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How It Works: Competition Evaluation and Compliance

by Leslie Potter | Apr 19, 2022, 2:00 PM EST

A horse galloping in an arena
The USEF Compliance Department works to ensure that competition facilities, such as stabling and arena footing, are safe and up to standard. ©Taylor Pence/US Equestrian

US Equestrian licensed competitions are required to maintain a level of quality and service for participants in order to maintain their affiliation. When an aspect of a competition’s facilities or related services isn’t up to standard, the path to resolution goes through the dedicated staff within US Equestrian’s Competition Licensing, Evaluation & Safety and Compliance departments.

It Starts with the Members

US Equestrian licenses more than 2,300 competitions held across the nation annually and utilizes a diverse system of feedback to evaluate the performance of these events.  There are three ways that competitions undergo performance evaluations, which include post-competition reports from USEF licensed officials, Compliance Department staff conduct on-site evaluations and our members have the opportunity to provide feedback through the member evaluation process.

US Equestrian members are empowered to advocate for themselves and their horses for a safe and fair competition by completing a confidential Competition and Licensed Officials Evaluation. Competitor feedback is a vital component of the competition evaluation process, and to ensure that your feedback is received by USEF, all members are encouraged to participate in the evaluation process. The evaluation forms can be found at www.usef.org/compete/competition-evaluation/select-competition or through the “Member Tools” section of your member dashboard.

Katlynn Wilbers is the Senior Director of Competition Licensing, Evaluation & Safety at US Equestrian. She encourages members to submit an evaluation to US Equestrian with any feedback, whether it’s positive or negative. However, if you have a concern at a show and you feel comfortable doing so, speaking to a member of the competition management team while at the event is often the most effective first step.

“If a member is experiencing challenges at a competition, we recommend that they reach out to the competition manager, steward, or technical delegate to see if the issue at hand can be resolved at the show,” said Wilbers. “However, if they’re uncomfortable doing so or if they’d like to create a record of their experience, they’re encouraged to submit an evaluation.”

Some of the common concerns reported in competition evaluations are facility conditions, such as stabling and footing, or with management, office staff, and officiating. Every evaluation is reviewed by US Equestrian staff.

“Once submitted, the Competition Licensing, Evaluation & Safety department reviews each evaluation,” said Wilbers. “Individual concerns are routed to the appropriate departments, such as Compliance, Regulations, or Licensed Officials. These departments will conduct any additional follow-up required with the member, official, or competition management to resolve the reported concerns.”

Feedback about judges or other officials is directed to the Licensed Officials department, while the Regulations department receives reports of violations or those concerning conflict between competitors or equine welfare. For this article, we’ll take a closer look at the role of the Compliance department, which is tasked with ensuring that competition facilities are up to standard.

Compliance: Taking the Next Step

The Compliance Department is the team within US Equestrian tasked with evaluating competitions to ensure they are upholding USEF rules and standards with a focus on safeguarding horse and human safety and welfare. Compliance staff attend approximately 55 events each year to conduct inspections of competition venues. Since most of these venues host multiple licensed competitions throughout the year, the reach of these inspections extends to approximately 750 events.

Debbie Saliling is the Director of Compliance at US Equestrian. She explains that her department exists to support competition management and officials in ensuring that participants and their horses are provided a safe and enjoyable experience at USEF-licensed competitions across all breeds and disciplines.  “When we get to a horse show, we try to communicate that we’re all working towards the same goal. We want to work with managers and officials to help people have the best experience possible and help make sure that they feel safe, that their horses are safe, and point out things that can be improved.”

Competitions are typically selected for an on-site visit based on a variety of factors, including concerns raised through competition evaluations submitted by competitors, steward or technical delegate reports, or from sport or competition departments within US Equestrian. They may also be randomly selected for inspection on occasion. Staff may also attend events that have had no reported issues to connect with show organizers and exhibitors to keep the lines of communication open and serve as a resource.

The Compliance Department works diligently to address areas of concern raised at each competition, such as issues with footing or stabling, which may raise safety concerns for competitors. “Issues with footing and stabling, and also concerns around operations of the competition, such as the PA system not being audible, or required signage not in place are the most common areas of non-compliances reported,” said Saliling.

The USEF Rulebook has fairly comprehensive requirements for show facilities and amenities, and in some cases, they vary by discipline. Managers are ultimately responsible for ensuring the competition complies with regulations and standards. While attending competitions, Compliance staff will point out any issues with both management and Stewards or Technical Delegates to give management the opportunity to resolve it.

“Our aim is to get issues fixed, not to issue a penalty,” said Saliling. “Resolving the issues with competition management promptly while at the competition assures that competitors may enjoy an improved experience almost immediately, when immediate resolution is possible.”

Competitors can help keep the shows they participate in compliant by following the facility guidelines set by the show. Show managers are ultimately held responsible for maintaining facilities up to standards, but exhibitors, trainers, and barn staff contribute to the environment. Show management is required to provide appropriate space to dispose of manure and used bedding, for example, but if participants ignore the protocol and dump their muck buckets in other places, they may be creating a compliance issue.

After a competition visit by a Compliance staff member a letter is sent to the organizer memorializing any deficiencies and requesting a remediation plan and timeline for any issues not addressed during the competition.  With the exception of especially egregious or recurring problems, a conversation with Compliance will precede any other action and organizers will have an opportunity to resolve any issues first.  In situations where issues remain unresolved or are deemed to be egregious, the matter is referred to the Regulations Department and may result in a penalty or non-renewal or conditional renewal of a competition license.

Compliance Reports, correspondence and Competition Evaluations are kept on record within US Equestrian, and may have an impact on competition license renewals or mileage exemption requests.  “Our goal with the Compliance functions is to help organizers have the best possible competitions that provide a safe and positive experience for horses and members,” said Saliling.