By Janine Malone
The USEF/USDF Regional Championship program, currently titled “Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Dressage Championships” started in 1994 and has steadily grown since then. It is a destination event in each of the nine USDF regions, with the event often being the largest show in the region each year. The program has had many changes since its inception as it has expanded and adapted to the needs of the USDF membership.
I am currently chairman of the USDF Regional Championship Committee, which is currently comprised of twelve people representing all nine USDF regions. The committee meets regularly to review championship rules and requirements and to consider possible changes for future years. (The Executive Board has recently approved a change to the championships for the 2023 year, so stay tuned for more information!)
Each year, competitors, owners, trainers, and officials at each regional championships are invited to submit online evaluations of their championships. They can comment on rule compliance, facilities, the show office, awards ceremonies, and more. The feedback received is used by USDF to determine if championship organizers have complied with the rules and requirements outlined in the Regional Championships Competition Licensee Contract and the Regional Championship Program Rules. Both of these documents are lengthy and spell out in great detail the requirements for organizing the event. If it is determined that shows failed in a significant way to meet their contractual obligations, they don’t receive all of the grant money from USDF that is earmarked for each regional championships.
The evaluations received from each region comprise many pages of comments, often with specific information as to problems that occurred. When similar concerns are noted by multiple competitors, especially in multiple regions, the Regional Championship Committee gets involved and looks for ways to improve things.
After the 2021 championships were completed, I asked to review all the evaluations received, and I read hundreds of pages of comments. I found some common concerns. The Regional Championship Committee is working on ways to draw attention to these problems and make improvements starting with the 2022 championships.
Many people in multiple regions complained about the footing in lungeing areas. Particularly that the footing was not well-maintained. In some regions, facilities are stretched to the max accommodating dressage rings and warmup areas. Lungeing is often relegated to areas with marginal footing to start with. Improved lungeing area maintenance will be a requirement in the future.
Each region is already required to have warmup areas designated exclusively for competitors preparing for their championship rides. There were many reports from 2021 that non-championship competitors were allowed to ride in these rings and that they became too crowded for the intended competitors. USDF will insist on better compliance with the “championships only” warmup requirement going forward.
Another frequent complaint was that all stables did not have lighting and/or loudspeaker announcements. This is a US Equestrian requirement for regional championships! However, this doesn’t mean that every stall needs overhead lighting or that barns need speakers throughout. Stabling, including tent stalls, need enough lighting that people can check on horses at night and be able to hear announcements if they are a reasonable distance from a speaker, which may be located outside barns. Show organizers need to plan in advance for lighting and sound, especially if they have to add extra portable stalls close to the event.
Shows need to have adequate sanitary facilities available when competitors are permitted to arrive on the grounds – and this includes portable toilets. From the evaluations received, it is apparent that some shows underestimated the number of portable toilets needed and didn’t make arrangements to have them serviced as needed throughout the show. The committee has recommended that there be at least one toilet (permanent or portable) on the grounds per twenty-five entries.
Some people expressed concern with the lack of security on the grounds during the show, apparently not realizing that security mostly patrols the facility and stabling during non-competition hours when competitors aren’t on the grounds. Others complained that they had to pay a separate fee for night watch services, apparently thinking that the shows were required to provide that service free of charge. While championship management is required to provide security throughout the event, they are required only to arrange a night watch company to be available, where competitors can pay a separate fee if they want to use the service.
In some regions, competitors felt that the show office staff was well-prepared and knowledgeable, but in other regions, there were complaints about disorganization and lack of communication. Awards ceremonies were another topic of concern. Some regions were not well-prepared and didn’t have enough experienced personnel running the ceremonies and handing out the awards. The experience and training of ring stewards was another concern. We encourage championship management to plan ahead and make ring steward training a higher priority. In 2021, some shows had a hard time finding enough staff and volunteers due to Covid hesitancy, but the job of ring steward is especially important at the championships. Thanks to those who helped out!
Other complaints related to the lack of vendors and food services at the 2021 championships. Due to the impact of Covid-19, most shows did the best they could. Many vendors were not comfortable with going to shows last year, and it was very difficult to get food services in some areas due to staffing and food shortages, and food vendors facing increased overhead. Competitors should not expect 2022 to be back to normal – although we hope it will be. Prepare to bring your own food and be patient.
Competitors – please remember that the regional championship shows often max out the resources in your region. USDF is working hard to make your championship experience the best possible, but we encourage everyone to help make the championship experience successful for everyone by getting your paperwork in on time and volunteering if you have time.