By Nancy Jaffer
January 14, 2017
The U.S. Equestrian Federation has been relaunched enthusiastically at its annual convention, with a “major makeover” geared to bringing “the joy of horse sports” to more people at all levels.
“I cannot and will not accept that this is a sport only for the rich and famous,” said Murray Kessler, who became the 100-year-old federation’s president today, though he’s been busy working hard behind the scenes for months.
A new $25 “fan membership” for those who don’t want to compete affords access to intriguing educational videos on the website, competitions on the USEF network, discounts on items from tractors to fencing, and $1 million in liability insurance for an extra charge.
Emphasizing “transparency, fairness and integrity,” Murray stated, “cheating and cheaters must be eliminated from the sport.”
That was underlined during the USEF’s annual meeting in Lexington, Ky., over the last five days, when it was announced that a prominent trainer and rider got hefty fines and long suspensions from the hearing committee for violating the organization’s drug rules.
Trainer Larry Glefke and owner/rider Kelley Farmer, implicated in showing a horse that tested positive for GABA, a calming supplement that is against USEF rules, were penalized under strict new guidelines that went into effect Jan. 1. Both had prior violations, a history that led to a two-year suspension and a $24,000 fine for the trainer and a one-year suspension and $12,000 fine for the rider of the horse, which was tested at last July’s Kentucky Summer Show.
A lawyer for the two said they had not been notified that a hearing was scheduled on their case and thus didn’t appear to defend themselves, but the USEF’s legal counsel said the federation had proof they were notified.
As was mentioned more than once during the convention, “horse welfare is job one.” The organization is casting a wider net for the guilty. Anyone who allows a suspended member to profit (perhaps by working with another trainer who gives a portion of the payment to the miscreant) also will be in trouble.
USEF CEO Bill Moroney is hoping everyone will help “police the environment” by keeping their eyes open and reporting violations.
“We have listened to our members. People have wanted our sport to be cleaned up,” he said.
The hunter division has the majority of drug violations. Of the 71 found at federation shows in 2016, 59 percent involved hunters.
The most drug testing is done in Zone 2; New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, “the home of the one-day horse show,” as Steve Schumacher, director of the Drugs & Medications department, put it.
Although the federation must continue to enforce rules–and there’s a lot of work to do there–it has a new brand, U.S. Equestrian, and another mission: “To provide access to and increase participation in equestrian sports at all levels by ensuring fairness, safety and enjoyment.”
That was reflected in the awards, the flip side of the convention where serious business gives way in the evenings to all kinds of honors and a little bit of partying; more champagne, of course, for those who have won something.
Not surprisingly, Olympic individual eventing bronze medalist Phillip Dutton took international honors, earning Equestrian of the Year, while his Rio Games horse, Mighty Nice, won the International Horse of the Year title over Laura Graves’ Olympic team dressage mount, Verdades.
Phillip was unable to come and accept his awards because he and his wife, Evie, were at the bedside of his stepdaughter, Lee Lee Jones, who suffered head trauma in a pre-Christmas horse fall. She is in a Delaware hospital, so Phillip sent his horses south without him and is staying home in Pennsylvania to be near Lee Lee.
Annie Jones, one of the owners of Mighty Nice, accepted the trophy with a touching little story. When the horse had just arrived from Ireland, Phillip told her, “This is my horse of a lifetime.”
With the perspective of time, she added, “It’s absolutely true.”
She dedicated the trophy to the late Bruce Duchossois, who originally bought Mighty Nice (known as Happy) for Phillip, and also to Lee Lee who is her granddaughter.
Check back at www.nancyjaffer.com next week to find out which Jerseyans won USEF Horse of the Year awards. It’s a pretty special night in a packed ballroom, with a magnificent array of sparkling trophies as a backdrop. After all, an organization can collect a lot of sterling silver over the course of a century.