WEC vs USEF/USHJA
Below are the letters from each organization, World Equestrian Center (WEC), United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), and United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) regarding the show approval controversy as well as a commentary by legal counsel regarding the mileage rule. Where will you show?
USEF CEO Letter Regarding Ocala Winter Spectacular at the new World Equestrian Center
Dear USEF Members, I am writing to provide you with information that will hopefully eliminate any confusion regarding recent announcements about the Ocala Winter Spectacular 12-week series of hunter/jumper competitions, currently scheduled at the new World Equestrian Center (“WEC”) from January 6 through March 28, 2021. As background, the WEC in Ocala requested approval to conduct 12 USEF licensed competitions during the 2021 winter season. As these requests created a mileage conflict under the USEF competition licensing rules, WEC chose to apply for competition approval through the mileage exemption process. In accordance with the rules, USEF approved WEC for four weeks of competitions during the 2021 winter season, demonstrating USEF’s good faith to work with organizers to add additional events within mileage boundaries when meeting certain criteria outlined in Chapter 3 of the rulebook. Opportunities to conduct lower level events within the USEF licensing rules during the 12 week period were also identified to WEC. Additionally, USEF supported the addition of new events to the FEI calendar and the allocation of the FEI Jumping Nations Cup™, even though this is the first year of operation of this venue, and the organizer has never hosted an FEI event. Unfortunately, the WEC has announced it intends to include a mix of hunter/jumper competitions that are both sanctioned by USEF and not sanctioned by USEF as part of the same Ocala Winter Spectacular competition series. WEC has advertised that the USEF unsanctioned events will be sanctioned by the National Snaffle Bit Association (“NSBA”). NSBA is not an affiliate of USEF, and any NSBA events at the Ocala Winter Spectacular would be operated outside of USEF’s rules, including class specifications, field of play rules, scoring systems, and most importantly USEF rules protecting horse and human health and safety. As a result: 1.USEF has determined that WEC’s arrangement combining both USEF and NSBA competitions in the same 12-week series is confusing to participants and officials, and most importantly, jeopardizes horse and human safety and welfare. Due to these concerns, USEF has no choice but to withdraw all WEC hunter/jumper competition licenses it previously granted in connection with the Ocala Winter Spectacular.
2.Any competitions that proceed as part of the Ocala Winter Spectacular will have no affiliation with USEF or USEF’s rules and, consistent with USEF policy and rules, no USEF Horse of the Year points, USEF Ranking List points, or money won will be earned in connection with the Ocala Winter Spectacular; and 3.Due to the same health and safety concerns mentioned above, and in furtherance of the best interests of the sport, USEF will not be granting a license to WEC for the FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ qualifier and we have informed the FEI accordingly. The FEI will make the final decision on this event.
We have notified the FEI that these events are unauthorized. Presumably, the FEI will also decide whether it will apply its unsanctioned event rule which states that any FEI Official, FEI registered Athlete, or FEI registered Horse that participates in an unsanctioned event faces up to six months of ineligibility to participate in FEI competitions and thereby national competitions. In accordance with the “unsanctioned event” rule, FEI Officials, FEI registered Athlete, and owners of FEI registered Horses will be notified no later than 7 days prior to the start of any unsanctioned event. Please recognize, USEF rules and regulations, including the Drugs & Medications rules and Safe Sport Code, exist to ensure the safety and welfare of our participants and equine partners, as well as a fair and level playing field in the best interests of our sport and Olympics teams. USEF stands firmly behind these rules and regulations. Best regards, William J. Moroney Chief Executive Officer
World Equestrian Center Letter
November 11, 2020
Dear World Equestrian Center Exhibitors:
We recently released a Guide to World Equestrian Center - Ocala hunter/jumper competition for the 2021 show season. The 12 week show series featured USEF events, FEI events, a robust prize money offering, a schedule filled with numerous specialty events and 10 weeks of competition featuring a "New Way to Go" with sanctioning through the National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA), an organization with nearly 40 years of equestrian sport governance.
During subsequent conversations with the Federation, they informed us that they are unwilling to work with the World Equestrian Center - Ocala should we decide to move forward with offering NSBA sanctioned shows and the more than $9 million in money and prizes that we advertised.
In a show of good faith and in and effort to work with the Federation, we will release an updated schedule and prize list offering $4 million dollars in prizes and prize money during the 12-week competition. In lieu of the additional prize money, and in an effort to support and promote the entire equestrian community, we will provide FREE STALLS* to showing horses for the entire circuit at a value of over $6 million dollars. We feel that the free stall offering will aide in promoting the financial offerings to all exhibitors regardless of their competition level or experience versus focusing prize money on only specific classes. The free stalls will also help promote an atmosphere where trainers &riders can more easily promote young horses and sales. The new offerings at World Equestrian Center Ocala will now offer over 10 million dollars spread between prize money, prizes, and FREE stalls. For those exhibitors that have already paid and confirmed stalls your deposits will be considered entry deposits for the respective weeks booked. Any exhibitor who wants to book &confirm stalls going forward will be required to pay a $250 per week entry deposit to hold your free stall.
For exhibitors concerned with the repercussions of participating in an event unsanctioned by the Federation, know that the Federation does not have a rule that would prevent you from competing with us this winter. We are aware of the FEI rule that states any athlete, horse, or official that participates in an unsanctioned event may be ineligible to participate in sanctioned events for a specific period of time. This rule pertains strictly to FEI officials, athletes, and horses competing on an International or National level. This is a difficult time with the continued presence and uncertainties of Covid-19 and the current economic state of the country. The World Equestrian Center is an organization committed to supporting the equestrian community and safeguarding the welfare of equine and human athletes. We will do our very best to welcome exhibitors of all levels to Ocala this winter for safe, fun, and affordable horse showing.
We hope to see you in Ocala. Sincerely, Roby Roberts *The free stall offering pertains to horses only who are participating in competition. Stalls used for tack or equipment will be billed at the rate of $250 per stall.
Julie Agar firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, November 12, 2020 Dear Fellow USHJA Members, Without question we are living in tumultuous times. I know that many of you have questions and concerns regarding the statements that were recently issued by the United States Equestrian Federation and the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, Florida. The issues that have been raised have been many years in the making. You may be aware that national governing bodies are required to have a sport calendaring system under the Ted Stevens Act. Currently, this requirement is served through the application of the mileage rule by the United States Equestrian Federation. The USHJA plays a dual role. As a USEF Affiliate, we provide recommendations on mileage exemption requests. As such, we are bound by the current mileage rule. As a membership organization, we advocate for our members, and change to our sport’s calendaring system is one of our areas of sport advocacy. From a leadership perspective, USHJA remains passionately committed to examining our sport’s problems which include costs, show standards and competitive opportunities for our members. Recently, the USHJA Planning Committee created an Ad Hoc Committee to examine the sport’s calendar and the application of competition standards to the issuance of competition licenses. USHJA volunteers and staff have been diligently working towards finding solutions. I find that working together is one of the things that makes our sport strong. I welcome your feedback as we search for collaborative solutions that will make our sport inclusive and sustainable at all levels for years to come. Thank you for your membership,
Mary Babick USHJA President
The Mileage Rule: Can’t Live With It, Can’t Live Without It
by Krysia Carmel Nelson, Esq. Although USEF has made some dramatic movements in its application of the “Mileage Rule,” it seems like the success of the Wellington Masters has increased the volume on the cry for “getting rid” of the Mileage Rule. It seems like every time I turn around, I hear yet another person clamoring for an end to the Mileage Rule. “Let there be a free market! What is more American than competition within the market? Death to the Mileage Rule!”
I understand the frustrations many have with the Mileage Rule and it does, after all, seem like a terribly “anti-American” restraint on trade. So, why do we have it? Let me answer that question for you. Why we can’t live without it
The Mileage Rule cannot die. Like a mystical force in popular fiction, the Mileage Rule is the immortal beast that cannot be destroyed. Many shall embark on the quest for its destruction, only to be stymied by a powerful and invisible force that is.... The law.
Yes, there is a law. Congress passed it, and it is called the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act. This law says that a national governing body of amateur sport (“NGB”) – USEF, in the case of equestrian sport – MUST (and I repeat MUST) do certain things to govern the sport. And one of those things USEF must do is control competition scheduling. The “Mileage Rule” is USEF’s version of how it will fulfill that Congressional mandate. “But it seems like such an anti-American restraint on trade!” Yes, yes it does. But guess what? It was meant to be that way. This issue was litigated in the courts not that long ago, and indeed a federal appeals court came right out and approved the scheme created by the Amateur Sports Act to give NGB’s “monolithic” authority over the sports they govern. Not only that, the appeals court explained that the whole point of the law was to make NGB’s immune from the anti-trust laws.
The upshot is that the courts won’t even take a second look at the Mileage Rule – warts and all – because given such “monolithic” authority by Congress, USEF can adopt whatever rules or policies it wants to further the Congressional mandate.
But don’t put your swords and shields away just yet.
Achilles’ heel If you think that the concept behind the Mileage Rule is flawed, there is an argument to be made that USEF can fulfill its Congressional mandate a different way. I am not just talking about changing the name of the rule and calling it something else. What I am saying is that there is nothing in the Amateur Sports Act that requires a NGB to control the national competition calendar with reference to mileage.
What the law requires is that a NGB shall “minimize, through coordination with other amateur sports organizations, conflicts in the scheduling of all practices and competitions.” I don’t see the word “mileage” or “miles” in there anywhere. Do you?
By the way, the law also requires a NGB to “keep amateur athletes informed of policy matters and reasonably reflect the views of the athletes in its policy decisions.” So what you think is supposed to matter. Be careful what you wish for.
Do away with the Mileage Rule and there is going to have be something to take its place. The Amateur Sports Act does not actually speak to an important legal principle that requires organizations like USEF to have “articulable” standards. So it is both good and bad that if USEF trashes the Mileage Rule in favor of some other system of minimizing competition scheduling conflicts, that it is going to have to explain what standards it will apply and how it will apply those standards in a way that is relatively even-handed and easy to understand. This is in theory, of course, because I have already explained how a federal appeals court has basically said USEF can do whatever it wants --- if the Mileage Rule isn’t subject to court scrutiny, any rule that takes its place is going to basically enjoy the same immunity. So just keep in the back of your head that scrapping the Mileage Rule might land us with a handbook of unwieldy size that is so complicated that no one will be able to understand competition licensing policies.
Is there another way to slay the beast? I think so. We can all understand “miles.” We can all understand the idea that if you have too many competitions in close proximity to one another, there is a risk of diluting competition to the point of eliminating it. The concern of the Amateur Sports Act is to prevent over-dilution; it does not speak to over-saturation. And the problem in Florida during the winter months is over-saturation.
Considered this way, the problem in Wellington during the winter months is unique and, accordingly, a “Snowbird Exception” to the Mileage Rule is justifiable.
It could be that coming up with a working definition of a “Snowbird Exception” would pave the way for an exception of broader application. I also think that many of the recent changes to the Mileage Rule and the internal policies governing USEF’s competition licensing go a long way to creating a more flexible approach to solving the “Florida problem.”
But for those who want to kill off the Mileage Rule once and for all? That’s not going to happen. If you want more change than what has already transpired, and you appreciate that USEF’s hands are to some degree tied by a Congressional mandate, the best case scenario is for people to put their heads together and come up with an acceptable alternative.
But a “free market” – that’s not happening.
©2019 by Krysia Carmel Nelson, Esq.