Live from Omaha!

Live from Omaha!
On the scene at the 2017 FEI World Cup Dressage Final

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Leaving Las Vegas

Homeward bound. Photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau. 

I’m writing this on the plane from Las Vegas, site of the 2015 Adequan/USDF Annual Convention. Personally I’d be OK with never having to set foot in a casino again ­­— if there’s a more pathetic sight than a handful of all-nighter gamblers on the casino floor at 6:00 a.m., clutching their beers at the blackjack tables while Christmas music warbles in the background, I don’t know what it is — but the USDF members I talked to made the most of the less seedy aspects of Sin City, like the shows, the excellent food, and a classy wine-tasting venue at our host hotel. (But if anybody indulged in a Chippendales show, they haven’t admitted it to me yet.)

No beefcake for me in Vegas: I, like many other convention-goers, was so tightly scheduled that extracurricular entertainment was out of the question. And a number of Executive Board members and other committee VIPs had it worse than I, with meetings beginning at 7:00 a.m. and going nearly nonstop until 10:00 p.m. If I heard any complaints about this year’s convention, they revolved around the jam-packed meeting schedule. Some years ago the USDF cut a day out of the convention in an attempt to ease committee members’ travel burdens, but this year a few people were saying that maybe it’s time to consider adding that day back again.

The meetings, although a whirlwind, are always worthwhile. As a committee member (Historical Recognition), it’s wonderful to welcome USDF members, with their varied perspectives and backgrounds, to the open meetings. You’d be surprised at how many actionable ideas — not to mention story ideas for USDF Connection — bubble up from these informal exchanges. The cross-pollination of ideas can be especially valuable. In the open Membership Committee meeting, for example, I listened to several thoughtful comments regarding the challenges facing USDF group-member organizations (GMOs), which I then took to USDF Connection’s group of editorial advisors so that we could brainstorm ways to bring additional GMO-focused content to USDF’s member magazine.
Allyn Mann of Luitpold lectures on equine joint health. Photo by Jennifer Bryant. 
And the education! It’s always a treat. This year, the USDF was fortunate to have chosen the same convention city as the AmericanAssociation of Equine Practitioners, the US professional association of horse vets. Our top veterinarians attend the AAEP convention, and several of them spoke at the USDF convention, on topics ranging from equine back lameness to the role of good old-fashioned horsemanship in keeping our horses happy and healthy. Some of the speakers are, or have been, US Equestrian Team or FEI veterinarians and are world-renowned experts. These are the kinds of vets whom you’d pay dearly for a consultation — and here they were in front of us in a meeting room, lecturing and answering questions. Priceless. I took notes as fast as my fingers could type, and I’ll be bringing you reports on selected sessions in future issues of USDF Connection.
USDF president George Williams presents Melissa Creswick of the California Dressage Society with the 2015 Region 7 GMO Volunteer of the Year award. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Convention concludes with a celebration of the year’s dressage accomplishments at the Salute Gala & Annual Awards Banquet. Outstanding volunteers are honored, and we learned about the many contributions of USDF Volunteer of the Year Roz Kinstler and USDF Youth Volunteer of the Year Rebekah Mingari, both of whom you’ll be meeting in USDF Connection soon. We celebrated our gold-medal-winning US 2015 Pan American Games dressage squad, and we clapped, cheered, and whipped out our smartphones to record friends and loved ones’ moment on stage as they accepted rider medals, year-end awards, and All-Breeds awards.

This year’s banquet did have one sad note, however, because 2015 USDF Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Lloyd Landkamer was not with us to accept his award. Lloyd, a former USDF Region 4 director and an internationally known show manager and dressage steward (I’m just scratching the surface of his many roles, contributions, and accomplishments here), lost his battle with cancer in September. It was obvious, based on the number of people at the banquet who wept openly before and during the Lifetime Achievement Award presentation, that Lloyd was far more than a colleague to many in the dressage world. The dressage world is a small world, and many in the dressage world and the USDF community considered Lloyd a treasured friend or even family. We have lost a family member and feel that loss keenly. But it is those bonds, and our shared love of the horse and our sport, that will help to keep the USDF and American dressage strong. If you couldn’t make it to Las Vegas this year, I encourage you to come to the 2016 convention in St. Louis. You won’t regret it.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Door Remains Open for a Western US Dressage Finals

The USDF Board of Governors has spoken: The US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan will remain at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington for the moment, but Kentucky is not necessarily the Finals' permanent home.

This morning, during the second and final day of the Board of Governors assembly, the BOG voted 992-459 to approve amending yesterday's US Dressage Finals motion as follows:

The US Dressage Finals will be held in Kentucky "until such time that the western USDF regions -- 5, 6, 7, and 9 -- can come forth with a proposed venue site and dates that the four regions agree are appropriate to host the national finals.”  

The BOG also approved a motion that USDF shall establish a travel fund to aid competitors traveling to the Finals from long distances. Details will be worked out by the USDF Executive Board.

According to the BOG, West Is Not Best for US Dressage Finals

The 2015 USDF Board of Governors. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

In 2011, when the USDF Board of Governors (BOG) voted to approve the creation of a new national dressage championships called the US Dressage Finals, they green-lighted a motion that "proposed" -- not mandated -- the rotation of the championships location from East to West every three years.

The 2013, 2014, and 2015 editions of the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan were held in Lexington, Kentucky, at the Kentucky Horse Park. The USDF decided to commit to Kentucky for the 2016 show, as well...but then what?

A site-selection committee headed by USDF president George Williams and US Dressage Finals organizer (and former USDF secretary) Janine Malone did research and identified the HITS Desert Horse Park facility in Thermal, California, as a likely location for the 2017 Finals. But then a funny thing happened: Some people started wondering whether the Finals shouldn't remain in Kentucky, after all.

According to Malone, it's not unheard of for a BOG to vote to overturn a decision approved by a previous BOG. Thus it came to be, on the first of two days of the 2015 BOG assembly, that group-member and participating-member delegates engaged in a good hour of impassioned debate as to whether the Finals should be given a permanent home at the Kentucky Horse Park or whether it was better to honor the wishes of the 2011 BOG and attempt to allocate the Finals locations in something of an equitably divided manner between the two halves of our enormous nation. Then it was time for the BOG to vote on the motion, which was to commit to a Western Finals in 2017.
US Dressage Finals officials Janine Malone and George Williams address the Board of Governors. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

I've sat through enough debates at enough BOG assemblies that I can usually tell which way the winds of popular opinion are blowing; when the vote comes, it's not too much of a surprise. But honestly, today I couldn't get a sense of which way the vote was going to go. As a colleague remarked to me after the discussion period had been ended and the voting had begun, all of the delegates who waited patiently at the microphones for their turn to speak made thoughtful, persuasive arguments. There wasn't as much "I want the Finals in my back yard because I don't want to travel" as you might imagine, and there were even a few surprise endorsements of Kentucky as a permanent Finals site by West Coast-area delegates. Some people pointed to the success of such institutions as the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and the iconic show in Aachen, Germany, which are always held in the same location. California Dressage Society president Kevin Reinig made several trips to the microphone, declaring that "We will do whatever it takes to make the Finals a great show." Riders from the western half of the US lobbied for the opportunity to show at a championships a more reasonable distance from home.

I was in for another surprise when George Williams announced the results of the electronic voting. Assuming a close race, I didn't expect the motion to be defeated soundly, with 855 delegates voting no and 569 voting yes, with 12 abstaining.

But it ain't over 'til it's over, and there is much still to be decided. Janine Malone said that some facilities won't commit to less than a three-year contract. It looks as if the US Dressage Finals will remain in Kentucky through 2017, but what is to happen in 2018 and 2019? That question may be decided tomorrow morning when the BOG reconvenes. Before they adjourned today, delegates agreed to resume discussion tomorrow. Tomorrow they may determine the future of the US Dressage Finals.

One thing emerged clearly from the discussions, however: The Finals, which were so long in the making and doubted by so many, have exceeded expectations and have quickly become a prestigious flagship event for the USDF. This show has been embraced and continues to earn accolades from competitors, officials, and spectators alike. The US Dressage Finals are a point of pride, and no one wants to see them lose their luster or become diminished in any way. What a difference five years has made!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Rio Grande

Our convention host hotel: The Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino. Photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau. 
Everything's supposed to be bigger and better in Texas, but perhaps they haven't compared the Lone Star State to Las Vegas.

Here, everything seems outsized. The portions. The rooms. The sheer number of eateries, casino attractions, lit-up twinkly signs, and crowds of determined-looking gamblers.

Have I mentioned the hike from the main hotel portion of the building to the convention-center area?

Folks, if you're coming to convention, pack your comfortable shoes. It can be upward of a 15-minute walk from your hotel room to a meeting room. The cavernous hallway that winds past the breakfast restaurant, and the Starbucks, and the spa, and the Penn & Teller theater, and a bunch of other meeting rooms before you arrive at the promised land of friendly USDF faces and enticing sponsor displays goes on...and on. So don't say I didn't warn you!

On the bright side, if you don't have time to squeeze in a workout, you'll get some measure of your daily aerobic requirements just going to and fro. If you do that 10,000-steps fitness-counting thing, these next few days are going to be a piece of cake. And speaking of cake, if you eat any, you'll walk it off.
Fitness expert Jennifer Kotylo (front) leads USDF members in an early-morning Pilates class. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

But just in case you want more than walking, you can get up early every day and meet equestrian-fitness expert and Pilates and Balimo instructor Jennifer Kotylo (whom you may recall having met in "Loosen Up!", our article on dealing with tight hips, in the November issue of USDF Connection) for a fitness session. This morning about 20 intrepid USDF members got a 45-minute introduction to Pilates and its core concepts -- literally, since Pilates is all about core strength and stability. (It's changed my riding. I highly recommend it.) Tomorrow Jennifer's going to teach us about Balimo exercises as developed by biomechanics expert Eckart Meyners, and Saturday's going to be devoted to "a whole bunch of other stuff" from Jennifer's bag of tension-easing, balance-promoting, rider-enhancing tricks.

Each of USDF's nine regions had the first of two meetings this morning. I'm from Region 1, and the hot topic in my meeting was the US Dressage Finals -- specifically, the issue of whether to execute the original approved plan of initiating the Finals in the eastern part of the US (the first four years, 2013-2016, will have been held at the Kentucky Horse Park) and then moving west in 2017, most likely to the HITS Thermal grounds in California, according to Finals organizer Janine Malone. There are strong feelings on all sides of the location issue, and I'm betting it'll be the flash point of this year's USDF Board of Governors assembly, which begins tomorrow.

What else has gone down thus far? Several committee meetings and the annual United States Equestrian Federation rule-change forum, at which members of the USEF Dressage Committee explain proposed USEF rule changes that could affect dressage and solicit input in advance of January's USEF convention. One proposed rule change, which would disallow double bridles at Third Level in USEF/USDF dressage competition, was not met with enthusiasm. A straw poll of forum attendees showed strong support for the current rule, which gives riders the option of using either the double or the snaffle bridle at Third Level.

The other rule-change forum hot button involved two proposals pertaining to the current rule regarding the use of logos on saddle pads. Although members of the USEF Dressage Committee expressed strong support for rules that help enforce the distinction between amateur and open (professional) riders, the audience favored a rule-change proposal that would allow all dressage competitors to display a modestly sized logo on saddle cloths. I can't predict how this one will wind up, so we'll have to wait to see what comes out of the USEF convention.

OK, speaking of meetings, I have another one in 15 minutes, so I'd better wrap up this post. Tonight: welcome reception. Watch the blog and the USDF Facebook page for photos!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Hashtag a Go Go

There's a restaurant at the USDF convention host hotel-slash-casino called -- I am not making this up -- Hash House a Go Go. Apparently I have too much social media on the brain because I first read the name as "Hashtag a Go Go."

Hashtags, aka pound signs, are the symbols that preface highlighted and shared words and terms on social media -- and the terms themselves are now called hashtags too. They got their start on the microblogging site Twitter, but nowadays they show up on Facebook posts and all manner of other social-media apps.

Because nothing says "wish you were here" like social-media posts, the USDF is encouraging everybody who attends the 2015 Adequan/USDF Annual Convention to post liberally, and with a liberal sprinkling of hashtags.

Use #USDFConv as the general all-purpose hashtag for convention-related posts. We'd also love it if you'd give a social-media shout-out to the generous convention sponsors: #Adequan, #Standlee, #CDS (the California Dressage Society), #DressageExtensions, #Saddlefit4Life, #DressageClinic, #ClinicintheCloud, #TDF (The Dressage Foundation), and #EquuscomWiWi. And we can't forget our wonderful championship sponsors #GreatAmerican, #SmartPak, and #Merial.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What Happens in Vegas...

...will appear in this space! Tomorrow I'll be winging my way to Sin City for the 2015 Adequan/USDF Annual Convention. Follow my blog for photos, news, governance decisions, awards, and fun stuff from Las Vegas.
Photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau

This year's convention should be particularly chock-full of great education because the United States Dressage Federation is taking full advantage of the fact that its convention in Vegas coincides with that of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. A virtual Who's Who of top equine veterinarians will be speaking to USDF convention attendees about the latest in horse-health science. I personally love learning about horse-health topics, so I'm going to feel like a kid in a candy store. Except that I plan to share as much candy with you as possible -- nuggets in blog posts, and more detailed reports in future issues of the USDF member magazine, USDF Connection.

But of course that's just scratching the surface of what happens during a USDF convention. There are committee meetings, a United States Equestrian Federation open forum during which USDF members can learn about and voice opinions on proposed USEF rule changes concerning dressage, a fabulous silent auction benefiting USDF youth programs, and of course a plethora of awards and honors. Join me for all the fun, and I hope to see you in Las Vegas!