The North American Riders Group, once among the most active equestrian organizations, has practically disappeared from view after achieving many of its goals.
But now it’s waiting in the wings for its next act, under the guidance of president Mark Leone.
One of NARG’s chief aims was to improve shows on this continent, naming the top 25 every year. The eagerly awaited list was offered with a critique about what shows did right, and what they could do better. The shows at the top of the list publicized their selection. Those further down on the roster aimed to better their rating.
“We stepped in as an advocacy group to promote the change we wanted to see in the industry. We tried to create a sense of competition and give the shows feedback,” said Chris Kappler, the former NARG president and one of its founders.
Chris was joined on the NARG board by some big names; Olympic show jumping gold medalists McLain Ward and Beezie Madden, along with businessman Murray Kessler, who went on to become president of the U.S. Equestrian Federation in 2017.
“NARG raised the bar, stimulating creation of more FEI and 5-star shows. When we started (in 2009), I think there were four FEI events in America; now we have more than 20,” Chris said proudly.
With that achieved, several years ago NARG went into what Chris described as “a very quiet mode” and took a pause from rating shows.
As McLain commented, “NARG was a grassroots organization to change the direction of the high end of the sport in this country and North America. It was highly successful. I think what’s happened is the leadership of NARG has moved into the leadership of the USEF.”
It was good news for NARG that one of the new USEF strategic plan’s priorities is designed to put teeth into show standards with its compliance initiative that will have trained officers judging whether the shows are meeting the standards. There will be help for those that want to improve and penalties if they don’t come up to snuff.
Don’t assume NARG has been disbanded, however.
“We can fire this thing up at any time if we feel it’s necessary,” said Chris, who noted the board wanted to create something the federation and the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association could pick up and run with.
Mark Leone is hoping to re-start the show rating program, noting how popular it was. At the same time, however, it was expensive.
“We want to put ourselves back on the radar, but it takes funding,” said Mark.
“We need more support, so we can have a better presence and communication with members and the equestrian community. NARG is a bit of a reactive group at this point, rather than proactive.”
He’s looking forward to “a little bit of a resurgence of energy and focus this fall; after the WEG, we can dive into some of these future things. We hope we can be a more visible entity. We’re in the process of trying to get more into the community and it starts with the top 25 list. We want to get back in the fray.”
NARG stays in tune with the International Jumper Riders Club through Kent Farrington, Canadian Tiffany Foster (NARG vice president) and Lauren Hough, members Mark called “our ears to the ground.”
At this time, he said, “the biggest thing that we’re really monitoring on a regular basis, and also through the IJRC, is the horse welfare issue – tthe issue of bleeding.” NARG would like to see “a logical step in the process. Rather than just total elimination (for blood), have a yellow card warning.”
Currently, he observed, “at the first sign of trouble, you’re tossed. We don’t feel that’s in the best interests of sport. A logical progressive step is necessary.”
He said riders should get a warning for a spur mark, and going forward, they could ride without spurs or a bellyband to solve the problem. And if they don’t, he mentioned, at least “they’ve been warned.”