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Manipulating Performance in the Competition Arena and its Effect on Sportsmanship

by US Equestrian Communications Department | Aug 16, 2022, 4:00 PM

Lexington, KY – US Equestrian is committed to providing a fair and level competition experience and actively promotes integrity and sportsmanship in the competition environment. USEF is aware that instances occasionally occur where exhibitors in a class intentionally do not perform the required gaits or movements or purposefully make a mistake (i.e., pick up the wrong lead, break gait, etc.) to ensure they are not placed high on a judge’s card. US Equestrian has received reports of such behavior before, but recently, those reports have increased in frequency.

The reasons these activities occur are varied. Sometimes, a section or class hasn’t filled, so an exhibitor is entered but intentionally underperforms to ensure the minimum entry requirement is met and the other entrants place ahead of them. In other instances, riders are instructed to underperform to allow another competitor in the class to be placed higher on the judge’s card and accrue a placing or points they are seeking. Regardless of the reasoning, USEF does not condone these activities and cautions members to refrain from engaging in any activity that deliberately affects the outcome of a competitive effort through willful underperformance.


The Damage to Sportsmanship and Fair Sport

Intentionally losing a class and not providing your best effort while competing are actions against the basic tenets of sportsmanship and fair competition. At USEF competitions, all participants, athletes, and their support personnel are bound by the USEF Code of Conduct, which specifically prohibits behavior or actions that are detrimental to the image and reputation of the sport of equestrian. Additionally, the Code explicitly mandates that all constituents “model fair play, respect, and the highest levels of sportsmanship.”


The Dangers of Competition Manipulation

Deliberately underperforming in a horse show class is also considered competition manipulation, which is strictly prohibited under USEF’s recently adopted Prevention of Manipulation of Competition Policy. Competition manipulation occurs anytime an athlete intentionally underperforms or loses on purpose. Even when money or another form of tangible benefit is not at stake, some form of advantage is always sought. Some may argue that manipulating an outcome by underperforming can be considered a virtuous effort in situations where a rider is instructed to “help” a barn colleague by intentionally losing a medal class so his or her barn mate can take home the top ribbon and qualification points. However, intentionally losing a class and not providing your best effort in competition is unsportsmanlike; it is disrespectful of your fellow competitors and the officials as well as supporters and fans of equestrian sport. When a competition is manipulated, there is nothing left to win for anyone; it renders sport meaningless and demoralizes those athletes who are competing with integrity and sportsmanship.


What are the Consequences of Competition Manipulation?

USEF competitors, as well as their support personnel, must refrain from engaging in any of these competition manipulation activities. By consciously and willingly underperforming in a class to affect the results or by instructing a competitor to do the same, you are engaging in activities that fall under the definition of competition manipulation. Those activities are considered a violation pursuant to General Rule 702.1.d in the USEF Rule Book. These activities are clear violations of both the USEF Code of Conduct as well as the Prevention of Manipulation of Competition Policy and may be subject to action, which could result in an official warning, censure, fine, suspension, or other penalties set forth in General Rule 703.


What if I Witness Someone Intentionally Manipulating the Outcome of a Class?

USEF’s Code of Conduct also states that those bound by the Code are also responsible for reporting Code violations. Licensed officials, especially, are obligated to report willful underperformance by a competitor or other tactics designed to “throw” a class so USEF can investigate the matter.


USEF acknowledges that willful underperformance can be difficult to definitively identify and is rare; most exhibitors invest their best effort when competing. However, if you witness an obvious, willful, and intentional manipulation of competition (i.e., blatant disregard for class conduct and specifications by never attempting to perform the required gaits or overtly failing to follow a judge’s instructions), you should report the incident to USEF by emailing [email protected].


By taking responsibility for one’s actions, fulfilling their duty to report misconduct, always providing their best effort while competing, and practicing good sportsmanship, USEF members can collectively protect the integrity of equestrian sport and ensure a fair, equitable, and enjoyable competitive experience for all.