So Amateurs Are Good Enough to Write a Check, But Not to Have a Voice?

Photo © Lauren Mauldin


Amateur exhibitors are the economic engine that fuels horse sports across hunter/jumpers, dressage, eventing and many other breeds and disciplines. In the hunter/jumper world, we are governed by the USEF, the overall national governing body and the USHJA, the USEF’s largest affiliate. But despite making up huge numbers of membership (Amateurs make up 47% of the USHJA membership), amateurs do not have the representation they deserve in either organization. 

USEF just launched a new competition task force with much fanfare and a town hall meeting. Despite requests to do so, they did not place a single currently competing amateur exhibitor on the committee. On the USEF Board, there are amateur card holders but not one of them is a hunter/jumper exhibitor. They are all representatives of the other breeds and disciplines that are part of the USEF. 

As drafted, the current amateur rule allows industry professionals—people like career show managers—to hold amateur cards if they are not otherwise engaged in professional activities such as training, teaching or riding professionally. But these kinds of amateur card holders serving as the “amateur slot” on the board cannot possibly represent the views and needs of the actively competing amateur. Adult amateurs who have no part in the equestrian industry, mostly working and balancing a great number of things to be able to show, are not represented in the decision making processes of USHJA or USEF. It’s a key factor of why there are so many unanswered needs for amateurs in our sport. But we’re the ones writing checks for membership fees, and so many other fees, that you see on your horse show bill. 

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

As customary for non profits, USEF and USHJA have both a mission statement and a vision statement as well as USEF’s “The Sportsman’s Charter.”  These statements are supposed to reflect the guiding principles as well as the goals for an organization. Let’s look at the Mission Statement for USEF:

“To provide access to and increase participation in equestrian sports at all levels by ensuring fairness, safety, and enjoyment.”

Does fairness equate to representation? 

The mission statement is followed by The Sportsman’s Charter which I had never read but makes an interesting statement.

The Sportsmans Charter

That sport is something done for the fun of doing it and that it ceases to be sport when it becomes a business only, something done for what there is in it;

That amateurism is something of the heart and spirit – not a matter of exact technical qualifications;

That good manners of sport are fundamentally important;

That the code must be strictly upheld;

That the whole structure of sport is not only preserved from the absurdity of undue importance, but is justified by a kind of romance which animates it, and by the positive virtues of courage, patience, good temper, and unselfishness which are demanded by the code;

That the exploitation of sport for profit alone kills the spirit and retains only the husk and semblance of the thing;

That the qualities of frankness, courage, and sincerity which mark the good sportsman in private life shall mark the discussions of his interests at a competition.

But, if you follow the principles so nobly expressed in this charter, we are definitely not receiving our due—in fact, we may fall under the “exploited” category. We have been patiently waiting and expecting our concerns to be addressed while we continue to pay our dues, show and stay silent.

Let’s look at the mission and vision statement of the USHJA:

“The mission of the USHJA is to unify and represent the hunter and jumper disciplines of equestrian sport through education, recognition and sport programs.” 

“Our vision is to increase awareness of and participation in programs and services for all involved in hunter/jumper competitive sport. We strive to provide value to our community such that USHJA is the pathway to excellence and education in equestrian sport.”

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

The words “unify and represent” and “increase awareness of and participation in programs and services” should, in my view, translate to equal representation and participation in the governance of the sport. We need to achieve this if amateurs want their concerns and needs respected. We need more amateurs, people like you and I, in the rooms where decisions happen.

In closing, let me quote the wonderful words of the Texas politician, Ann Richards;

“If you aren’t at the table, you are on the menu”

Remember, we write the checks!

Penelope Ayers is currently riding and showing in the Amateurs on her horses Cezanne and Turner. She lives in New Jersey with 4 rescue dogs from Danny and Ron’s Rescue. She is currently serving as Vice Chair of The Amateur Task Force, a member of The Safety Task Force for USHJA, board member of Danny and Ron’s Rescue, New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the president of the Sloth Institute of Costa Rica.