By EDITOR SISSY WICKES
Geoff Teall is a lifelong rider, trainer, and governance guru. He is an “R” rated judge, has served as President of the American Hunter Jumper Foundation, Vice President of the USHJA, and held seats on the Board of Directors of the USHJA, the AHJF, the USHJA Foundation, and the USEF. Recently, he was named the Chairman of the Maclay Equitation Committee of the CP National Horse Show. He runs his training business, Montoga, Inc. in Wellington, Florida where he resides with his unruly dachshunds.
Sissy Wickes: Let’s go right to the elephant in the room. What is your point of view concerning the discord between the USHJA Foundation Directors who resigned and the USHJA?
Geoff Teall: I think that this was a lack of communication. The leadership communicated the thoughts of the USHJA Board to the Foundation and the leadership communicated the thoughts of the Foundation to the USHJA Board. The two Boards were never allowed to sit down together. I think given this opportunity, the two groups could have worked this out in an afternoon. We were given a choice: either resign, accept the proposed bylaws as they [the USHJA BOD] had written them, or face legal action. We did not agree with the proposed bylaws for a lot of reasons that I won’t get into right now. As a result, given the situation, we (the resignees) had no choice but to resign.
SW: Do you think that perhaps the structure of the USHJA Foundation was weak or faulty
in that the minute there was a problem, it fell apart?
GT: No, I do not. I think that we were presented an impossible set of choices.
SW: You resigned your governance positions on both USEF and USHJA. Wouldn’t it be better to stay and try to solve the issues?
GT: Well, in theory, yes. But, because I was accused of bullying and other wrongdoings, I felt it was time for me to go before I was asked to leave. The whole thing [governance] became so frustrating to me, and I did not feel like it was healthy for any of us. It certainly was not for me. I thought, “Ok, maybe for the moment I have done enough for this sport.” I had started to remove myself from a lot of this stuff anyway, because I thought there is too much Geoff Teall. And I still believe that.
SW: You stated on our podcast (theplaidhorse.com/listen) that you believe the USHJA to be a good institution and that you plan to become involved, or should I say re-involved, in the future.
GT: I would like to help that organization be what it should be. I am not looking to get back in it, but if there is a way that I can help it as an association- not a group of individuals – I am all in.
SW: What’s your vision for the USHJA in the next decade?
GT: Looking in on it from the outside, I have come to realize how important the Board of Directors is. The Board is the answer; it is the powerhouse. We have to populate it with people who are up to that huge job. It takes time, effort, energy, smarts, experience in the sport and putting your interests to the side.
SW: As a member of the USHJA Board of Directors, I worry that we are missing the breadth of the job. We can run the table from the “A” show perspective, but what about the guy that doesn’t get into the VIP tent?
GT: Absolutely. But, I think we need to really think about and understand the meaning of “grassroots training”. Sometimes I feel that this has begun to be equated with “bad training”, which is not correct. There is a difference. We need to pick people that are successful in different areas of the country and at different levels. Part of the problem is that the sport is so huge and so diffuse that it is hard to meet the needs of every part of the country. The zone idea is on the right track, but we have to have the best people at each level because they are the ones that are successful and smart.
SW: Are we as professionals, riders, owners, members of the USHJA driving our sport? Or, are we at the mercy of our National Governing Body, the USEF?
GT: I don’t know the answer to that question. I want to better understand the USEF-what they want, what they are doing, and who is doing it. I have lost track of that. This is why the USHJA has to have strong leadership. I feel like USEF has more strength now, while USHJA is waning.
I went to The National Horse Show partially to be around Bill [Moroney] and Murray [Kessler] to try to get a better sense of the USEF. But, Murray wasn’t there. This relationship between the organizations is a real issue. Are we [USHJA] just beating our heads against the wall?
SW: Let’s change tracks. What is the future of this sport? Have we priced ourselves out of long term existence? Let’s say a family makes $150-200,000 per year and their kid wants to show. Where do you start? How do we grow from the bottom up?
GT: I don’t know the answer to that question.
SW: Our local circuits in the northeast are burgeoning with growth. I assume it’s the same in many areas across the country.
GT: Yes, it is here [in Florida], too. If I were smart and I had the interest, I would start a local show circuit here, open a business for people who want that kind of situation, never have to travel, and make plenty of money. I wouldn’t have to worry about any fees, associations, or governing bodies.
SW: So, now we are pulling the bottom level away from our Association.
GT: Right now, we are not pulling them away; we are pushing them away. We need to take care of the top of the sport- that is important. There are a lot of good programs right now that are doing that and should be left alone. But, we need to prioritize growing the sport and really focus on it.
SW: Give me your top five priorities for our sport.
GT: We need get better people involved in order to find solutions for the problems that we have just discussed. I equate most things with riding and training. By that, I mean whomever has the best horse wins the most. If this were thrown in my lap, I would find the best people I could, just like you find the best horse you can. One of the greatest things about this sport is the resource of people it offers. They are out there, and we need help in tackling our problems.
SW: So, when we find these people, what problems would you have them solve?
GT: Well, certainly growth. And the relationship with USEF and how that works- because we have lost our way and we need to find it again. Our industry has become them against us, whether it is management against exhibitors or professionals against governance. No matter who you are, it seems as though it is you against somebody.
When we started the USHJA, it was clear that it was to be our affiliate and represent us in the USEF. I am not sure that this is working right now, and we need to figure it out. Are we in charge or aren’t we in charge? Just let us know, because if we aren’t, we can all go back to work at the USEF.
As far as the USHJA goes, it sounds so cliché to say communication, but that is absolutely what we lack. We need to take a hard look at how the Working Groups, Task Forces, and Board of Directors interact so that people feel like their voices are heard. It has to start internally to get the structure and the players right. I believe in the Association and we need to attempt to fix it. It needs to be simplified, to have the emotion taken out of it, and to be populated by people who are strong, smart, experienced, and can take the bull by the horns.
SW: Let’s talk equitation finals. This year, the two largest national finals, the Medal and Maclay, had significant logistical issues. The footing for the Medal Finals was a travesty and the time schedule for Maclay Finals bordered on the absurd. Can you comment on these situations and how to address them? Do you feel that the competitions reflect a prestigious national finals?
GT: I do feel that the two major equitation finals have represented prestigious national finals, and more importantly that they will again. The Pennsylvania National Horse Show is committed to a major change in their footing at the very least. I am not privy to all that is on the table, but I do feel that huge efforts are being made in other areas as well to improve the situation at that show for the USEF Medal Finals.
I know that at the National Horse Show, we are making huge efforts to adjust the schedule to make the ASPCA Maclay Finals a much better experience. I can tell you that we have already worked out three very good options for the 2018 Maclay. Now we just have to speak to as many people as possible to get input and then sort out the finer points. I feel confident that we can promise a great Finals in addition to some interesting changes and improvements to the entire horse show schedule.