Bringing Joy, Embracing Change

Photo credit is Taylor Pence/US Equestrian

US Equestrian’s 2018 Annual Meeting spotlighted progress on the ambitious strategic plan. Bottom line: it’s working!

By Glenye Cain Oakford

The United States Equestrian Federation’s 2018 Annual Meeting, which took place in Lexington, Ky., Jan. 17-20, showcased how recent changes in approach are making equestrian sports’ future brighter.

Themed “Bringing Joy, Embracing Change,” this year’s convention honored champions, delivered updates on key strategies and initiatives, hosted a number of popular educational forums, and welcomed lively open discussion.


Photo credit is Taylor Pence/US Equestrian

US Equestrian President Murray Kessler’s upbeat progress report on the organization’s strategic plan was the Annual Meeting’s centerpiece. A year after launching the strategic plan—including the USEF’s consumer-facing rebranding as US Equestrian—Kessler showed how US Equestrian is rising to the challenges of its vision statement: “to bring the joy of horse sports to as many people as possible.”


“We want to be accountable for the things we say we’re going to do,” Kessler said. “At the end of the day, we have a 28% increase in membership, a $5 million revenue increase, and a whole lot more benefits and programs, and we’re having one of the winningest years that we have ever had internationally, with success across the disciplines and all levels.”

To watch the entire General Session, including Kessler’s presentation and those by senior staff across US Equestrian’s departments, visit USEF Network. To get there, visit the home page, click the Network & News tab, and scroll down for the 2018 US Equestrian Annual Meeting tile.

Among the General Session highlights:

  • Membership has grown 28% to 105,000 members, including 27,000 at the new fan level
  • Revenues are projected to rise $4.7 million in 2018, which allows for greater reinvestment in sport
  • Competition Lite, a program to increase access with a pathway to USEF competition, already has signed up shows for Saddlebreds, Paso Finos, Western dressage, Connemara, Welsh Pony, and Hackney Roadster, with Morgans also in the works
  • A new Grassroots Advisory Panel is addressing the decline in B, C, and local shows
  • The new, searchable Rulebook app makes accessing rules faster and easier
  • More investment in para-equestrian and a growing rider pool in para-dressage
  • The new Learning Center launched more than 50 videos, with more to come
  • Complete redesign of US Equestrian magazine, to be mailed to all members in 2018
  • The Joy Tour visited 19 major events, with more planned in 2018
  • USEF Network offered 54 livestreams, 26 new events, and 5,400 hours of on-demand video
  • Social media drew 637,000 fans, 15 million video views, and 161 million impressions
  • New, tougher penalty guidelines and Drugs & Medications program and rules amendments show a stronger stance for a level playing field

“You gave us a $750,000 investment last year to get started,” said Kessler. “That means by the end of 2018 we will have delivered a 500% return, but we’ll have that benefit every year going forward because we’ll be at a new level. That’s huge.”

“[Although] I wish more could be spent on membership services and to support national breeds and disciplines affiliates, his [Kessler’s] enthusiasm about USEF and its potential is inspiring,” said Western Dressage Association of America (WDAA) President Cindy Butler. “We will have input into Competition Lite for Western Dressage and also be able to set the qualifications for judges eligible to officiate at these competitions. We want to get the mechanics on how to get free USEF fan memberships for WDAA members. We were excited to learn about that.”

A Collaborative Affiliate Roundtable

The annual Affiliate Roundtable brought US Equestrian’s 29 diverse breed and discipline affiliates together for the annual Affiliate Roundtable. Based on feedback from the affiliate organizations, the collaborative meeting promoted idea-sharing on a number of issues. The Roundtable agenda was based on feedback from the affiliates, who submitted topics of interest they’d like to discuss. The meeting covered such subjects as

  • opportunities for collaboration, growing membership, and sponsorship
  • ways to improve communications between US Equestrian and affiliate organizations
  • support for licensed officials
  • USEF affiliate membership benefits

“Everybody in leadership at USEF is focused on growing equestrian sports and bringing the joy of horse sports to as many people as possible through every breed and discipline, and we know we can’t do that without great affiliate relations,” USEF President Murray Kessler said in opening the meeting. “This is a major priority for us.

“We view ourselves as the governance experts and you as the discipline and breed experts, and it doesn’t work unless we all do it together,” he added.

Affiliate representatives’ desire to see more breeds and disciplines in consumer-facing US Equestrian imagery prompted an idea to form a collaborative library of affiliate-approved, rights-free photos and video that USEF can use to promote those breeds and disciplines. This year’s FEI World Equestrian Games™ at Tryon International Equestrian Center also presents promotional possibilities for a variety of breeds and disciplines, and USEF senior staff reported that the federation is working with WEG organizers on those affiliate opportunities. Moroney suggested that the group consider a “marketing retreat” to collaborate on other marketing-related strategies.

Other topics included membership growth, sponsorship, and improving communications between US Equestrian and affiliate organizations. The roundtable group agreed to reconvene once or twice by conference call in 2018 to follow up on discussions and continue sharing ideas, both among themselves and between affiliates and the USEF.

More Chances to Learn

The 2018 Annual Meeting’s educational opportunities included a new series of moderated forums on such topics as crisis communications with communications professional Sarah Hamilton, the SafeSport initiative with Malia Arrington of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, and a detailed discussion of a proposed Coach Register by US Equestrian’s Director of Sports Programs, Will Connell. Mark Bellissimo, the guiding force behind the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018, also updated attendees on that event and the accompanying World Equine Expo.

And there was a new feature that was open to all: the Competition & Member Summit, which had a theme of “Facing Challenges Together” and covered competition calendar management, the cost of participating in equestrian sport and competition, show standards, and prize money and bonus money.

Watch Annual Meeting highlights—including Kessler’s presentation and specific departmental updates from US Equestrian’s senior staff at the General Session, as well as the Pegasus Awards dinner and videos about 2017 Equestrian of the Year McLain Ward and William Steinkraus Lifetime Achievement Award winner Joseph Dotoli—on USEF Network.

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