BY PIPER KLEMM
The board. It’s part of the closed door meetings that drive our sport. It’s a club of people of power that we’ve long known aren’t split by gender or socio-economic status in a way that’s representative or indicative of our sport as a whole.
The board is also a black box of information. How you’re appointed, how to get on them, who you know, who gets to stay, what boards and sub-committees have what power. It’s a place where the status quo reigns. The old guard can sit there and see nothing wrong with how they have done things since the inception of USHJA.
Listening and learning from the recent conversations around race, I got curious and started clicking around the USHJA website this morning. What percentage of diversity do we have on USHJA boards? I was expecting it to be low, of course.
Click through and look at these boards. Do you see people like you? What is the average age on the board? Does the gender split represent the membership? Do you think there is bias here? Do you think these representatives of our sport have a commitment to people at the lower levels? When I look beyond race and socioeconomic reflections, I see a curve towards: older, male (at a statistically higher rate than the riders in our industry), and living on the East Coast.
I expected bad racial diversity, but what I found was dismal. Like really dismal. None at all.
These people are not elected, and most of the membership has no idea how they even get on these committees. From an outsider’s perspective, they don’t seem to communicate with the people they represent. How do we choose people to be on them? Who is representing us and making the rules in our sport? The USHJA board of Directors has not even met since November 2019. If that is not an accurate statement, that is the last time they wanted the membership to know about it.
Roberts Rules of Orders guides meeting minutes to be posted publicly with attendance, votes or discussion topics made available to the overall membership. While USHJA seems to generally follow these orders, it’s unclear to the membership. In short, we as members are represented either by people who don’t meet or are unwilling to release even edited attendance sheets and voted on topics to us. It’s bad either way.
Am I missing someone? Am I wrong? Good grief, I hope so. I hope I missed a ton of equestrians of color to add some much-needed perspective and insight into these meetings. But I really don’t think so. And even if I did miss one or two, how much representation is enough?
Let’s talk about numbers. Maybe this is just a small group we’re talking about? Maybe we shouldn’t get riled up over ten or so people on a single board?
Well, yes and no. There are a lot of boards. Like, a lot a lot. Without even going into Zone or Region committees or groups we have the Amateurs Task Force, Equitation Task Force, Owners Task Force, Emerging Jumper Rider Task Force, NAYC/PDS Task Force, Young Jumper Task Force, Children/Adult Task Force, Hunter Breeding Task Force, International Hunter Derby & Incentive Task Force, Junior Task Force, National Hunter Derby Task Force, Pony Task Force, WCHR Task Force, Young Hunter Pony Task Force and we won’t even get into the standing committees because my fingers are tired from typing.
But despite all of these boards, there is not always a lot of variety in the people. A lot of the same names sit on board after board after board. I’m not sure how that helps governance and representation, but I’m sure they would just tell me that I don’t understand how complicated it is.
So, what do we do?
Are you young, female, or a person of color who is not sure if they have something to contribute? You do. I encourage you to apply with the committee interest form. Don’t fall victim to impostor syndrome. Apply anyways. We need your voice. Call someone who is your cheerleader to pump you up. Don’t have one? Join The Plaid Horse Adult Amateur Lounge and we’ll put you front and center with over 4,000 of them.
What can the rest of us do? Speak up! Here is the list of the current board members with their emails. Tell them what you want to see in your membership organization. Here is a sample letter below to get you started.
Dear USHJA Board,
Please use USHJA Bylaws to restock committees to reflect our membership and our sport. Having diverse experiences and people on the boards is the only way to successfully bring our sport into the future.
Do we want the USHJA board to look like where our sport was 15 years ago, where it is today, or where we want it tomorrow? The board reflects where we were, not where we are, and certainly not the sport we aspire to grow into. Be the change. Let’s start in our own backyard with our own membership dues.