The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) held an open forum strategic planning session in conjunction with the USEF annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. The meeting was hosted by USEF in response to requests for joint evaluation of the state of International endurance competition: the USA no longer dominates the sport at the International level, as measured by a failure to win individual or team medals during the last four World Endurance Championships. The meeting was hosted by USEF staff John Long (Chief Executive Officer), Jim Wolf (Executive Director, Sports Program), Don Whittle (FEI Affiliates Managing Director), Vonita Bowers (Endurance Discipline Director), Lynne Mcoy (Director of NGB FEI services) and Jennifer Brown (Adm. Assist. FEI Affiliates).
In attendance were USEF members including Art Priesz Jr (Chair. of the USEF Endurance High Performance committee), Julie Bullock DVM (Chair of the USEF Endurance Active Athletes committee) and representatives from AERC, the USEF recognized National Discipline Club for the sport of Endurance. Close to 100 interested and concerned members filled the room for this landmark meeting. This was the first strategic planning session that the USEF has hosted for the sport of Endurance. It was judged a great success and an important step in moving the USEF Endurance program forward.
Highlights of the meeting included:
1) Identification of major issues and concerns: A round-table discussion allowed individuals to discuss and identify key concern topics which included: the need for improvements in training of athletes; improved methods of identifying and selecting best performing athletes; lack of 'grass roots' support from the AERC (National Discipline Club) for International athletes and endeavors; improvements in communication between USEF staff, officers and membership; the need to form a long range program to recruit new talent and young riders; the desire of the membership for greater accountability and transparency of process from USEF staff.
2) Discussion of the organizational structure of USEF: Explanation of officer, staff and committee responsibilities and hierarchy; explanation of USEF's relationship with the FEI and the USOC. John Long emphasized that the most successful disciplines in the USEF (medal winners) were those disciplines that had a very strong relationship between the USEF and the National Discipline club. Both Mr. Long and Jim Wolf extended a warm welcome for the new Endurance Discipline Director, Vonita Bowers, and felt that she would be instrumental in improving the Endurance program. Jim Wolf made it clear that the USEF was fully committed to improving the program.
3) Presentation and discussion of USEF's Medication Position by Kent Allen DVM (previous Eventing team vet): emphasis on welfare of the horse; the need to stay current in regards to FEI drug testing (procedures, detection levels and time, prohibited and/or allowed substances); an explanation of FEI laboratories, with four labs positioned around the world (USA/USEF, Hong Kong, France, Australia) working towards harmonization, whereby each lab would follow same testing methodology to produce identical testing results. Dr. Allen stated that while the incidence of 'positives' in the sport of Endurance is generally low, the rate of increase is highest among all disciplines. Jim Wolf emphasized that USEF is fully committed to following the highest standards when implementing medication rules and policy in FEI competition.
4) Open session discussion to develop strategic plan for Endurance success and excellence in the International field: compilation of a vision - what would it look like if USA competitors were the best in the world? We would have a program that is rider centered, coach driven and USEF (National Federation) partnered. We would have a strong industry centered around the sport (trainers, breeders, sponsorship, etc). We would have a large community of athletes enthusiastic about aspiring to International level competition. We would have a large pool of fast sound horses - and they would remain within our borders. We would have confidence in our leadership. Our leadership would be focused on the clear mission of striving for excellence abroad. We would consistently medal in foreign Endurance championships.
The general tone of the meeting was very positive and productive. A professional moderator maintained forward motion and assured that every voice could be heard. The majority of the attendees expressed some level of previous dissatisfaction with USEF which ranged from lack of transparency in process and decision making to failure to communicate adequately with the general membership; to frustration at the lack of guidance or support in the fundamentals of athletic endeavor. Both the USEF staff and the membership supported the notion of a fulltime USEF staff person fully dedicated to identifying, training and supporting the athletes (e.g. coach or national chef d'equipe). The USEF suggested that they instigate a search committee to identify chef d'equipe candidates. They also agreed to evaluate the existing staff/committee/membership relationship and ensure that channels of communication would improved.
The session closed at 5pm, with a promise to make this an annual affair, and personal invitation from John Long to continue the discussion in the bar, he's buying.