|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!