Written by: Nancy Jaffer

David O’Connor is a tough act to follow as president of the U.S. Equestrian Federation, but Chrystine Tauber made the job her own in a matter of months.

Thumbnail for Q&A With USEF president Chrystine Tauber

While Olympic eventing individual gold medalist David was a trailblazer as the USEF’s first president, former international show jumper Chrystine faces an equally formidable task as his successor in handling the question, ‘What now?’ Chrystine’s total focus is on her work with the USEF.

No stranger to what it requires, she has served the organization in several capacities, including as an officer and board member. Her current mission involves listening to all points of view and facilitating solutions to the many challenges faced by the USA’s governing body, from improving international performance to handling drug and medication issues.

What conclusions have come out of the USEF’s blue ribbon panel, formed after American riders failed to bring back a single medal from the London Olympics?

CT: ‘The word ‘pipeline’ is critical. How do we bring our riders up to the top without dropping the ball anywhere in the various age groups? We really want to realign our jumpers with the FEI age groups and therefore create a Young Rider division. Then you push the amateur-owner age up beyond the Young Rider age. It’s partly national and partly international. The U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s jumper group has to work on this and make it happen with the USEF jumper committee.

What I think is going to be critical for all three of our Olympic discipline chefs d’équipe is which tours do we want them (the riders) on, which horses, is there another horse available to them? That’s a very personal, one-on-one dialogue to make that happen with the coach, the personal trainers, the riders, the owners and whoever else needs to be in on that discussion.

Where do we stand now with the show jumpers, who won their first Nations Cup in March. Are we on an upward swing?

CT: What is it going to take to get back on the podium at the 2014 WEG in Normandy? Certainly our long-range goal is the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, but we’ve got a couple of steps in between; the World Equestrian Games and the Pan Am Games. It will take a sense of team.

Goal-setting is another thing to look at. It’s important to know whether the top riders we’re looking at are really willing to make these events their primary goal as candidates for the team when there’s so much money to be jumped for in many different places in the world, not just the U.S.

That whole sense of being on a team and being a team player is going to be critical. We have to build that through communications and being forthright with their goals and which horse they want to use, because they may save the better horse for the Grand Prix rather than the Nations Cup. We’ve had those problems over the years, it’s not new, but I think what we can do is improve on the communications side as to where each horse is targeted.

There’s been a lot of talk about a new emphasis on education.

CT: Education permeates everything we do, whether it’s things that involve rules, improvement in welfare of the horse and care of the horse; whether it involves our officials, educating our board, educating everybody in terms of elevating the sport.

What can be done to solve the problems of the hunter division, particularly in regard to the various substances that too often are given to horses in an effort to enhance performance?

CT: We [the USEF] had a hunter task force meeting for nine hours in West Palm Beach in February when we talked about all aspects of those issues. It was an opportunity to have a dialogue with our vets and our legal counsel and take a hard look at what’s going on. Out of that came the concept – part of our education initiative – of starting town hall type meetings. (The sessions, called “Welfare of the Horse in the 21st Century: Meeting the Needs of the Performance Horse in a Changing Environment” are being held all over the country through July and are meant to bring together all segments of the industry to discuss the subject.)

Another concept involves educating people about some of the drugs they’re using, and what side-effects and the risks are involved. There’s a couple of videos we’re putting together that really show things pretty graphically. This is a big part of it; talking about it and discussing where we’re going to go in so far as deterrents and controls and what needs to be done.

We’ll take components of the paper put out by the American Association of Equine Practitioners on clinical guidelines for veterinarians treating the non-racing performance horse and start to work toward some of the recommendations that are in there. We will be coming forward with recommendations that will even include rule changes, and some could be extraordinary in terms of welfare of the horse; others could go through the regular process.

What changes do you envisage for the hearing process which is a big part of the problem? You mentioned in an earlier conversation bringing in the owner, grooms and anyone else pertinent in addition to the “Person Responsible” for a hearing committee session.

CT: We’re working with the legal department on that. We need a bit of a new definition on the “Person Responsible.”

Also, they are going to start ramping up penalties and fines. The hearing committee has flexibility on penalties, they’re not locked into anything. If we start to categorize the drugs and medications (in terms of the hearing process), the fourth category would include substances such as anti-psychotic drugs that don’t have any business being in the horse’s system. The first category might be therapeutic drugs that someone went over the limit with a little. As we continue to do research and develop tests for various things, we can get more and more specific about levels.

Communication and education are so critical. We’re not on a witch hunt to get anybody. This has to be about more transparency; that as an owner you really understand what’s happening to your horses and as a rider, you need to know what you’re sitting on.

Is there a chance the whole hunter division will need to be restructured?

CT: The USHJA is looking at that. One of the concepts is that as you jump higher and for more money, courses should reflect that. They should become more technical and should require a higher riding ability.

But some of the biggest sins are at the lower levels, where too many people can’t ride and their trainers may think their horses need “extra help.”

CT: We need to do a whole analysis of what’s appropriate for that level of riding. If the penalties get tougher and the owners are more aware of what’s going on, it’s the deterrent that’s going to help. There has to be an initiative coming from the USHJA to put a focus on the teaching and I think this is where the trainer certification program comes in. They need to focus on the fundamentals. They’ve got it in the works. It’s now a matter of refining that and really putting a focus on teaching people to ride.

It’s interesting that the USEF and the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation, which were at odds during the governance battle earlier in this century, are starting to do a lot of things together.

CT: We [the USEF] have a great relationship and of course, I go way, way back with the USET. My feeling is the USEF can really help raise the visibility of the foundation through our own media and make the public more aware of how critical they are to us. The monies they raise fund the tours and the training for all eight of our FEI disciplines.

Working together is a win/win for everybody. There’s a big changeover right now. There’s a new energy, people are willing to work together and go forward.

Do you see an across-the-board helmet rule happening for all disciplines?

CT: It’s going to eventually happen. If nothing else, the parents will make it happen. We’ve mandated it for an awful lot, even the grooms riding on the show grounds. Ultimately, everyone will be wearing protective headgear, as you should working around horses.”