United States Equestrian Federation Withdraws Approval of Ocala World Equestrian Center Winter Circuit Hunter/Jumper Events

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With seating for 8,000 spectators, one of two Grand competition arenas at the newly built World Equestrian Center in Ocala, Floridan arenas. © 2020 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Nov. 11, 2020


The United States Equestrian Federation announced Wednesday it has withdrawn approval for all of its events during the Ocala Winter Spectacular of 12 weeks and recommended pulling the jumping Nations Cup from the newly built World Equestrian Center.

The national federation said it was pulling licenses for the four weeks of hunter/jumper competitions that it had already approved for the new center built at a cost of about a half billion dollars by a wealthy Ohio family.

 USEF Chief Executive Officer William J. Moroney disclosed the decisions in a letter posted on the federation’s Internet site just eight weeks before the Jan. 6 start date of the winter circuit.

The WEC responded by reducing total circuit prize money to $4 million from more than $9 million but allocated $6 million to provide free stabling for competition horses in the 12-week circuit.

“We feel that the free stall offering will aid in promoting the financial offerings to all exhibitors regardless of their competition level or experience versus focusing prize money on only specific classes,” WEC said in a statement. “The free stalls will also help promote an atmosphere where trainers and riders can more easily promote young horses and sales. The new offerings at World Equestrian Center Ocala will now offer over $10 million spread between prize money, prizes, and free stalls.”

There was no indication whether USEF license withdrawal would impact three national dressage competitions, one in each of the three winter months, and international CDIs already on the FEI calendar for later in 2021.

WEC in Ocala sought approval for 12 USEF licensed competitions during the 2021 winter season. However, the USEF said the requests created a mileage conflict. WEC then sought an exemption as provided for in the rules and the USEF four weeks of competitions demonstrating what the USEF described as its “good faith to work with organizers” to approve additional events.

“Opportunities to conduct lower level events within the USEF licensing rules during the 12 week period were also identified to WEC,” the federation said. “Additionally, USEF supported the addition of new events to the FEI calendar and the allocation of the FEI Jumping Nations Cup, even though this is the first year of operation of this venue, and the organizer has never hosted an FEI event.

“Unfortunately, the WEC has announced it intends to include a mix of hunter/jumper competitions that are both sanctioned by USEF and not sanctioned by USEF as part of the same Ocala Winter Spectacular competition series. WEC has advertised that the USEF unsanctioned events will be sanctioned by the National Snaffle Bit Association (“NSBA”). NSBA is not an affiliate of USEF, and any NSBA events at the Ocala Winter Spectacular would be operated outside of USEF’s rules, including class specifications, field of play rules, scoring systems, and most importantly USEF rules protecting horse and human health and safety.”

Bill Moroney said the USEF determined that WEC’s arrangement combining both USEF and NSBA competitions in the same 12-week series is confusing to participants and officials, and most importantly, jeopardizes horse and human safety and welfare.

“Due to these concerns, USEF has no choice but to withdraw all WEC hunter/jumper competition licenses it previously granted in connection with the Ocala Winter Spectacular,” he wrote.

“Any competitions that proceed as part of the Ocala Winter Spectacular will have no affiliation with USEF or USEF’s rules and, consistent with USEF policy and rules, no USEF Horse of the Year points, USEF Ranking List points, or money won will be earned in connection with the Ocala Winter Spectacular.

“Due to the same health and safety concerns mentioned above, and in furtherance of the best interests of the sport, USEF will not be granting a license to WEC for the FEI Jumping Nations Cup qualifier and we have informed the FEI accordingly. The FEI will make the final decision on this event.

“We have notified the FEI that these events are unauthorized. Presumably, the FEI will also decide whether it will apply its unsanctioned event rule which states that any FEI Official, FEI registered Athlete, or FEI registered Horse that participates in an unsanctioned event faces up to six months of ineligibility to participate in FEI competitions and thereby national competitions.”

Under the “unsanctioned event” rule, it said, FEI officials, registered athletes and owners of FEI registered horses will be notified ahead of the start of any unsanctioned event.

The FEI that is the governing body of international horse sports was engaged in a long-running dispute with the Global Champions Tour and Global Champions League operated by Jan Tops based at Valkensward, Netherlands.

The FEI and Global Champions League ended their legal dispute with Memorandum of Understanding signed almost four years ago that led to the FEI to reverse itself and officially sanction the show jumping series.

The agreement came after the FEI lost a bid to clamp down on the GCL when the Brussels Court of Appeal denied the FEI’s appeal on the interim measures imposed by the Belgian Competition Authority which prevented the governing body from imposing its unsanctioned event rule on athletes and horses competing in the GCL.