Key Takeaways from the USEA/USEF Webinar on a Safe Return to Competition

Screenshot from the USEA/USEF “Return to Competition” Webinar on May 13. (Not pictured, sadly: Rob’s coronabeard.)

Yesterday afternoon the USEF and USEA co-hosted a webinar on the subject of “A Safe Return to Competition.” The panelists included USEF Managing Director for Eventing Jenni Autry, USEA CEO Rob Burk, USEA President Max Corcoran, USEA Vice President of Competitions and Organizer Representative Jonathan Elliott, USEF Managing Director of Athlete and Horse Services Lisa Owens, USEF Director of Competition Licensing, Evaluation, and Safety Katlynn Sacco, and U.S. Eventing High Performance Athlete Lynn Symansky. The panelists addressed concerns about returning safely to competition from a number of perspectives before fielding questions from the audience.

The USEF and USEA have both suspended the recognition of competitions under their respective jurisdictions until May 31, 2020. As of May 13, 2020, USEA has reinstated recognizing select educational activities. All educational activities must follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as federal, state, and local guidelines.

Important Links referenced below:

You can rewatch the webinar in its entirety on demand via USEA or USEF Network. We’ve outlined some key takeaways from the discussion below:

Jenni Autry, USEF Managing Director of Eventing: 

  • “I hope you all continue to be safe and well as we collectively weather this storm together. Eventers are a resilient bunch of individuals and we’ve had to show that resilience now more than ever before as we face one of the most difficult periods in our sport’s history.
  • “Risk is something we talk about all the time in eventing and it’s something we’re going to have to be particularly mindful of as we look ahead to restarting the sport. And at the same time we’re going to have to take the risk of COVID-19 extremely seriously and understand our own personal responsibility when it comes to mitigating the spread of the virus. And that means that events are going to look very different when we do go back to competing. Wearing a face mask is going to become our new normal. Staying six feet apart from each other is going to become our new normal, but accepting it and enacting these restrictions and requirements is going to be critical to ensuring a successful start of the sport.
  • “Everyone has to do their part to keep these competitions safe. Our goal has to be that when we look back on restarting that we can say we did everything in our power to ensure the welfare of the horses and each other.”

Rob Burke, USEA CEO: 

  • “First and foremost, I want to thank all of our members and the members of our eventing community for doing your part to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. We’ve all made sacrifices — personal, financial, with our own health — and we are especially indebted to those that are caring for the horses of others. They are truly essential.
  • “We really urge everyone to educate yourself, to take a look at local state guidelines, to follow the guidance of the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control. And as competitions and educational activities start up this is even more relevant. In every case, state and local regulations take priority and that has to do with the sport in general, even when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic. So competition is not allowed to operate in compliance with those, then it can’t operate. And along those lines, for those areas that are lucky enough for competition and activities to get started up again, we really urge you to follow the USEF Covid-19 action plan … I’ve read it, I’ve used the risk management tool myself and they contain really excellent guidance on how to hold competitions and participate in competitions at as low risk as possible.
  • “As of today, the USEA is now allowing for USEA recognized educational activities to occur. That really has everything to do with safety in that we want to make sure that people are prepared to get out there for the competition season once it is up and running. But once again, even with those educational activities, we urge everyone to follow local, state, World Health Organization and CDC guidelines, and take a look at the USEF action plan where it’s applicable.
  • “I think honestly we are well positioned as a sport and as a community. We have been through disease before, not human disease, but equine disease. Most of the protocols involved with that, with relation to keeping your distance, reducing contact … they hold true whether it’s a human or a horse. Along those lines, I would say that as eventers, reiterating what Jenni said, we’re a strong bunch — we have to be to be involved in this sport. I know we can overcome this. It’ll take some time. But again, we thank you for everything you’re doing.”

Max Corcoran, USEA President: 

  • “One of their big decisions to lift the restrictions on educational activities was mainly to focus on making sure we’re ready. We’ve been home and having lessons at home and having it pretty quiet. We need to make sure that both we and horses, mentally, we’re ready to get back to competition. It doesn’t seem like it’s been a long time, but it has — it’ll be closer than 10 weeks by the time we get back up and running. So take part in educational activities if there are some around you.
  • “Focusing on horsemanship, obviously that’s a big thing. Making sure you and your horses are fit enough and ready to go. Ensuring the safety and the safety of those around you … it’s our responsibility to make sure we can continue to have these competitions. So if we can do our very small part in making sure that we put ourselves in good situations, we put our staff in good situations, whether it’s grooms, trainers, parents, anything like that — just to to keep going forward so we don’t have to stop this our season again.
  • “Safety has been a very big part of our winter seasons so far, coming into spring. So if we’re not ready, there’s no shame entering a level below where you left off in the season before. Lots of professionals will tell you that is what they do with their horses to make sure that they’re up and running, and they’ve checked all the boxes and knocked all the dust off. So again, making good decisions for you and your horse. If you are needing to find someone to get some help from before you get going, the USEA has a really great instructor certification program. You can go on our website and find a USEA certified instructor to help you get going.
  • “Volunteering is so important. Anybody that’s out there, we’re going through a lot of different measures to make sure our volunteers are staying safe. In the mid-Atlantic region, we’ve got some people that are putting together some programs so dressage tests, everything will be digital. The scribes don’t need to sit next to judges. Everything will be on an iPad and things will get emailed straight out to you. So the piece of paper doesn’t have to go from the dressage scribe to the judge to the scorers to the secretary, to you. It will reduce all that — same thing with the cross country.”

Lisa Owens, USEF Managing Director of Athlete and Horse Services:

  • “If you haven’t had a chance to look at the USEF website, the action plan and the risk assessment tool, please take a minute to look at that toolkit. Just some of the things that are included in these resource documents — one of them is the fact that all licensed competitions must comply with the applicable federal, state and local regulations, requirements and orders as well as the World Health Organization recommendations and CDC guidelines as they relate to the mass gatherings and sporting events.
  • “Additionally, competition organizers must implement the USEF requirements listed in the action plan, and they’re strongly encouraged to follow the recommended best practices … The competition should be working with their local health authorities. I think it’s important that every venue considers their specific needs, their specific circumstances and what’s important for them to be able to manage and mitigate the risk for their area. So what might happen in Washington state might not be happening in Florida.”
  • “That risk assessment tool does not need to be sent to the Federation. That is a tool for the organizers to use to work with their local and state authorities. There’s a white paper in there for them to use to work with the authorities as well — kind of a reason why equestrian sports should be allowed to happen. A lot of these tools will help them in working through the circumstances with their local and state governments.
  • “We understand that there are differences everywhere in the country as far as what the requirements are. Some states and local authorities may not require a face mask or face covering, or even the monitoring of temperatures. USEF is saying that you should follow whatever the strictest requirement is. So even if your state does not require a face mask or face covering, we are suggesting that they wear face masks or face coverings if they are going to be within six feet of anyone. So if you’re not going to be within six feet and you’re on cross country, maybe you don’t wear your mask, but I would say for caution purposes, always have that mask with you.”

Katlynn Sacco, USEF Director of Competition Licensing, Evaluation, and Safety:

  • “I think as we get rolling back into competition again, one of the biggest and probably one of the most challenging aspects of what we’re going to be doing is practicing social distancing. It’s going to be really easy for us to kind of slip back into the habit of being close to people that we’re talking to when we’re exchanging information with our friends or our trainers. So we’re going to have to work hard to keep each other accountable and remind each other. The goal is that we can all return to competition and continue competing, but social distancing is going to be an important piece to that.
  • “If we have competitors at competitions where they are essentially refusing to abide by the social distancing requirements, they will be asked to leave the competition grounds by the competition manager. We’re hoping that it never has to get to that point because again, we’re all in this together. We all want to safe return to competition. The hope is for a gentle reminder and again, keeping each other accountable about this practicing of the social distancing and maintaining the guidelines and the mandatory requirements for competition. It’s just going to be a really important piece that we all pay attention to. If there’s an issue, we want it to be resolved on the competition grounds, but if someone will not comply, the competition organizer has the ability to escort that person from the competition grounds or refuse an entry and the TD will be responsible for reporting on that incident and their TD report. But again, we hope it never has to get to that, we hope everyone understands the seriousness of what we’re all facing.
  • “We are all learning this together and we have a way forward. And if anyone has any questions on the reporting aspect, they’re always welcomed. So reach out to the office, or if they have questions on any of the the recommended best practices. I think anyone on this call today would be glad to help walk through any of those challenges that we’re facing. We’re all  in this together and we hope everyone can stay on the competition grounds and we all can keep the sport moving.”

Jonathan Elliot, USEA Vice President of Competitions and Organizer Representative: 

  • “From an organizer’s perspective, unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball. We can’t predict things and there’s a lot of uncertainty even in a normal year, without a pandemic. I kind of look at it from my perspective here at Aspen Farms. We run two events a year — the first one’s in June, and the second one is in September. And we kind of have already gone through this process of should we run or shouldn’t we? As we were approaching our opening date for entries back in April, there was too much uncertainty for our comfort level to open our doors to the normal 300 competitors.
  • “We are looking forward to September, and this is only three weeks later, but we have so much more information now. I think that the tool kit that USEF has come up with, the action plan, I find is very reassuring to kind of walk through the different steps that are going to be involved with keeping a safe environment. Because for us, that’s paramount. And in our decision making to run the events is the safety of our volunteers, competitors, officials that are traveling to come in, and the staff that we have on site to make our competitions a success.
  • “Thinking through those protocols that we’re going to put in place, I think it’s important that organizers consider taking maybe a little extra time in their schedules. Which might mean they can take a few less horses, but still be able to run. I think we can have a lot of foresight into how it’s going to go, but we might have to be nimble and quick and creative in solving a problem that pops up that we just didn’t see happening. I think to that end we’re going to set up a platform with the USEA for organizers, hopefully after they’ve run, to share that same information. You know, what did they put in place that worked? What did they put in place that didn’t work? So that every weekend the next organizers are not having to reinvent the wheel. And I think that’ll help us progress through this and be more and more successful. Um, and people get used to it and try and be as a bit uniform as possible.
  • “We currently have about 31 in the pipeline that are in the rescheduling process and that’s gone through USEA and and starting tomorrow, the first USEF committee will look at those as well. So we boiled down a process that should have taken around 112 days to down to 16. So we’re trying to be as quick as possible and afford those people the opportunity to get back on the schedule. But I’d also stress that they need to make sure there’s some understanding. There are other events that are already scheduled on the calendar and how is this going to work with them coming in? It’s complicated, but I feel like we’ve got a good procedure in place and that that should work itself out.
  • “Lastly, I’d stress to competitors — help your organizers out. That opening day comes, put your entry in because that’s a huge uncertainty for us: Looking ahead to how many people are going to show up, how many people do we need to plan for as far as competitors? So if at all possible, get those entries in early because as an organizer, it’ll give us a lot of peace of mind.”

Lynn Symansky, U.S. Eventing High Performance Athlete: 

  • “I think it’s important that we as competitors set the example. There are so many people behind the scenes, but at the end of the day, we are the ones in the forefront and in the spotlight. So everything is going to be under a microscope, especially what’s what’s being seen. And to add to Jonathan’s point, I know I’m guilty of it as well as a competitor — I’ll wait until the last minute just to feel out, if I want to send this horse here, this horse another place, and I think it’s really important now more than ever that we try as best we can to get those entries in and to have our entries complete. It’s stuff that we’re used to not fully following through on, because you get to the show and you bring the Coggins to the desk. That stuff that’s going to have to change, for our process and all of that paperwork and being organized ahead of time.
  • “In terms of setting the example, I think it’s really important that we try and do that and have it be customary everyday in our barns. I know a lot of people are already following a lot of these protocols, and some more than others and some are stricter about certain things and some aren’t. It’s going to feel very awkward, and as a rider I have thought it through, having to show up to the competition and put your face mask on when you get right out of the car and have it on until you get on the horse. It’s going to be something you really have to try hard to think about. But it’s so important that we are really obsessive about getting it right because we may not have a second chance if we get it wrong.
  • “Also to that note, of personal responsibility, I think we need to be very careful to be go out of our way to be gracious to all these organizers, the volunteers that are all going to step up so we can go out and compete these horses. It is easy sometimes when you are competing at the heat of the moment and something’s going wrong to take your frustration out on a volunteer or passer-by. And I just really encourage everyone to be gracious and appreciative and mindful of everybody out there doing their best. It’s a very awkward, uncertain time. But I think if anything good comes out of it, it’s that maybe it makes us all as a whole, a better group, a unit, to really showing our appreciation to all of those volunteers and those organizers.”
  • “And the other thing is that I don’t think we’re going to get it right. I don’t think the riders will get everything right … there may be some kinks along the way, but be patient with that process, especially when it first kicks off. And I would encourage that if you do have any concerns or any questions, reach out either to USEF or USEA and don’t just sit silently and let your frustration boil up.
  • “I think the other thing is that a lot of us feel like we really need to get back out there cause we’ve lost a lot of time. Everyone’s done this process a little bit differently in terms of how much they’ve been training or how much they’ve backed off. And I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. I think if you’re ready to get out and you’re comfortable to compete starting in the beginning of June, then absolutely just make sure you’re responsible and ready. But if you’re not feeling that way, if you have some students or horses that just aren’t quite right and aren’t ready to get back, don’t feel like you’re in a rush because if you really think of it, we’re just in the beginning of May. We have the whole rest of the year. So we were sitting, sitting, sitting and all of a sudden it’s like a big rush to get back to it, but just take a breath and realize you’re not forced to get back there just because everybody else is.”

A generous Q&A session followed, which you can watch on demand via USEA or USEF Network.

Questions? Please contact USEF Director of Competition Licensing, Evaluation, and Safety Katlynn Sacco at [email protected], USEF Director of Compliance Debbie Saliling at [email protected], or [email protected].

Go Eventing. (Soon?!)