of organizers in her area in a memo sent to the Eventing Committee and Area II organizers around June 4.

“Organizers are our most precious commodity, and we need to take care in assisting them to be able to run our competitions in the best possible manner,” she said. “It is the other 97 percent of the USEA membership that supports the 3 percent that the FEI competitions cater to.”

DePorter later added, “Somewhere along the line, the scheduling emphasis has been flipped, and the FEI levels are driving everything else. We need to nurture the grassroots organizers and make sure they have a place at the table. Certainly the USEA supports this premise as well.”

Barron added, “The emphasis [on the schedule] has been skewed. We’re overlooking the lower and mid-level riders who are the bread and butter of our sport. There needs to be a balance between the needs of the elite riders and the rest of the sport. We won’t have future Olympians if we don’t support the lower-level riders of today.”

Many agree that scheduling decisions need to include the Areas instead of being imposed by a committee.

“If the USEF Eventing Technical Committee will give us the whats and where, we’ll get the calendar where it needs to be and keep the national picture in perspective,” DePorter said. “For years we’ve been able to do this. The Areas can sort it out.”

Butts concurred, in her aforementioned memo: “While the national calendar concept is a useful step toward a more consistent, constant scheduling framework to benefit all groups, our suggestion is to address this on a regional basis rather than national one… Allow the expertise and experience of the Eastern Regional Area chairs to consider the national and international needs, sort out the conflicts while consulting directly with organizers, and select upper-level riders to determine the calendar that works for the region.”

Said Penny, “The job of scheduling events should be left up to the Area chairman in conjunction with its Area’s organizers working together to achieve a calendar that best meets the needs of its riders, its organizers and best supports the eventing community.”

As Barron said, “Without us there’s not going to be any sport.

Annie Eldridge
 
Horse Sports