Feb 23, 2009

Bobby Costello Weighs In On Hot Topics in Eventing - Red Hills, the Economy, & Rule Changes

Thank you for taking the time to read what will become a regular update by members of the Professional Horseman’s Council. The PHC is a group of professionals within the sport of three-day eventing. This group is not just riders, but also organizers, grooms, and many other people who derive at least a part of their income from horses. The articles that are written in this column are not necessarily the opinion of the PHC as a whole, but instead are opinion pieces written by its members. We hope to use this forum as a way of communicating what we feel is important and pertinent information to you, the members of the USEA.

Bobby Costello serves as the co-chair of the PHC.

In support of Red Hills

It is no secret that the current global economic situation is having a significant impact on the sport of eventing here in the U.S.A. The early part of the season has seen some events wanting for entries, most notably the high profile Red Hills CIC and Horse Trials. Due to a sharp drop in entries coupled with reduced sponsorship dollars, the organizers had to make the difficult decision to cancel this year’s competition with hopes of bringing it back in 2010. When one takes into account this years economics and pairs it with last years misfortunes one could see Red Hills was always going to have a tough year in 2009.

What has happened to Red Hills really doesn’t seem fair. This is a competition that goes above and beyond to put on a first class competition. It is one of the precious few events in the U.S. that strives put on a “show”. Jane Barron, Terrie Brooks and Marvin Mayer are among the rider-friendliest organizers in the country, and genuinely have the best interest of the sport in mind. The Professional Horseman’s Council wants them to know they have our support, and we feel confident the changes they will be making to next years competition will usher in a new, prosperous era for Red Hills.

An Idea We Can All Live With

For the first time that I can remember, the state of the economy is having an obvious, direct and tangible effect on the fiscal health of our sport. One thing that organizers have said they need from the competitors is for them to get their entries in on or near the opening date. Being able to predict revenue from entries and stabling makes it easier for an event to plan thus hopefully keeping them in the black, or at least keeping them out of the red. Competitors on the other hand will hold off putting their entry in until they can be as certain as possible they won’t lose money to the not insignificant change and office fees most events now charge. I have proposed to the USEA Organizers Committee that for 2009, competitors whose entries are postmarked on the opening date will not be charged any “office fee” should they have to scratch a horse before the closing date (i.e. entry and stabling/grounds fee will be fully refunded) nor will they have to pay a “change fee” should they need to amend their entry before or after the closing date. Events will have their money for up front costs, and competitors will not potentially lose precious dollars from these add-on fees. Competitors need an incentive to get their entries in on the OD, and this to me seems like one way to get more of us working together to see us through this year of uncertainty. Again, this is a proposal and it will be up to each individual organizer to act on it.

Proposed Rule Changes

The PHC has been working on a couple of new rule changes that we feel will make it easier for professionals to do their job at events. Firstly, the council believes it is time for our sport to rethink the way we warm our horses up, especially for the show jumping phase. For those of us that event but also attend recognized USEF hunter/jumper shows, we appreciate how orderly and relatively stress-free the warm-up areas are for these competitions. Instead of the usual cross rail/vertical/oxer that oftentimes at horse trials have 10 or more horses jumping them all at the same time, hunter/jumper show management customarily offer four warm-up fences, all with four standards each. At these shows a coach/trainer/ground person sets one of these jumps for his rider or group of riders whichever way he desires (within the rules of course). This type of warm up proves to be much more efficient. Being able to dictate the dimension of the jump from the beginning of the warm up to the end enables a rider to warm up in much less time, though in a much more relaxed, systematic manner. To say this is also a question of safety would seem an understatement to anyone who has stood in the middle of an eventing show jumping warm up area. The purpose of a rule change that spells out what our warm-up areas need to offer is so riders will arrive at the in gate better prepared to answer, once in the competition arena, the questions asked by the course designer. Competitors warm up habits cannot be expected to change overnight, however, so there will still need to be a couple of jumps for the rider without help on the ground to utilize. Space will also prove a limiting factor for some events, though the PHC would encourage each event to make the most out of their existing space. The Southern Pines Horse Trials has agreed to offer the warm up configuration described above at their two events in March. Through education, it is hoped one day everyone will have as fair a shot as the next person to perform to the best of her ability in the ring.

The second rule change the PHC plans on proposing would allow the competitor more flexibility in what they can do with their horse(s) after said horse is done competing. For those of us in the PHC, we make our living through the sport of eventing, thus we must be able to conduct business (in addition to coaching) while at the competitions much like our peers in the hunter/jumper and dressage world do. The rule would state that so long as it does not interfere with the running of the competition, a horse that is through competing may use all existing warm up areas “for any and all business purposes”. This would then allow, for example, the showing of a horse that is for sale to a potential buyer. Some events may already allow this if it is done discreetly, but most events won’t allow it. Insurance and liability have a lot to do with their reasoning, which is understandable. Therefore, the PHC will be working with the USEA to see if this roadblock can be cleared so that professionals don’t lose an opportunity to make a living while at an event they are supporting.

Hopefully what has been written here will spark some conversation. The PHC realizes that much of what we do will effect eventing as a whole. Ultimately, as we go about making eventing more “professional friendly” we must insure that what is good for the PHC is good for the sport as well. The PHC welcomes your feedback.

Along with top honors over the past decade in four-star level competition, Bobby Costello of Southern Pines, North Carolina, was a proud member of the U.S. gold medal winning team at the 2003 Pan American Games and also placed eighth individually at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

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