John’s Greatest Hits from the USEA Convention

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John’s laptop keyboard probably has smoke pouring from it after he furiously typed up more than 15 lengthy posts over the course of four days at the USEA Annual Meeting and Convention. Reading his reports was the next best thing to being at the convention, and I highly recommend you take the time to review the posts. I’ve included them all here, along with a short summary of what you can expect to read. The posts on David O’Connor’s sessions are particularly notable, as they outline his plans and programs that will set the framework for the next phase of U.S. eventing upon their approval by the USEF. John took away three themes from the convention: eventing in the U.S. enjoys a really strong position right now, the future of U.S. high performance eventing has never looked brighter and the generosity of our sport’s big financial supporters will help us be competitive on the international stage. Go reading and go eventing!

Posts from Thursday, Dec. 6

David’s Breakfast: The Road to Excellence — Incoming U.S. eventing coach David O’Connor held an unpublicized U.S. high performance seminar where he introduced his vision for the future, particularly for high performance athletes. He presented principles and techniques he believes our high performance riders must adopt in order to be successful at the highest levels of the sport. To get to the top, riders must possess ambition, intelligence and emotional control, technique, the appropriate horses, proper horse and time management, and talent.

USEF Eventing Technical Committee: The One-Fall Rule Again — First off, tough-as-nails Karen O’Connor attended this meeting as a committee member. Well done, Karen! The meeting primarily focused on reversing the one-fall rule for beginner novice and novice riders. The proposed rule change would stipulate that the rider has to land on his or her feet to be allowed to continue. The rule will have to go through the USEF Safety Committee before being presented to the USEF Board. On the FEI qualifications, Derek Di Grazia valiantly attempted to describe the new rules that have confused the eventing community for several weeks now.

David’s Lunch: Technical Training— David focused on technical training concepts during his lunchtime open forum for the high performance program. Marilyn Payne praised David’s session as the best lecture she’s ever heard on dressage. Trust me when I say you’ll want to read this one. David addressed position, communication, the training scale, frames, the half-halt, lateral work, lead changes, halts and corners. He also emphasized the importance of rider’s using their backs and keeping quiet hands so that the horse actually learns to pay attention when you use a rein aid.

Professional Horseman’s Council: Rider Reps, Footing and FEI Rules — The council hopes to boost the rider rep form response rate, which was only 45 percent in 2012. The new footing management program will either lead to purchasing testing equipment or aerators. Robert Kellerhouse explained the new FEI rules, which split riders into categorized and uncategorized and affects how riders qualify for certain levels. There’s really no way to summarize this succinctly, so please ready John’s full breakdown of the FEI rules discussion.

Eligible Athletes and Owner’s Task Force: Much More From David — Joanie Morris discussed the new five training-list system: Under 18, Under 25, National Talent, World Class and Global Talent. David led the rest of the meeting, asking the riders what they expected from him as a coach. David also proposed two selection lists and emphasized his willingness to travel wherever he is needed. The Eventing Owners Task Force explained that its primary goal is to enhance the U.S. ownership experience. Moving forward, the four pillars of the U.S. program will be respect, integrity, transparency and consistency.

Posts from Friday, Dec. 7

David’s Friday Breakfast: Judging Excellent/Selection Criteria— David said he could have chosen an early-section model, which allows riders to build camaraderie and team spirit before an event, or a late-selection model, which keepers riders fighting it out until the bitter end. He decided to go with an early-selection model because he believes so strongly in team building and morale. He gave approximate selection dates for WEG 2014, Pan Ams 2015 and the Olympics 2016. When it comes to selection, David expects pairs to perform lower that 45 in dressage, quick and clean on cross-country and within 10 seconds of the time, and a clean show-jumping round.

USEA Board of Governors Meeting: Officials, Membership and Falls — About half of eventing’s officials are projected to retire in the next 10 years, primarily “R” judges and “R” TDs. The sport is projected to grow over the next year, which will create a problem because many of the people qualified to be officials plan to continue riding. The board proposed restricting certain areas of the USEA website to encourage non-members to take the plunge into membership. Continuing the one-fall rule discussion, the board proposed that the rider must land on his or her feet and also show no apparent injury.

Friday Afternoon: Awards, PRO, and More High Performance — Future grants will allow Young Event Horses to compete at the FEI World Championships for Young Horses in Le Lion d’Angers in France. PRO is hoping to improve the spectator experience at certain events next year, especially Plantation Field. Suggested ideas include holding show jumping on Friday night under the lights and running cross country in reverse order of standing. David outlined more of his goals for the program going forward, including a four-year plan and his goals for 2014, 2015 and 2016. This is another must read!

Posts from Saturday, Dec. 8

EMSA: Air Vest Presentations from Point Two and Hit Air — In regards to air vests, Point Two rep Lee Middleton said, “These are not going to completely stop people from having injuries. What we are saying is ‘is there a window where an airbag can save someone’s life?’” Transport Research Laboratory impact testing attempted to recreate a potentially fatal impact to the chest. These tests showed that Point Two jackets reduce chest compression and severe chest impact by more than 55 percent.

Saturday Morning: USEA Open Forum and ‘It Takes a Sport’ — USEA President Brian Sabo addressed rumors about redistricting the areas. If redistricting is approved, it would only be done to level the playing field in regards to changing demographics. Brian also said the lack of volunteers in the sport is quickly emerging as eventing’s biggest problem. In the round table, David said he believes it’s critical to offer top-notch educational opportunities at every level of the sport. The round table also played an interview with Michael Jung, who said he has 25 horses all owned by sponsors or owners.

USEA Annual Membership Meeting — The USEA is in fantastic financial shape right now, with a total budget surplus of $228,000 for 2012, which is a result of strong membership numbers, strong start numbers, higher than expected horse registration numbers and increased private support of the Young Event Horse program. Nominees for the 2013 board were put forth and approved unanimously. New officers were chosen for various committees as well. Brian also gave a shout out to the USEA’s wildly successful useventing.tv program.

U.S. Eventing Team Reviews London — Former coach Mark Phillips, Karen O’Connor, Will Coleman, Phillip Dutton and stable manager Dougie Hanum discussed the London Olympics and answered questions. Jim Wolf, director of USEF sport horse programs, noted that cross-country day was the most spectated event at the Games, securing eventing’s spot in the Olympics. Phillip took full responsibility for the team’s lackluster performance. Will Coleman said Twizzel’s refusal at the bank will “haunt me for life.”

Video: Mary King’s 2012 USEA Convention Keynote Speech — Click for full video coverage of Mary King’s keynote speech. John summed it up best, so I’ll let him do the talking: “I’m a huge believer about the power of enthusiasm to inspire people, and Mary absolutely exudes enthusiasm and positive energy. If you are an up-and-coming rider and want to know how to find and keep top owners, watch Mary’s speech. We have spent a lot of time over the past few days asking how we can find more owners for our sport, and I think we could go a long way by learning from how Mary presents herself and her program.”

Ms. Jacqueline Mars Pledges $500,000 to U.S. Eventing Program — Rumors circulated around the convention for days of an announcement of a major donation to U.S. eventing. Those rumors proved to be true, with an announcement made at the USEA Hall of Fame Dinner that Ms. Jacqueline Mars has pledged $500,000 to supporting U.S. eventing programs, as long as the donation can be matched by June 1, 2013. David praised Ms. Mars, a longtime owner of some of eventing’s top horses, as the greatest supporter our sport has ever had.

The USEA Open Rule Change Forum — The Ground Jury may “direct” that someone who has a bad fall unrelated to an on-course fence, such as in warmup or galloping between fences, must be examined before continuing. The current proposed one-fall rule change would mean 65 penalties for a beginner novice or novice rider who lands on his or her feet with no apparent injury. Those still confused by the FEI qualification rules can rest assured that the USEF is working day and night to clarify and study the rules. The USEF Technical Committee has requested clarifications and extensions from the FEI as well. Go USEF!

Posts from Sunday, Dec. 9

USEA Board of Governors Meeting Notes — Derek Di Grazia has spent countless hours compiling a spreadsheet of the new FEI qualification rules, which is on its way to USEF committees for approval. The spreadsheet will be circulated shortly, officially answering many of the questions that have been raised over the last few weeks. The 2013 USEA Convention will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio, Dec. 3-8. Phyllis Dawson would like to see the conventions made as affordable as possible to raise attendance. About 370 people attended this year’s conference, as opposed to about 350 last year.

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