Trending Topics and Takeaways from the 2021 Adequan®/USDF Annual Convention

The Board of Governors General Assembly (BOG) at the virtual convention.

By Chelsey Burris

For the second year in a row, the Adequan®/USDF Annual Convention went virtual.  The increased flexibility drew a large crowd of members from across the country to participate in everything from regional meetings, to open forums, to education sessions, and USDF governance.  Here are a few of the trending topics and takeaways from this year’s event.

A New USDF President – From the Floor of the BOG!

George Williams, elected as USDF President, in a surprising move at the BOG.

What’s a good Board of Governors (BOG) session without a little high-stakes drama?  USDF bylaws allow Presidential candidates to campaign prior to the election at convention, but nominations are also accepted from the floor of the Board of Governors General Assembly, and in an unprecedented move, jaws dropped when former USDF President George Williams was nominated (and accepted the nomination).  George, whose previous term ran from 2010-2018, had remained very active in the sport as a coach, clinician, and volunteer.  Upon George’s nomination, USDF Vice President Kevin Reinig, who had been running for the leadership position, withdrew his nomination in support of George.  Kevin will remain in his current post, serving alongside the newly elected president.  The remaining nominee, former USDF Treasurer Steve Schubert, proceeded with his campaign.  But in the end, the membership reelected George back into the position.

Outgoing President Lisa Gorretta was given a heartfelt speech by Kevin Reinig about her time at the helm of the organization.  Many watching the session chimed in on the chat, expressing their appreciation of her leadership over the last three years. “Thank you, Lisa, with your humor and calm outlook during the unprecedented COVID outbreaks,” said one attendee, while another commented, “Thank you, Lisa, for your unwavering support of the sport in this leadership capacity. You’ve done an extraordinary job!”

In other USDF Governance news, in the only other contested election, Noah Rattner was elected as the new Regional Director for Region 6. By acclamation, Lorraine Musselmen was elected as USDF Treasurer, as well as Regional Directors Debby Savage (Region 2), Anne Sushko (Region 4), Helen van der Voort (Region 8), and Bess Bruton (Region 9).

USDF Medals *With Distinction*

There is a new recognition coming soon for riders!  Currently, to earn a USDF Bronze, Silver, or Gold Medal rider award, the scores required are 60%.  They have remained at this level since rider awards were implemented in 1973.  In a new proposal from the USDF Awards Committee, it was recommended to offer these medals with distinction.  The medal with distinction would recognize medalists who have earned their scores of 67% or higher at the corresponding levels. The USDF Awards Committee Chair, Amy Swerdlin, fielded questions during the Friday Board of Governors session.  A few key takeaways included that these medals can be awarded retroactively, so if you have the scores from previous years, you will be eligible!  The medal with distinction does not alter the established requirements of the rider award medals and enables existing medalists to receive additional recognition for earning even higher scores at the respective levels.  Statistics confirm that at least 25% of current USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medalists have earned scores making them eligible for this recognition opportunity.  The proposal was approved, so look for this change to begin in the 2023 competition year! 

Team USA Shares Their Stories and Secrets

Members of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Teams

The 2021 Adequan®/USDF Annual Convention gave attendees unparalleled access to pick the brains of our very decorated Team USA heroes from the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games!  Olympians Sabine Schut-Kery, Adrienne Lyle, Steffen Peters, and Nick Wagman, and Paralympians Rebecca Hart, Roxanne Trunnell, Kate Shoemaker, and Beatrice de Lavalette participated in a panel discussion on Friday, where curious members could ask questions about their experiences in Tokyo and discuss competing at the highest level of our sport.

Sabine Schut-Kery, pictured aboard Sanceo, shared her secrets in the featured education session “From Young Horse to Olympic Silver”. Photo by Terri Miller.

From stories about the efforts taken by the teams working in Japan to keep the athletes cool and comfortable, to the camaraderie not only the human athletes but the horse athletes had for each other, it was a peek behind the curtain at the most prestigious global sports event.  Nick Wagman shared about one of the most remarkable moments for him, when the horses were about to travel home.  “After having spent that much time together, we were very careful about which horse we put next to each other because we had two stallions, so Sanceo and Don John traveled together, and Salvino and Mopsie [Suppenkasper] traveled together,” Nick said.  “I think by the end, the 4 horses were such good friends and familiar with each other that we could have mixed it up and they would have been fine.”  Speaking on his mount, he elaborated, “Don John, personally, can be a little bit of a tricky traveler and loader, and by the end, he was like, ‘Wherever those horses are going, I’m going with!’ which was really amazing to see that bond between them.”

When asked about their advice that they would give to young competitors, Paralympian Beatrice de Lavalette said, “Find a really good trainer that believes in you and knows the horse as well as you know the horse and knows how capable you can be in the future.”  Fellow Paralympian Roxanne Trunnell chimed in with, “Always keep trying. It doesn’t hurt to try!”

On Saturday, Olympian Sabine Schut-Kery shared some of her secrets in the featured education session “From Young Horse to Olympic Silver” where she discussed bringing along her Olympic mount, 15-year-old stallion Sanceo.  Sabine first met him when he was a barely started 3-year-old, and it was love at first sight.  “When I first saw him, he just had this natural balance and rhythm, and he had three good gaits,” Sabine said about her first encounter, over a decade ago, with Sanceo. 

She went on to say, “One big thing I really like about him is his character and his personality.”  Sabine believes Sanceo’s work ethic has helped his athletic career immensely, as his willing attitude can help him get through areas that are more challenging for him. 

Coming Soon to An Arena Near You…More Colors!

Panelists at the USEF/USDF Open Forum – Trending Topics in Sport & USEF Rule Changes session discuss upcoming rule changes.

One of the most highly attended sessions of the 2021 Convention was Thursday’s USEF/USDF Open Forum – Trending Topics in Sport & USEF Rule Changes.  Competitors were eager to learn about new rules that will affect them and the sport that they love.  One of the more conversation-invoking changes is the incorporation of more colors being permitted in show attire, per rule DR120, which reads in part:

“Any single color jacket or tailcoat is permitted and may have subtle pin striping, checks or tweeds. Striped or multi-colored jackets or coats are not permitted. Tasteful and discreet accents, such as a collar of a different hue, modest piping, or crystal decorations, are acceptable. White, light or dark colored breeches or jodhpurs are permitted in competition. Bright colors or patterns are not permitted. Contrast piping is allowed.”

A trending topic among the questions from attendees was regarding what colors would still fall under the conservative umbrella without pushing the limit too far.  USDF President Lisa Gorretta encouraged folks to always err on the side of caution when choosing their colors.    

COVID Still a Very Real Part of Our Lives

The convention being virtual again this year was a staunch reminder that we aren’t yet free of COVID’s grip.  Moving into the 2022 competition year, we all need to remain cognizant of rules and regulations where we are riding, and the constantly evolving best practices.  In Friday’s Competition Open Forum, Kevin Bradbury presented a brief session on lessons learned from COVID and a few things that the pandemic taught us that we plan to keep around once it’s all over, such as the transition of show programs from printed to interactive online versions, entries being completed prior to competitors arriving on the show grounds, and freestyle music being accepted in a digital format, rather than only on CDs.  Many shows found these beneficial and more efficient during the pandemic, so you may continue to see them at your local shows, even after the pandemic is behind us.

COVID, however, couldn’t stop the convention fun!  A longstanding & much beloved tradition, GMO gift baskets, continued in our virtual format.  During the BOG, eleven lucky attendees won a basket, donated by Group Member Organizations around the country representing their regionality, through a random drawing.  This added a little bit of excitement and fun during delegate voting times.

Recapping the Biggest Finals Ever!

The 2021 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® was a record-breaking event. Photo by Chelsey Burris.

The US Dressage Finals Open Forum is always a popular session, and there was plenty to discuss this year.  The 2021 edition of the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® was the biggest Finals ever, due in large part to the addition of the Junior and Young Rider division for the first time, as well as carryover entrants who qualified in 2020 (the year the show was cancelled due to COVID).  Show organizers shared about the challenges of handling the record number of competitors, as well as triumphs from the exciting competition.  We had a great turnout for our first class of youth competitors, which left Competition Manager Debra Reinhardt hopeful for the future.  “I do feel that the Junior and Young Rider divisions are going to grow,” she said.

Education is Key

A slide from the featured education session “Practical Management of Equine Joint Disease

Like all USDF conventions, a key component is the featured education sessions.  As dressage competitors, the health of our horses is of upmost importance.  In Saturday’s session, Practical Management of Equine Joint Disease, Dr. Cindy Hatfield discussed the pathogenesis of degenerative joint disease (DJD), diagnostic modalities, and treatment options for our equine partners. In addition, the differences between FDA drugs, generics, compounded drugs, and medical devices were discussed. Members took advantage of the Q&A at the end of the session to ask Dr. Hatfield some health questions about their own horses. 

In Saturdays’s GMO Education session, Region 7 Director Carol Tice and USDF GMO Committee Region 3 representative Loretta Lucas presented the session Diversifying Your GMO to Attract More Members.  This session focused on ways to grow your Group Member Organization, and Carol and Loretta shared lots of practical tips that members can take home and implement within their own GMOs.  The Group Member Organizations Committee hopes to host more of these types of sessions virtually throughout the year as a service to GMOs.

Celebrating the Year!

This year’s event featured the return of the Salute Gala, where we recognize the accomplishments of competitors, breeders, volunteers, and others who keep our dressage community thriving.  Friday night’s Gala was a great way to look back on the year that was.  The first award of the night went to Jouelle Kimura, named Youth Volunteer of the Year.  Debbie Doss, who works frequently with Joelle in Region 7, shared about the award recipient, “She’s been working hard for years, helping juniors & young riders get enthusiastic and passionate about dressage.  She makes sure that every junior feels like they are the best.”

Jouelle Kimura was named 2021 USDF Youth Volunteer of the Year

In her acceptance speech, Joelle spoke about how, in the high stress environment of shows, we can sometimes get overwhelmed. “My hope is that, as dressage continues to grow, we make supporting each other a priority,” she said.

Roberta Williams, a longtime leader and volunteer in the dressage world, accepted the award for 2021 Volunteer of the Year. “It is indeed an honor to be named this year’s USDF Volunteer of the Year,” Roberta said. “Even more so, since this award is one that my dear friend Lisa Gorretta instituted many years ago.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that one day I would have my name engraved on it.”

Two pillars of the dressage community, Lois Yukins and Terry Ciotti-Gallo, were recognized as the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award recipients. “What I do is really mostly for horses – for the benefit of the horses,” Lois shared during her acceptance speech.  “Whether it’s teaching judging, which is pretty much what I’m doing now, it’s all for the benefit of the horse.  Plus, I get to meet a lot of great friends – my best friends in the world are horse people.  You couldn’t get a better sport for your body and your soul than being in the horse world.”

The Salute Gala also gave us the opportunity to celebrate riders from across the US who were awarded rider medals this year! The 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic teams were also honored with a special presentation.

A Wealth of Information at Your Fingertips

From hearing from experts in their fields in the education sessions, to being able to openly ask questions to medal-winning Olympic athletes, the 2021 Adequan®/USDF Annual Convention brought a wealth of information directly to USDF members through their phones, tablets, and computers.

Members participating in the Region 6 meeting.

A few comments from attendees included:

“Fabulous advice and conversation.”

“Thank you! This was very informative!!!!”

“Hats off to ALL who pulled this convention together!  Great work from all – thank you for taking such good care of us – and providing a future to look forward to.”

While we certainly missed seeing everyone in person, our top priority was to keep our members and staff safe this year, as the pandemic continues.  Hosting our annual convention virtually does give USDF the opportunity to reach more members, both during the event and after. Most sessions from this year’s event will be available to watch in the near future.  Keep an eye on USDF’s social media pages for updates about when and where these videos will be available! 

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