A Youth’s Perspective on the 2019 Adequan®/USDF Annual Convention

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Sophia Chavonelle

By Sophia Chavonelle

2019 was my fourth time attending the Adequan®/USDF Annual Convention, this time in beautiful and historic Savannah, Georgia. My dad and I flew down from Maine on Wednesday evening, settling into our hotel located across the river from the Convention Center. With the options of taking our rental car or a short ferry ride, our commutes to and from the Convention were always accompanied with dramatic sunrises and sunsets over the Georgia plains.

The Convention began with Regional meetings, where representatives gathered to discuss relevant issues. For one, the 2020-2022 North American Youth Championships will be held in Traverse City, Michigan. This will be a big change for Region 8, after hosting the Championships since 2017. The cost of transportation alone may deter riders from even submitting a Declaration of Intent. Conversely, we are excited at the prospect of Jr/YR divisions being represented at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® in 2021 and await a formal announcement. At the 2019 Finals, we were proud of our Region for placing highly in many divisions, earning a Champion or Reserve placing in every championship class on day one! Toward the end of our meeting, we were visited by Kevin Reinig from Region 7, who spoke to us about why he wanted to become our new Vice President. Afterward, our region members split up in order to attend committee meetings; this allowed us to share what we learned the next day. As a Youth Convention Scholarship recipient, I attended every Youth Programs and Jr/YR committee.

Each person at the Convention wears many hats. This year, I not only attended as a scholarship recipient, but also as a Region 8 delegate, State of Maine Dressage Association proxy, and Youth Programs Advisory Subcommittee member. So, I mostly kept to seminars related to Region 8 and youth riders. Mixed in between committee meetings are many education sessions; one of the best parts of the Convention for me. Two of my favorites included the Instructor/Trainer Program Education Session (where George Williams, Sarah Geikie, and Marilyn Heath discussed the perspectives of rider, coach, and judge, respectively), and the Featured Education “The Connection Between the Horse’s Body and Mind” with Kathy Connelly and Charlotte Bredahl. Many more were listed, and the ones I attended were entertaining and provided new information. Bringing together the most influential people in our sport over one weekend is just one way in which the Adequan®/USDF Convention is unique.

The Board of Governors General Assembly, dubbed the “BOG” (beginning at 1:30 “sharp!”), was admittedly less entertaining but equally as important to attend.  USDF Secretary Margaret Freeman began the delegate roll call, checking a list of “checked in” delegates and making those unaccounted for to execute the dreadful “walk of shame” to the computer at the back of the hall. Luckily, my comrades and I had successfully avoided this and were told, “Region 8, you are perfect.” What a way to start the BOG! The agenda and minutes were approved with the bang of a mallet and the meeting commenced. The president, executive director, treasurer, and representative from the audit committee gave reports congratulating USDF’s accomplishments of the year and outlined the goals for 2020, an Olympic year.

One of the reasons why I keep attending the Convention is to hear the initial rumors of change in our sport. An exciting new development for Jr/YRs is the prospect of splitting this age group. Currently including all ages through 21, a proposal was made to create “15 & under” and “16-21” categories. This would level the playing field for those competing at the national level, per the discretion of show management, as they already do between the existing divisions of Jr/YR, AA, and Open.

Another big point of discussion involved changing the current “Education Membership” name to “Non-competing Membership.” This option allows access to the USDF Connection magazine and other education materials at a reduced rate. According to the committee report, “USDF recently surveyed expired Participating Members, requesting feedback regarding their reason for lapsed membership. Responses echoed the results of previous surveys, [which indicated that they] did not renew because they were not competing in USDF-recognized competitions.” USDF aimed to appeal to these lapsed members. In changing the name, “the educational aspect of the membership will remain, allowing members to access online educational materials and receive discounts at USDF events.” After much deliberation on the name “non-competing,” it was decided to have a negative connotation, and the proposal has gone back to the USDF Executive Board and USDF office for work.

One moment that stood out for me was during US Equestrian’s High Performance Report, given by Will Connell, USEF Director of Sport. Will, who is based in Great Britain, talked a bit about how the 2012 Olympics affected equestrian sports in the UK. Membership rose 41%! He finished by pointing out that there are only 3,145 days until the Los Angeles Olympics. This is an enormous opportunity for US equestrians and we all need to work to make the most of it.

I snuck away during the BOG to visit the Youth Activities Meeting to talk about my experience on The Dressage Foundation’s Young Rider International Dream Program tour to Aachen, Germany this past summer. From the application process, to meeting our chaperones at the airport, to finding our seats in the stadium, I tried to explain the process and fully convey what an organized, well-run trip it was. The Dressage Foundation is an instrumental part of our community; in 2019, $250,000 in grants and scholarships were awarded to riders, owners, officials, and more. I hope that I was able to convince a young rider to apply for this program next year as it truly was a life-changing experience that should be a goal for any young rider!

Returning to the BOG, regional GMO baskets were awarded to those in attendance. The GMOs make these baskets to best represent their region (Region 8’s usually has a nautical theme and something from L.L. Bean). These baskets are a fun snapshot of the diversity in the dressage community! Later, I was honored to accept the USDF GMO Newsletter Award for a General Interest/Informational Article in a GMO with 500 or more members with my two-part Tip of the Hat article on the Charlotte Dujardin Fall Symposium.

That night, we all gathered for the Salute Gala and Annual Awards Banquet, which is always a great way to end the week. We were happy to congratulate Fern Feldman on her USDF Lifetime Achievement Award. Fern was recognized for her “unselfish, dedicated efforts that represent the many ways in which USDF has been served, supported, and influenced into becoming what it is today…Through her lengthy history of service and dedication to USDF, evidenced by her tenure as USDF Region 8 Director and participation on numerous USDF committees throughout the years, and her continued service as a board member of The Dressage Foundation and Vice President of Dressage4Kids, Fern exemplifies a lifetime of dedication to both USDF and the sport, making her so deserving of this recognition.”

In her nomination of Fern, Lendon Gray stated, ‘Fern works tirelessly to promote the sport of dressage for youth and adults because she believes the pursuit of excellence in dressage carries over to lifelong habits of excellence, education, and personal fulfillment. She is always filled with innovative ideas and solutions. She has contributed so much while serving as an inspiration to others.’”

It was a great weekend! Thank you USDF for offering this grant; I could not play this part in the dressage community without it!

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