Friday at USEA Convention: ERQI, Maryland 5*, High Performance & Event Horse Longevity

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Friday was a jam-packed day at the 2019 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention. Here a few highlights.

ERQI Reports for Officials at Events: How They Will Be Used in 2020  — Speakers: Sam Watson, Diarm Byrne, Carol Kozlowski, Janis Linnan, and Rob Burk

Last year, the EquiRatings Quality Index (ERQI), a “traffic light” color coding system to indicate the level of risk a horse carries on cross country, was made available to all USEA members. Since then, the ERQI for each registered horse has been visible only to the USEA member associated with that horse. At a recent USEA Board of Governors meeting, the Board voted to supply a list of horses with red (less than 50% clear cross country rounds) and amber (less than 60% clear cross country rounds) ERQI ratings to the Organizer and President of the Ground Jury to assist them in monitoring horse who are more at risk of not jumping clear across country.

  • It’s important to understand that a red ERQI doesn’t mean that a horse is destined to fall, but there is elevated risk and a likelihood of reduced performance. Data tells us that cumulative consistent poor performance will often result in horse or rider fall.
  • The benefit of having their horse’s ERQI available to each member is that they can take some self-responsibility for riding at an appropriate level, however, according to Carol Kozlowski, the majority of the USEA membership has not checked their rating. Ideally, it would be part of rider responsibility to not ride with a red rating.
  • Clear cross country rate at Beginner Novice is very similar to the clear rate at Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced. Low rates at low levels still mean something and are not to be taken lightly just because it’s the lower level.
  • Sam Watson: “I grew up for 15 years hearing that horses don’t fall at Training level. But if you look at the data the rate of horse falls at Training is the same as at Prelim. So that’s not true. It then doubles when you go up to Intermediate. But even if you had asked me, even probably today without looking at the data, I would have said there was a big step up in falls at Prelim compared to Training.”
  • Part of risk management should be promoting better training and learning the art of cross country riding.
  • EquiRatings and USEA are working on finding a way to champion clear rounds and recognizing riders with exceptional cross country jumping records.

— AP

Maryland 5* at Fair Hill Update — Speakers: Jeff Newman and Mary Coldren

Jeff Newman, CEO of the Fair Hill Organizing Committee (FHOC), recalled doubts during that last year’s USEA convention that the Fair Hill venue would be ready to host a five-star in 2020. He and Mary Coldren, Competition Manager of Fair Hill International (FHI), of were on hand to present the progress made towards upgrading the venue in preparation to host North America’s second five-star event.

  • Via studies done in 2005, 2012, and 2015 the state of Maryland recognized a need for a Maryland Horse Park system and recognized Fair Hill as a potential area. The Fair Hill Foundation, a 50-50 public-private partnership was formed in 2016 to help create this area.

  • FHOC and FHI are separate entities, but work together to bring the Maryland 5-Star to fruition. FHOC will do the general oversight including sponsorship, promotion, and branding, while FHI will take care of competition management.
  • Phase I of the project is on track for completion at the end of this year. This phase consisted of the created of three arenas inside the oval flat track, a new irrigation ponds, and a new timber course.

  • Phase II of the project will see the creation of a new grandstand which will hold new offices for officials, scoring, and timers etc.
  • Jeff believes in simplifying the message of what eventing is in order to get new people to come out and see the event, then they become fans. “We need to simplify the message in order to grow the fanbase outside of the original passionate group.”
  • Mary gave a sneak peak of the plans for the five-star course, which will be an out-and-back track originating at the oval track, running along route 213, and heading into the Sawmill Field where part of the horse trials course runs.
  • There will be four water complexes on course, with the largest being set in the Sawmill Field where the course loops back on itself and where there is easy access for spectator viewing.
  • Eric Bull, who is constructing the course, has already finished 13 permanent features on the course and will spend the winter building portables.
  • In future years several jumps on course will be placed on the turf track, but not in 2020. Course designer Ian Stark has chosen to preserve the new sod that has been laid for the track, which is not being raced on at all in 2020 so that the turf can establish itself.
  • For the April 2020 event, the four-star test event will run on the new track, while other levels run on the existing Gallagher Road track. In October, both the five-star and three-star will run on the new track.

— AP

USEF High Performance Athletes Open Forum I & II

The late morning session of the USEF High Performance Athletes Open Forum was so packed to standing-room-only capacity that they expanded the floorspace for the afternoon session. That speaks to an invested enthusiasm about the future of our U.S. team, propelled by team gold at this year’s 2019 Pan American Games in Lima and looking forward to the Tokyo Olympics next year. Even moreso, there’s a sense of long-term investment in the health and success of future teams, via discussions about the streamlining the track from young riders to Olympians

  • Developing the athlete pipeline: The Eventing Performance Advisory Team received and reviewed 52 applications for consideration for the 2020 USEF Eventing 25 Program. Thirty-two of the applicants will be invited to participate in USEF Eventing 25 Program Assessment Sessions with USEF Developing and Emerging Athlete Coach Leslie Law prior to the final program selection. This system, which is shifting from USEF to USEA, allows more interface between young athletes and coaches to identify and develop the talent. “Given more time, we will be able to make more of a difference,” says Emerging Athlete Coach Leslie Law. Incoming USEA president Max Corcoran added, “We need to marry up what the emerging program is doing into the developing program.” A new proposed curriculum, in which Young Rider coaches will be involved, gives young riders a solid horsemanship base, with everything from how to walk a show jumping course to understanding dressage tests to equine fitness.
  • Resources: Jim Wolf noted, “In this country America doesn’t send us to the Olympics, Americans send us to the Olympics.” I.e. U.S. team funding doesn’t come from the government, but from individuals and from sponsorship. An invigorating and interactive conversation about fundraising ensued, including discussion about the unique role that owners play in our sport. How can we procure more funding from sponsors, and make sponsorship a more rewarding experience for the sponsors? Frankie Thieriot Stutes suggested giving riders the tools to thank sponsors.

— LW

Panel Discussion: Why Aren’t U.S. Event Horse Careers Lasting Longer? — Speakers: Erik Duvander, Matt Brown, Max Corcoran, Sam Watson and Susan Johns, DVM

Over the previous decade the number of upper level event horses that remain at the highest levels of the sport for extended periods of time has anecdotally been dwindling. Also, it is rare to see horses return to represent the U.S. on international teams. This discussion featured statistics provided by the USEA and Equiratings to strengthen understanding of this issue and perspectives from coaches, trainers, riders, grooms, and veterinary professionals on the possible reasons and solutions.

  • Footing: Matt Brown says that he spent an estimated $10,000 on withdrawn entries from events that didn’t get any rain so he withdrew, missing out on qualifications and eluding goals. Man-made surfaces can be too grippy for their own good. Says Erik, “I’ve seen surfaces where there is too much stick and it feels very safe but doesn’t allow the horse to go across the ground in a safe way.” Leslie Law chimed in that, “There’s bad ground in Europe, too. They’ve got to be conditioned for that is going to be asked of them, and that starts at home.” I.e. you can’t train a horse on perfect footing at home, then go to less than perfect conditions in competition.
  • Cross training, via Erik: “I personally believe in cross training. I’m not saying this is the solution but I have worked with hundreds of riders on teams and some people break horses and some people don’t. You always want to go look at why are they doing this.”
  • Jimmy Wofford: “We use trot sets in a sport that no longer includes roads and tracks …it was a different world then, I agree, but the horses we’re training are the same horses we were training a hundred years ago and they can’t match our work ethic.”
  • Continuing from a discussion in yesterday’s horsemanship sessions, there was a discussion of what is the right risk versus what is the wrong risk. Treating inflammation all the time so you make the horse feel better so it can keep continuing on vs. backing off workload. The U.S. season happens at high speed, but there is a suggestion to give oneself two or three extra weeks so you can back off.  Max Corcoran: “The body has an interesting way of telling us to slow down or stop.”
  • Season length: From Sam, “In Ireland we have a long off season, in England you’ve got snow, in America you’ve got Florida.” The question is raised of how many times we can peak a horse in a season.
  • Are we asking too much of four- and five-year olds in the YEH program?

— LW

Classic Series Open Forum

  • The Classic Series Task Force is dedicated to keeping the long format series alive and thriving in the U.S. In the last three years, there has been an upswing in the number of events and participants in the Classic, and the Task Force is working to keep the series, rooted in the history of eventing, relevant to the sport as it moves forward.
  • Some of the projects the Task Force undertook this year include developing rules for the Modified Three-Day. They have also implemented speed fault times on steeplechase for Beginner Novice and Novice. This is in response to data gathered during the year indicating excessive speeds on steeplechase at these levels. The Classic is all about education, so encouraging good horsemanship and smart riding is paramount.
  • The Board of Governors approved a budget request to partner with RNS Video Media and develop a promotional video for the Classic which will serve both to generate interest and provide information about resources available to competitors who are interested in competing in a long-format. The Task Force indicated that common feedback is that competitors are not sure what to expect when they enter a Classic event and are unaware of the resources available to help prepare them for this epic experience. The video is intended to provide that information in an entertaining and easily shareable format.

— LT

Much more to come. Go Eventing.

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