The day is coming, and probably soon, when everyone who belongs to the U.S. Equestrian Federation will have to participate in SafeSport training via a video.

At the USEF Board’s mid-year meeting in Kentucky this week, president Murray Kessler told the group he expects it to pass a rule making SafeSport education mandatory for the 25,000 trainers who belong to the organization. The regulation would take effect for those people at the start of the 2019 competition year on December 1, 2018 as a condition of their membership renewal.

That isn’t all.

“I want every member – but we’re not ready for that yet – to take the 90 minutes it takes to watch this SafeSport training,” he told the Board. It will require a phasing-in process to eventually reach Murray’s goal that gets everyone up to speed on this issue, with step one the requirement for professionals that will be voted on at the next Board meeting August 27th. Licensed officials and board members already are required to participate in the training and pass criminal background checks as well.

It isn’t only the #MeToo movement and the recent wave of publicity about abusive sexual behaviour involving trainers going back decades that has made SafeSport such an important part of USEF’s agenda. Murray explained Congress passed a law calling for every sport’s National Governing Body to require SafeSport training for adult members who have regular contact with minors. While sexual abuse grabs the headlines and the mission of the U.S. Center for SafeSport (established last year with funding from the U.S. Olympic Committee and the NGBs) involves cases of sexual misconduct, Murray noted the concept also covers bullying, cyber bullying, emotional misconduct and more. The latter categories are handled by USEF through its hearing process.

When a broad-based SafeSport education rule was proposed at the USEF annual meeting in January, it drew what Murray called some “legitimate” pushback. So he appointed U.S. Hunter Jumper Association president Mary Babick as head of an ad hoc committee to refine the rule. She wants to see mandatory concussion training as part of it, but that has been dropped for now to streamline the central mission.

Her group had submitted an extraordinary rule change (one that circumvents the timeline of the regular rule change process), then withdrew it “simply so we could get the underpinnings correct,” she said.

While there is no arguing with the intent of the rule, the administration of it is what needs to be worked out if the rule eventually is meant to cover all members. She pointed out that one question involves people with show passes, who are not USEF members, but instead pay a fee to participate in a few shows each year. Down the road, show managers also will have to look at non-members hired for a variety of jobs at their competitions.

“Show managers are going to have to consider how much liability they bear on something like that,” the ad hoc committee chairman said.

“There’s a lot of chatter in and around horse shows regarding horse show staffs and what requirements there should be for them,” Mary noted, adding, however, her panel is not even considering that aspect. But it’s easy to see that the initial steps on this are only the tip of the iceberg.

The ad hoc committee is broad-based, presenting a variety of viewpoints. Members include dressage trainer Catherine Haddad-Staller, eventing official Andrew Temkin, who is also a lawyer, and Cynthia Richardson from the Arabian breed group.

Mary thinks the rule her panel is developing also could include anyone who signs an entry blank for a show, even an amateur or a parent. The ad hoc committee believes strongly that everyone should view the SafeSport video “because it lets people know what’s going on. It tells you what to watch out for in others,” said Mary. “I wouldn’t have looked for that. It’s a situation that helps increase awareness. Our government mandates all of us to be reporters of this type of behavior; it’s good that we know what we’re talking about.”

She noted that “the ones who are for it the most are the ones who have children,” and she sees USEF as a pathfinder for other equestrian organizations that know they also need to deal with this situation.

For USHJA, she has been working on something she tentatively called “gold seal,” which would put on a special list the name of any USHJA member who voluntarily underwent a background check in addition to SafeSport training. “In the end, you need both,” Mary believes. Her organization is making both a requirement for clinicians, coaches and chefs d’equipe. Although you may think of coaches and chefs only in connection with the major U.S. teams, don’t forget that there are all kinds of team competitions at a variety of levels, including zones.

After the decision to require that passed in May, it is up to those eligible to comply of their own volition until contracts are arranged for next year, when everyone involved will have to fulfill those requirements if they want to work for USHJA.

It’s difficult to face an uncomfortable topic, but it’s important to look at the big picture on this volatile issue. As Mary put it, “This is a problem that’s much bigger than inside our equine world. Ninety minutes out of your life to make the world safer is a good thing.”

~ Nancy Jaffer