USHJA and USEF Town Hall: Showing and COVID-19

BY ELIZABETH SOUSA

On June 8th, 2020, the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) held a joint town hall webinar. The webinar was held to answer member’s questions about what to expect moving forward with horse shows, championships, and the new COVID-19 guidelines. In attendance was USHJA President, Mary Babick; Chief Executive Officer for USEF, Bill Moroney; Managing Director for Show Jumping for USEF, Lizzy Chesson; Director for Competition Licensing, Evaluation, and Safety for USEF, Katlynn Sacco; and National Breeds & Disciplines Program Manager for USEF, Kelsey Shanley.

Opening up with basic updates within the competition environment. So far, it has been recorded in places that are currently able to hold competitions, that there are just as many people showing as there were before they were put on hold. These USEF Licensed horse shows are being held to the new COVID-19 guidelines set in place and can be found on the USEF website. There are updates to these guidelines every Tuesday with emergency changes made in between as needed, being compared to the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) guidelines as they are updated. Resources regarding COVID-19 at competitions can also be found on the USHJA website as needed.

Bill Moroney, Chief Executive Officer of USEF brings up that there have been other years where competitions have been canceled or postponed. They may not have been as big of a problem such as COVID-19 but there have been times when whole states were unable to run any shows for a period of time. “We had several outbreaks of equine viruses that caused limitations on the ability for a competition year to function, in what people would consider [normal].” He also brings up that there was one outbreak of an equine virus where ten states were impacted and other instances where some had to travel out of their state in order to compete.

Over the past couple of months, USEF has been looking at different models over the past few years of how to select a horse to receive the Horse of the Year Award. They have not come to a conclusion just yet on how to give out this award, or even on if they are to give it out at all, considering the circumstances. For Green Hunter eligibility, there were discussions on moving the deadline on enrolling a horse into the program from the first day of June to the first day of July. This proposal has since been denied and is keeping the June 1st deadline.

Katlynn Sacco, Director for Competition Licensing, Evaluation, and Safety for USEF, discussed how to provide a safe competition environment for everyone at any horse show. USEF competitions must comply with the USEF COVID-19 Action Plan, which is based on Federal, State, and local regulations. There will be differing regulations from place to place, and the action plan will always go with what the regulations are most restrictive in order to keep everyone on the same page. For example, although not all states require face masks, all USEF rated shows require anyone not mounted on a horse to be wearing a face mask to ensure the safety of those around them. In addition to this, everyone, every day should monitor their temperature and monitor if they have any symptoms to keep everyone’s best interests. Anyone who refuses to comply with the Action Plan will be asked to leave the competition grounds.

Lizzy Chesson, Managing Director for Show Jumping for USEF, discussed points for ranking. The FEI has extended the period that points are valid for, once they are accumulated until the calendar is deemed normal again by the FEI, as compared to only being valid for 12 months. In addition, if you earn points from here forward, you get those points, but if you do not compete, you do not lose the points you have already accumulated. For USEF, the Rolex ranking list that is used for team selection has been frozen. Points as of March 20th will not age and will remain frozen until September 1. Qualifying opportunities are predicted to be out as of Friday, June 12.

Mary Babick, USHJA President, discussed the USHJA Jumper Programs. The USHJA Zone Team Jumper Championships have been canceled for this year, and in doing this the National Championship qualification specifications have been changed from team results to the top three riders from each zone. In addition, although live meetings have been canceled, there are still virtual formats of the meetings for the Emerging Athletes Program (EAP)

Kelsey Shanley, National Breeds & Disciplines Program Manager for USEF, discussed the Hunter and Equitation side of the updates. Pony Finals are still planned to run on the original dates but some changes will be made to the prize list and other updates that are in discussion right now. The Junior Hunter National Championship, the East Coast Championship has been moved from the Devon Horse Show grounds in Pennsylvania to the Kentucky Horse Park, held August 23-24. The West Coast Championship is planned to continue on with its original dates at its original venue. The qualifying criteria for the Hunter Seat Medal Final have been adjusted reducing the number of points required by state. Point charts will be updated biweekly and will be taken into effect depending on the state. Also discussed were rule changes made to the hunter rings. There will no longer be an in-hand jog for sections that require the jog to check for soundness; riders will be asked to trot on a loose rein at the end of their course in the jog’s place. The Pony Hunters also are no longer required to have a Model class held. If show managers feel that the class can be held while following the Action Plan and are able to follow social distancing guidelines, then the class may be held, but it is not required.

Babick speaks again regarding the USHJA side of the Hunters and Equitation. The Pony Hunter Derby East has chosen June 28 as the day that they will decide if the Derby will run or not. “We firmly are of the belief that we are going to run all of our summer championships, but in fairness, to everyone, we figured we would give you a specific date on which we have to make a choice.” For the Green Hunter Incentive and International Hunter Derby, the date settled upon to make a final decision is June 29. For the 3’3” Jumper Seat Medal, on the East Coast, they are taking the top 130 riders, and on the West Coast, they are taking the top 100. The New England Equitation Championships has offered to host the 3’3” Hunter Seat Medal because the World Equestrian Center (WEC) will not be open during the time that the medal will be running. For the World Championship Hunter Rider, they have decreased the number of regional shows to two and are watching the country region by region and as shows are being canceled they are reopening host applications. National points will also be able to be accumulated at Capital Challenge in order to qualify.

Mark Coley, Senior Director of Marketing and Events brings forward any questions that were submitted by members of USEF and the USHJA for the Town Hall webinar. 

Question: What are the organization’s current thoughts on the additional junior year and will there be an extended age range for the EAP?

Answer: There will not be an additional year of eligibility for a rider’s junior years and anyone there will not be an age extension for the EAP for participating as a finalist.

Question: What happens when someone tests positive [for COVID-19] during an event?

Answer: If anyone tests positive during or after, the show organizer is responsible for notifying those who were at the competition.

Question: Is there a back-up plan for the West Coast Junior Hunter Finals, just in case they do not get approval from the state of California to have the show at the Sonoma Horse Park?

Answer: They are currently working with the management team at the Sonoma Horse Park to put together a back-up plan. They are also working on getting information from the local health department on whether they are able to run the competition.

Question: Would you consider extending memberships of the equivalent time that showing has been shut down?

Answer: The USHJA feels that they offer a lot of educational opportunities that are still within grasp of members so there will not be an extension on membership even though there were no competitions. USEF follows suit with saying that they were still working on the experience for members and will not extend memberships.

Question: Has USEF discussed amending the fence heights for young jumpers?

Answer: It has not been discussed yet, but will be brought up to the task force.

Question: Why the face masks when not riding when you can socially distance?

Answer: According to the medical community, it is definitely helping with preventing the virus from being transmitted from person to person. If there is a possibility of being within six feet of another person, you need to wear a face mask unless you are on a horse.

Question: How has the qualification for the Gladstone Equitation Cup changed, if at all?

Answer: The USHJA has added that you can win either phase of the Washington at a national or premier show, but nothing else has been adjusted thus far.

Question: Who is allowed at a competition along the lines of spectators, parents of minors, etc?

Answer: On the USEF website, on the COVID-19 page, the action plan defines who is considered a participant and who is considered a spectator. 

Question: How will apprentice judging be handled moving forward?

Answer: A judge is not required to take on an apprentice if they do not feel safe to do so. If they do take on an apprentice, they must practice social distancing.

Question: Is the USHJA modifying the qualifying criteria for The Stirrup Cup Awards Program?

Answer: There have not been any changes yet, but there will be changes made if there is a need.

Question: How is the mileage rule going to apply considering the number of shows that have canceled or postponed?

Answer: The mileage rule is still in place currently, but will be discussed further.

Question: For horse shows that have to cancel, how does this affect the time frame that apply for 2021 dates? Is it still 10 days after your original date?

Answers: Shows have 60 days within their original date to renew. 

Question: How is USEF governing providing recommendations around which shows take place given so many states have different mandates around opening back up?

Answer: The most restrictive requirements take the president over the other requirements to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Question: What do we do if the horse show is not enforcing mask use in the barns? And how does one report that someone is not following the USEF guidelines?

Answer: Remind someone you see one-on-one, but if the show steward or organizer is not enforcing the guidelines, one can call the USEF office and speak to a member of the staff who will then reach out to the organizer. 

Question: Do we expect that some of these measures will actually become permanent, looking at the long-term impact of COVID-19?

Answer: There will likely be lingering behaviors we are performing now that will stick with the community for a long time.

Everyone is encouraged to review the Action Plan every day so that members are aware of what is going on. It is important to stay up-to-date and use the resources that USEF and the USHJA are providing. It is also encouraged for members to reach out with any questions that they may have.