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How it Works: USEF Competition Licensing

by Leslie Potter | Feb 15, 2022, 2:00 PM EST

When Derek Braun decided to launch the first edition of what would becoming the Split Rock Jumping Tour, he was looking to fill a particular niche. A lifelong show jumping competitor and a professional in the industry, Braun had been to horse shows around the country and the world and knew the need he wanted his shows to meet. But building a new event from scratch is no small feat, and today Braun says that working with USEF on the licensing process for that first show in 2015 was instrumental in creating a strong foundation for the Tour, which is now 14 shows strong across the country and includes jumper and hunter classes.

A competitor at the Split Rock Jumping Tour

“USEF’s assistance in helping me build my tour over time really has allowed me to have a business in this space,” said Braun. “Without their guidance, I don’t think I would have honed in on the extreme detail that I have and the uniqueness of my tour. For me, having the vision to start and growing it over time and seeing it be successful is a direct result of USEF’s assistance along the way. When I look back over eight years now, I understand that USEF’s approving certain things and not other things has been really strategic, and I’m grateful for it because my business wouldn’t be where it is today if I didn’t go down that path.”

Starting the Process

Katlynn Wilbers is the Senior Director of Competition Licensing, Evaluation & Safety at USEF. She says that competition organizers can begin the process of securing a license once they’ve confirmed a facility and dates. Once they have the venue booked, the next step is to gather the resources available on USEF.org.

“Competition organizers should visit the Competition Management Resource page on the USEF site,” said Wilbers. “This page links to the forms and resources available for each stage of the licensing process, including resources for compiling the competition prize list, results, and guidance for officials which are useful once the competition has been licensed.”

The Resource page also includes a Competition Manager Training portal with free lessons on important topics including accident preparedness, biosecurity, horse welfare, and responsibilities of officials and volunteers.

The USEF rulebook is an essential resource as well, with all facets of competition licensing covered in Chapter 3 of the General Rules. By becoming familiar with GR302: License Application Policies and Procedures, competition organizers can avoid some common problems that might lead to a license application being denied on the first attempt. Prospective organizers should know that they’re not on their own if they need help in the process.

“The Competition Licensing Department will assist any organizer with questions in regards to the application and will reach out to organizers if they receive an application with missing information,” said Wilbers.

For Braun, that direct communication with USEF staff was a huge benefit when he was working on launching his first licensed show.

“The process was pretty unique for me because I was coming up with a concept that had never really been done before,” said Braun. “The correspondence with USEF on what my plan was, how we were going to execute it, and my goals for the level of quality behind it was really crucial in helping me build the format that I have today.”

Braun had run one-day schooling shows at his farm prior to launching the Split Rock Jumping Tour and used that experience to help him design the show that he knew competitors wanted. But creating a brand new, top-tier jumper show that would attract world-class athletes was a new experience for Braun and his team.

“The process was a little bit of a long one because we didn’t really know what we were doing,” said Braun. “That’s where USEF’s expertise came in, and the whole licensing process funneled us into our niche and on to the right path.”

For an established horse show, maintaining the license is generally a straightforward process, according to Allen Bosworth, President of the Board of Directors of the J.D. Massey Classic in South Carolina. J.D. Massey hosts classes for American Saddlebreds, Hackneys, Friesians, saddle seat equitation, and roadsters, and has an 80-year history.

“It’s very easy,” Bosworth said of the USEF licensing process. “You fill out the paperwork. It’s not hard to do. The decision to [be USEF-licensed] from the board level was, for us, very simple. At the end of the day, we want our competitors to feel as though they are at a legitimate show, that the playing field is as even as it can get, that there are standards and rules to go by, and that the officials are licensed and accredited. There’s never been a question that we would be a USEF show.”

Bosworth advises competition organizers to use USEF as a resource when developing their show and seeking a license.

“I think you should know why you’re doing it,” said Bosworth. “What do you hope to accomplish? Calling the USEF, establishing why you’re doing it, and finding out what the USEF can provide is a good idea. You shouldn’t just blindly do it; you should have a mission in place and a purpose.”

What Are the Benefits of a USEF-Licensed Competition?

From Bosworth’s perspective, there are benefits of USEF affiliation for a horse show, its participants, and equestrian sport as a whole.

“Being affiliated with USEF gives a legitimacy,” he said. “You are governed by a national accrediting body that has standards. I think that is very important to any breed or discipline, and the reason why is there’s a set of rules. The officials are accredited, so as much as possible you’re going to find a place where there are rules, and they’re applied fairly across the board. There’s an adjudication process for disputes.”

The established rulebook and judging standards provide some security for show officials and competitors alike as a guide for everything that goes into an equestrian competition, from judging standards and warm-up ring practices to facility amenities and handling grievances.

“It’s really important from a show standpoint that it gives protection to the show management, to the show board of directors, and to the show exhibitors,” said Bosworth. “And it gives protection to the equine athletes.”

USEF maintains horse welfare standards, drugs and medications rules, and penalty guidelines for violations. These standards help protect horses from mistreatment and provide a structure and support for officials and organizers to take action when needed. The SafeSport Code and Minor Athlete Abuse and Prevention Policies (MAAPP) provide training for all USEF members to prevent, recognize, and report athlete abuse, helping to ensure a safe environment around equestrian sport.

“I think affiliation with USEF is really mandatory for our sport, no matter whether you’re doing hunter, jumper, or equitation,” said Braun. “I think that following the system, having results recorded properly, and having the security of being within the system is crucial for the overall well-being of the sport.

“For managers, just like for competitors, USEF affiliation provides all the structures that are needed around sport in general,” Braun continued. “Providing the established rule book, SafeSport guidelines, and established affiliation provides security. There’s no question of what is and what isn’t, and for me, that’s a no-brainer for trying to grow our sport. I think there are always ways to work within the system, if we’re patient enough, to all get what we need out of it.”

In addition to working to maintain a fair playing field and the structures for legitimate sport, Wilbers adds that USEF aims to support competition organizers with tangible resources to run a successful event.

“Licensed competitions have access to a variety of resources including prize list templates, results templates, accident preparedness guidelines, as well as competition manager perks,” said Wilbers. “Licensed competitions also have access to the Federation’s complaint and dispute process to report and resolve allegations of rule violations.”

For competitors, USEF affiliation means exhibitors can know what to expect and have an established pathway for recourse if something goes wrong.

“USEF-licensed competitions must abide by the USEF Rulebook, including competition standards, requirements for accepting and refusing entries, requirements for paying out prize money, and more,” said Wilbers. “This helps to create a consistent experience across USEF-licensed competitions. Participants and officials have access to the Federation’s complaint and dispute process to report and resolve allegations of rule violations. USEF rules and regulations, including the drugs and medications rules and SafeSport 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.”