By Chelsey Burris
Last week, USDF hosted its first ever VIRTUAL convention. It was a great week of education sessions, awards presentations, USDF governance in action, and so much more! Here are a few of the trending topics from the sessions.
The Effects of the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic was weighing on everyone’s minds. It has created so much uncertainty; when will showing return to normal, what events will be available next year, and how does my Group Member Organization (GMO) boost membership during these financial strains? The convention was a great place for members to unite to discuss the issues facing all of us. One thing about horse-people is that they are resilient and adaptable, and many have met the challenges of this year with the determination and grit that defines equestrians. It was nice to be reminded that everyone, from Region 6’s Alaska, to Region 7’s Hawaii, to Region 3’s Florida, and up to Region 8’s Maine, is in the same boat right now as we face the many hurdles of 2020 together.
Folks Liked Going Virtual
It was a big question mark at the beginning of the week – how would a virtual USDF convention work? It has never been done before. The largest group of members in recent memory (about 2 to 3 times the size of recent in-person conventions) took the plunge to join us, and they LOVED it! The virtual format had many benefits, like a more flexible schedule; one attendee reported listening to a session she didn’t want to miss while on a trail ride. Another thing people loved was that no sessions overlapped so you could attend everything if you chose to! There was a lot of positive feedback about how helpful that was, and how members got to attend all types of sessions they wouldn’t have gotten to at an in-person convention. “Very much appreciated the lack of overlap in this format. You don’t have to pick and choose which sessions to attend because some are double-booked. It’s nice not to be limited in that way this year,” said one attendee. Another added, “I like this format. Impressive efficiency and a feeling of inclusiveness.” A third member said, “Very pleased to experience the virtual convention this year. It has been very educational. Going forward, we’ll hopefully have more opportunities like this.”
First-Timers Take on Convention
Each year, many members are unable to join us at our in-person convention due to travel costs, the inability to take off work, or no one to watch their horses while they are away. Convention going virtual offered the opportunity for more people to attend, many for the first time ever! This was a wonderful way for members to connect with their dressage community. “With this being my first convention, I want to say thank you to everyone that worked to make this possible. The experience has been amazing and I’ve learned quite a lot about USDF that I wasn’t aware of before,” one of our newcomers commented.
The higher number of attendees also resulted in important messages reaching more members. As one attendee stated, “I think that having the rule changes and proposed rule changes presented virtually was extremely effective and definitely was important to get out to a wider audience. I think it will help people be more proactive in getting feedback to USEF about proposed rule changes.” This was certainly the case, as USDF has received more member feedback on the latest rule change proposals than ever before, as a direct result of the convention.
Education Takes Center Stage
Some of the most popular sessions at the virtual convention were our featured education sessions. Each one was designed to give equestrians information to help them, whether it make them better competitors, more knowledgeable owners, or have improved skills to take back to their GMOs across the US. “Very educational session on bits. It really got me thinking about my horse’s bits, which I have just taken for granted,” one user wrote, after attending the Bits 101 session with speaker Beth Haist. Janet Foy’s session on Training Issues of the Not-So-Perfect Dressage Horse left some participants wanting more, with one stating, “Thank you so much for a fantastic hour! I listened to every word you said! Please do it again!” In the 8 Ways to Grow Your GMO presentation, given by Jean Rude, attendees were thrilled to learn implementable tips to take back to their local clubs. “This was very helpful – lots of great ideas I’ll be taking back to my board,” said one member. Other education topics included the importance of sleep, equine nutrition, materiale classes, degenerative joint disease in equine athletes, judging information for youth competitors, as well as open forums and roundtables where members had the opportunity to interact with one another as well as with dressage leaders.
Moving Award Presentations
Awards are always a big part of each year’s convention, and with this year being the most challenging in memory, there was all the more reason to celebrate everyone’s accomplishments! During our virtual convention, the awards were split into two days; the Salute Gala and Hall of Fame, Volunteer of the Year, and Rider Awards on Friday night, and the Adequan®/USDF Year-End and Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards on Saturday night. At Verdades’ Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame Induction on Friday, his owner and rider Laura Graves became emotional, often having to dab away tears as she recalled the many triumphs she experienced with “Diddy.” Dr. Hilary Clayton, whose groundbreaking dressage-focused research has influenced the sport from the ground up, was also inducted into the Hall of Fame. She has become a staple of our annual conventions, often leading education sessions at them, including this year, where she spoke at the well-received When The Hoof Meets The Ground session for L Graduate/Certified Instructor Education. Renowned FEI 5* Judge and USEF ‘S’ Judge Gary Rockwell was also inducted into the Hall of Fame, and members had a chance to interact with him at some of the open forums that our virtual convention hosted, giving them a great opportunity to chat with one of the leading judges in our sport.
Exciting New Dashboard Debuted
During Friday night’s Board of Governors General Assembly (BOG), USDF unveiled a brand-new tool called the USDF Member Dashboard. It will now appear at the top of your screen when you log into the USDF website. The dashboard puts a fully customized USDF experience right at your fingertips, making it easy to find all your pertinent information in just a few seconds. Attendees were quick to flock to the new addition and check it out, and they were impressed. “The Member Dashboard looks great! Thank you for creating this resource!” one of them said. Another attendee expanded upon this resource, “This may be the most significant addition to the website and will help resolve many member questions.”
Is the Future Hybrid?
We are thrilled so many of you joined us for our first ever virtual convention! Many users hoped there will be additional opportunities like this in the future, possibly with some events having live and virtual components. One first-time attendee stated, “Thank you all for implementing this amazing event! This is my inaugural convention for several reasons. I truly appreciate the inclusive nature of a virtual event, and hope to see similar events in the future. In spite of 2020 challenges, barriers were met with positive creative solutions. Kudos!!” Another more veteran attendee had this to say, “This has been really great for me to get to know and learn about the workings of the committees and their members. It’s been incredibly well done. I’d love to see this become more of the norm in the future. Thank you so much. I’m in my 20th year as a TD.” And finally, “Thank you to everyone who worked to make this a great convention. Hoping to attend in person next time. I love the idea of a hybrid convention so more people can attend.”
If you missed out on last week’s event, keep an eye on USDF social media channels for announcements about where you will be able to view videos from convention!
Did you attend the Adequan®/USDF Virtual Convention? What were your biggest takeaways? Let us know in the comments below!