Confusion around sanctioning of shows reignited at world class show centre

  • In a U-turn decision, the World Equestrian Center (WEC) in Florida, USA, will not hold hunter/jumper competitions governed by US Equestrian (USEF), leaving the topic of unsanctioned shows up in the air again.

    In November 2020 H&H reported on a dispute between WEC and USEF around WEC’s decision to host competitions sanctioned by the National Snaffle Bit Association during the 12-week Ocala Winter Spectacular (6 January to 28 March) at the same time as national federation-sanctioned competitions at the venue. USEF withdrew the centre’s hunter/jumper competition licences and stated WEC combining the competitions was “confusing” and “jeopardised” horse and human safety and welfare.

    At the time USEF notified the FEI that these events were unauthorised, meaning the FEI could decide whether it would apply the unsanctioned event rule. The rule states that any FEI official, registered athlete or horse who participates in an unsanctioned event faces up to six months of ineligibility to participate in FEI competitions and so also national competitions.

    In January 2021 an agreement was reached between WEC and USEF and the organisations said they would “work together in the best interest of the sport”, in order for the centre to host sanctioned competitions. In a joint statement, WEC and USEF said they were “formulating a plan” to consider how to operate under the rules that govern all USEF organisers. USEF withdrew its request to the FEI to declare the 2021 Ocala Winter Spectacular unsanctioned.

    Three months on, the centre has done a U-turn, and in a statement on 23 April said “all 2021 competitions” at its venues in Wilmington, Ohio, and Ocala will be sanctioned by the National Snaffle Bit Association from 3 May.

    “As a competition organiser we have experienced incredible support from the NSBA and their executives. For our exhibitors, in addition to being an affordable choice, the NSBA offers many benefits including transparency, safe and clean sport and amazing opportunities for junior, amateur and professional riders,” read the statement.

    “This decision is based on the success of our 2021 Ocala Winter Spectacular and discussions with our exhibitor base. The move to consolidate our competition sanctioning to one organisation that we have developed a strong relationship with makes sense for us and for our exhibitors who have grown to know and trust the NSBA.”

    The statement added that the management plans to expand the number of shows in the calendar, which will allow competitors to accrue more points to qualify for “exciting national championship opportunities” coming soon.

    “We look forward to an exciting year of horse showing and as things move toward the new normal, welcoming all of the equestrians in our WEC family home to our Ohio and Ocala facilities,” it said.

    While the statement said “all competitions”, H&H clarified with WEC that the announcement was in relation to hunter/jumper shows.

    “WEC dressage shows will continue to be sanctioned by the USEF and FEI,” the WEC spokesman told H&H.

    A USEF spokesman told H&H all USEF hunter/jumper and FEI showjumping competitions at the venue from 5 May to 31 December have been withdrawn from the calendar.

    “USEF was disappointed to learn from the official statement published 23 April on the WEC website that WEC management decided that beginning 3 May, all 2021 competitions at their Wilmington, OH and Ocala, FL venues will be sanctioned by the NSBA,” said the spokesman.

    “We understand this surprising decision also disappoints USEF members who made plans to participate in the announced and promoted USEF competitions this spring/summer/ fall, but now must adjust plans.”

    The spokesman added that the dates removed from the calendar will now become available to other organisers.

    Continued below…

    “USEF has acted in good faith, in accordance with our mutual agreement with WEC, and consistent with USEF rules for all organisers,” he said.

    The FEI told H&H it had not received “official confirmation or formal notice” that WEC will run events solely sanctioned by the National Snaffle Bit Association. H&H asked the FEI if the unsanctioned event rule will apply to individuals competing in hunter/jumper events sanctioned by NSBA but the FEI did not answer this question.

    The USEF spokesman told H&H the sanctioned rule is an FEI rule, and USEF has not had an opportunity to discuss WEC‘s decision with the FEI.

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