A Conversation With New USEF President Murray Kessler

Murray Kessler

Our thanks to Murray for taking some time in what has to be a bit of a whirlwind time for him, having just been elected to the presidency of the United States Equestrian Federation. But then again, Murray has always made himself available for questions and answers, especially with NARG and all the work that organization has done for the betterment of the sport. We had a couple of quick questions for the new president…

Murray, congratulations on the election.

Hi Kenny, good to hear from you.

I hear them ask the presidential candidates on TV this question all the time, and I think it would be a good way to start here. What would you like to do during your first 100 days in office?

I don’t take office until the annual meeting, which puts me in the very fortunate position of being very prepared when I do. Our current president, Chrystine Tauber, gave me the assignment of putting together a strategic plan for the Federation. I presented the plan and received approval from the Board to implement the plan yesterday. So for the next six months, we at the Federation will be hard at work preparing for a pretty big makeover of the Federation. So let me change the question to “what would I like to do on DAY ONE.”

On day one, I would like to launch a whole new look and feel for the Federation and all of its communication vehicles and services. The goal would be to move us from an organization that today is primarily business to business, to one that is consumer based. A place where Federation members can go for educational resources, meaningful benefits, easier to access data, customer service, and departments that follow the rules, but apply common sense, dramatically improved websites and mobile apps and much, much more. You will also see more involvement with our star athletes helping promote the support and involvement in the community. I am only giving you a superficial peek under the tent. The actual plan I presented was 160 pages. Bottom line is I’d like to make the USEF a place people want to be a member of, not just a place where they have to be a member of.

Would you mind briefly discussing the top three or four most important issues that you think are facing the industry today?

One is balance or should I say perceived imbalance – a broad portion of the membership is angry with the USEF. They feel like we have lost touch and only care about the elite and that we don’t care about anything other than high performance disciplines. There has been a movement toward a consolidation of horse shows, which has actually had many benefits to the growth of our industry, like more FEI events in the USA, more prize money for competitors and more television coverage. That’s great, and we want that to continue. Unfortunately, this has come at the expense of higher costs for the average member resulting from higher fees at shows and further to travel and the costs associated with that.  At least that is true in the hunter/jumper world. It’s our responsibility and the mission of the federation to provide access to and increase participation in equestrian sports at all levels, across all breeds and disciplines. We have a plan, as I briefly discussed above, to provide that access.

Secondly, Horse Welfare. Our broader membership clearly believes our most important role is to protect animal and human safety. But there has been an alarming trend towards cheating by a few that has huge ramifications. One only has to read the paper to see the devastating effect doping has had in tennis or recently in past Olympic Games. A misstep in this area could jeopardize equestrian sports remaining in the Olympics. This concern has been most visible in the hunter industry. Let me be clear. We need the hunter industry. It is a major portion of our membership and industry, and it is where a large number of our members learn to ride and compete. But we need the great leaders in the hunter industry to step up and help lead a cultural change. One that is embarrassed by cheaters and cheating instead of being angered for being caught.

Thirdly, Lack of Enforcement of Quality Standards – I used to believe the mileage rule should be abolished. I don’t anymore. There are many good reasons for the mileage rule, and there is now a rule to allow for mileage exemptions when justified. The first way a mileage rule can be granted is if the current priority date holder is not meeting the quality standards as outlined in the rulebook. Unfortunately, the USEF has not enforced these standards. In fact, since they were put in place five years ago, there hasn’t been one event out the 2500 competitions run a year in the USA that has been cited for not meeting standards. That, of course, is not possible. The USEF can and will address this through the development of our own compliance organization.

Finally, for this brief report, are you happy with the transparency at the USEF?

No, but it is changing rapidly. The hearing committee is now publishing expanded findings, CEO Bill Moroney is providing regular updates to membership, town halls have been held on controversial topics and the USEF has reached out with multiple surveys to solicit input to the new strategic plan.  That plan will be shared fully with the membership in the months to come. We need to be a transparent organization. Bill and I are committed to it with the boundaries of the law.

Murray, thank you. Let’s touch base again, maybe after the first 100 days.

No problem, Ken. Thanks for the opportunity.

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