READY. SET. ROLEX!
29 Mar 2017
It is that exciting time of year again when Eventing enthusiasts from around the world are getting ready to head to the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. Be they the thousands of spectators that come to watch our awesome sport, the excited owners thrilled to have their horses competing, the first timers fulfilling a life long goal to compete, or the top riders from around the world vying for the coveted title of Rolex Champion. It is a week of excitement, nerves, and endless fun.
There are so many people and various organizations that make this event run as well as it does from the organizers, to the volunteers, the amazing press, and countless people who work tirelessly in the USEF, USEA, and ERAofNA (PRO) to make this sport safe, fair, and fun for all. There are meetings that take place behind the scenes and ideas that come to fruition that most will never know about. Amazing things happen in the Bluegrass State this one week in April each year that drastically shape our sport beyond the cross country course. As a rider and part of our sport, I have to say that the community and camaraderie present at Rolex really is magical.
PRO will be unveiling its new self as ERAofNA (Event Riders Association of North America) at Rolex in 2017, and I could not think of a more suitable place for this transition to occur. PRO has done so much for the sport of eventing as a whole, but much like the monumental meetings that take place behind the scenes at Rolex, PRO has done a great deal for the sport under the radar. Many think that only professionals have been affected by the things PRO has done. However, chances are if you partake in any various facet of the sport of eventing, you have been positively influenced in some way without even knowing it.
I think it is important as this transition occurs to point out some of the things PRO has done for the sport in hopes of creating a wider understanding of the purpose of what will now become the ERA of NA and why it is so needed.
In regards to all events, and specifically at Rolex, one of my favorite things is getting to mingle with everyone in our community! One of the greatest things about being at Rolex the past few years as a rider, sponsor and owner is the Rolex Hospitality Tent, especially now that riders and owners are allowed access. PRO has always seen the importance of community in our sport and connecting the sponsors and athletes and made access to this area possible. I love getting to know the sponsors and I also thoroughly enjoy the time I can spend connecting with the USEF and USEA staff and other people in our community. Attracting and keeping sponsorship is also made easier for event organizers with a personal connection to the athletes. PRO has always strived to help organizers in this area, and this change over the last few years at Rolex has resulted in important relationships and fun had by all.
In the past few years we have seen changes and rule change proposals placed on our sport by the FEI that have come as a total surprise, and I honestly think most riders didn’t even know these were taking place. One such example of these rules was the inability to appeal the 21-penalty rule for breaking a frangible pin on cross-country. You might have known about this if you were on one of the USEF committees asked to weigh in, but when ERA International turned to PRO (ERA of NA) to ask for our involvement (Bruce Haskel, President of ERA International, put out a personal plea for riders to get involved and sign a petition) there was huge pushback from the riders’ unified voice as a result. Therefore, the rule was amended to be more reasonable and safer as a whole for competitors.
Another rule which would have resulted in very different outcomes in the sport was the FEI’s proposal to add 5 penalties per flag down on cross country. That would have definitely changed the spirit of our sport and encouraged backward, not safer riding. We certainly wouldn't be enjoying the bronze medal, or the awesome picture of Phillip and Happy just squeaking inside the flag at the Olympics if the ‘5 penalty per flag down’ rule wasn't so vehemently opposed by riders. This again was a rule that was highly influenced by riders through PRO (ERA of NA). But, these rules do not just influence professionals, they play as much of a role in the outcomes influencing amateurs, young riders and all members of our community and it is critical that the voice of riders is heard!
PRO spent countless hours with the well being of horses and riders in mind not only over fences, but on the flat as well. As just one example, we addressed new potential dressage tests that were proposed, which would have been way out of line with what we should be asking event horses.
On a National level, we have pushed hard to make our sport safer for all players of the game be they amateur, professional or junior. At Rolex we enjoy excellent warm up areas with plenty of jumps for everyone to warm up fairly and safely. We enjoy excellent footing as well with course designers and builders implementing state of the art safety measures. We have always felt that this is something that every level and rider in our sport should have, not just Rolex competitors. We worked closely with the USEA’s Professional Horseman’s Council to ensure that additional warm up fences would be included in warm ups. We also endorsed the development, testing and use of frangible and deformable technology, footing management programs, and strengthening the role of the Rider Representative at competitions.
The Rider Representative is an important part of our competitions because we recognize that ensuring safe and fair competition is a responsibility that should be shared amongst the riders and officials. There cannot be an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ attitude, and this has been a focus of PRO. We all strive for the same thing; we should work collaboratively to achieve our goals. We recognize that we still have more work to do in these areas and will continue to work to make the warm up areas a place that all riders can use safely and fairly together. We are a voice for the betterment of the sport in its entirety and as PRO unveils its new name and face, it will still strive to help the sport as a whole and all of its participants as much as possible.
In the past, PRO has taken a stand for riders and as it becomes ERA-NA, it is important that all competitors and owners know that the organization is here to help when needed. In the past under the PRO branding, we have stepped up on behalf of riders that have been wronged/treated unfairly in competition and may not have known they had any recourse. Many times just drawing attention to the FEI on an issue is enough to start a
productive conversation and create improvement in our sport. In a past year at Rolex, a rider was having a truly magnificent round and was pulled up at the second to last fence due to blood being spotted on the horse’s leg. It was later concluded that the rider had been wronged and being so close to the end of the course should have been allowed to finish before being evaluated by medical. In this case, the damage was done. A near perfect round and the rider had to stop two fences from home only to conclude all was ok! PRO took a stand for the rider, and the protocol is different now as a result. There are countless examples of this, and it is important that riders know they have somewhere to turn.
Once at Fair Hill we saw yet another example where a veterinary professional was doing active flexions on horses and then telling competitors (the majority of them amateurs) that they should not re-present (both of which are clearly not allowed within the rules of our sport). Yes, it is ultimately the rider’s responsibility to know all the rules, but two of the three people in this case were amateurs without a coach or personal vet at the box and they withdrew from competition. The third was a Canadian rider whose coach saw what was taking place and told the vet he was in the wrong and that they were going to present the horse. They did and the ground jury accepted the horse. PRO wrote letters on behalf of the two wronged riders in this case (they were not members of PRO). We got a positive response from the FEI on how vets and officials would be briefed ahead of each competition and they would actively work to ensure better adherence to the rules.
As PRO unveils a new name, it will still stand behind course designers, officials, competitors, events, owners and all for the betterment of the sport we love and that is something I am very proud of, having served as a founding member for PRO over the last several years. I hope you will join me in celebrating the unveiling of ERA-NA in Kentucky. And most of all, if you come to the Bluegrass State, I hope you can take a moment to stop and appreciate the wonderful relationships, thrill of the sport, passion and excitement all taking place on that special week in April.