USEF Cracks Down on ‘Negative’ Facebook Comments

Screenshot via USEF's website Screenshot via USEF's website

The United States Equestrian Federation looks to be taking a page from British Eventing’s book in its list of administrative penalties for June, which issued fines to two USEF judges for comments made last year on Facebook.

The penalty text reads:

JIMMY TORANO of Southwest Ranches, FL violated Chapter 7, GR702.1d of this Federation, in connection with the 2013 USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Championship held on August 14 – 15, 2013, where he was engaged to judge, in that following the first day of the championship, he added negative comments to a thread on Facebook regarding the format of the inaugural pre-green incentive championship, developed by USHJA. For this violation, it was determined that JIMMY TORANO be censured pursuant to Chapter 7, GR703.1a and fined $500 pursuant to Chapter 7, GR703.1j.

The Chronicle of the Horse published an excellent summary of the whole debacle. Torano, a USEF R judge, was actually responding to a Facebook comment made by Don Stewart, who only judged the first day of the pre-green championship, according to COTH.

When “no one would listen” to Stewart’s concerns about the format — which required horses to jump two classes on the first day, leading to the judges tracking scores for more than 200 rounds — and lines he thought were set with poor distances, he took to Facebook to air his grievances.

Here’s the text of  the USEF rule cited in the penalty (Chapter 7, GR702.1d): “A violation is any act prejudicial to the best interests of the Federation, including but not limited to the following: Acting or inciting or permitting any other to act in a manner contrary to the rules of the Federation, or in a manner deemed improper, unethical, dishonest, unsportsmanlike or intemperate, or prejudicial to the best interests of the sport and the Federation.”

Stewart has hired an attorney and plans to fight the administrative penalty, according to COTH, while Torano has accepted the censure and fine, though he’s still speaking out about the implications these sanctions have for free speech:

“I think it worries everybody,” Torano told COTH. “Whatever happened to freedom of speech? There’s no freedom of speech if you can’t say how you feel. We’re trying to do what we can to make the sport better. We’re not judging these events for the money. I do it to give back to the sport. We’re giving back, but then we’re being punished. It’s a little bit of a slap in the face.”

Be sure to read the full story over on COTH for more quotes from both Torano and Stewart. It goes without saying that this is a particularly disconcerting move from the USEF in light of British Eventing’s recent adoption of a social media policy that virtually silences its members.

Will this administrative penalty prompt other USEF officials to zip their lips instead of speak out about issues that impact both horse and human welfare in competitions? Weigh in with a comment below.

[USEF Censures And Fines Torano Over Facebook Post]

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