Amateur or Professional: Where Do You Belong?

Liz Riley: amateur rider turned professional in 2014. Photo by Kate Samuels.

Liz Riley: Amateur rider turned professional in 2014. Photo by Kate Samuels.

As the year winds down, it’s time for USEA year-end awards to be given out to those of us lucky enough to garner them during the competition year. It’s also coming up on the time to renew your memberships with the USEA and the USEF. Both of these things can cause confusion in one particular category: amateur or professional? How do we delineate between the two distinct groups, and how can we be sure that everyone knows what separates one from the other?

In short, professional status is not limited to to those names that you see on the headlines week after week and doesn’t necessarily mean that the horse business is your main source of income. Regardless of one’s accomplishments or riding skills, after your 18th birthday, you must declare either professional or amateur status — or face large fines if you misrepresent yourself either way.

We dusted off the USEF rule book to clarify exactly what makes an amateur and what makes a professional. The USEA uses the USEF Amateur Rule GR 1306 to determine amateur status. The rule defines a professional as any rider who accepts remuneration for services. Remuneration means compensation or payment in any form, such as cash, goods, sponsorships, discounts or services; reimbursement of any expenses; trade or in-kind exchange of goods or services such as board or training.

However, amateurs would be well advised to read the rule, as there are many ways in which you can maintain amateur status if you are not strictly offering equestrian services. Amateurs are permitted to do all of the following: receive reimbursement for expenses related to horses, give instruction to handicapped riders for therapeutic purposes, accept prize money, appear in advertisements related to one’s achievements or that of one’s horse(s), write books or articles related to horses, and accept educational or training grants.

For riders at the Preliminary level and above, the difference is easy to confirm, as riders must also declare amateur or professional status with the USEF. For riders at Training level and below, the USEA relies on the honor system and the surprisingly accurate policing system of other members. The USEA membership form includes an affidavit that every member is asked to sign stating that they are an amateur based on the definition in GR 1306.

A rider is also free to change his or her status from amateur to professional midway through the competition season. The points earned as an amateur remain on the amateur leaderboard, and professional points begin to be earned after the status change is complete. Thus, it is possible for a rider to appear on both leaderboards at the same time in one competition year.

Winter is a great time to brush up on your USEF rulebook, and this is just one example of an important rule to know. As you’re filling out your 2015 USEA and USEF memberships, be sure to check the right category!

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