Discover Dressage Withholds Sponsorship of USEF Youth Program Until Federation Restores International Competitions to Ocala’s World Equestrian Center, Riders Launch Petition Drive
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Oct. 25, 2021
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
OCALA, Florida, Oct. 25, 2021–A donation of $200,000 to support youth dressage programs in 2022 is being withheld from the United States Equestrian Federation until international dressage and eventing licenses are restored to the World Equestrian Center. At the same time, more than 500 riders, trainers and supporters signed a petition calling on the USEF to provide international dressage and eventing licenses to the show organizers.
The backlash against the USEF, the national governing body of many horse sports in America including the Olympic disciplines of dressage, eventing and jumping, was widely criticized at the dressage World Cup at WEC last weekend, the second international CDI event since the $1 billion facility opened in January. A third dressage event, another World Cup, is scheduled for December.
The petition to the USEF received more than 1,400 signatures within hours of being online here.
A letter the USEF sent to WEC said it was “denying competition license applications for 2022… and that unless we come to a resolution of all outstanding issues, USEF will not license any competitions to the World Equestrian Center, or any related entities, for the 2022 competition year…” However, the USEF calendar lists seven national dressage competitions but no international events for 2022 but a request by dressage-news.com to USEF for clarification was not answered.
Kimberly van Kampen, a longtime supporter of dressage and founded the non-profit Discover Dressage said that Robert Dover, who created American Equestrians Got Talent as a major fundraiser for senior dressage riders, asked if her organization would take over the program to raise money for junior and young riders similar to a jumper effort for emerging athletes. Robert had been appointed coach of the U.S. team and no longer had time to run the talent search of several qualifying events and a big finale with all the money going directly to the USEF.
The commitment by Discover Dressage was $1 million over four years to be seed money to build a program to develop youth riders at an international level that every summer would conduct a European tour.
This year is the fourth year of the program.
The Covid pandemic forced cancellation of the 2020 end of Wellington season fundraiser but those who had promised funds agreed to fulfill their pledges. A shortfall was made up by “other means,” thought to be from Kim personally, so the entire $250,000 was paid to the USEF.
Meantime, Kim sold her Hampton Green Farm in Wellington and moved to Ocala.
“We felt 2021 was again not going to be a successful year,” she said ,”so we asked the USEF if we could hold off on our commitment and we would fulfill the commitment in 2022.”
Nevertheless, Discover Dressage paid $50,000 to help fund the 2021 Festival of Champions that hosts about a dozen American championships from ponies to Grand Prix.
Then came the USEF refusal to approve international events for dressage and eventing at WEC.
“After much thought and discussions with the stakeholders, I called Tom O’Mara (president of the USEF) after I heard the USEF was pulling the international licenses for dressage and eventing shows for 2022 over what they called ‘bad faith’ of the show management over jumping issues,” said Kim who directly sponsors some youth riders. “We decided to postpone the rest of our commitment until we feel USEF has gone back to negotiations to resolve this issue and removed the penalty to dressage and eventing for Ocala. “
The impact on dressage, she said, “has devastating consequences for the youth and dressage communities. Whether the national shows continue, the international shows are very important to bring the top riders and the top trainers, the top talent, to this area which has a large number of youth riders and a large number of young amateurs that are developing in the sport.
“Ultimately it comes down to the role of a federation. This is an issue that is sometimes lost when a federation has been established over many decades and becomes huge like USEF. I’ve been a big supporter of USEF through Discover Dressage but also individually, so I’ve been a pro-federation person.
“But federations exist to serve the needs of a sport community, they are there to make sure there is safety and rules to benefit the entire community are implemented, particularly when there are animals involved. And they are there to see a system of shows which is desired by the community that pays for the federation. We pay membership fees, we pay for every class we enter, everything we do pays for the federation to do its job, which is to help, assist us, the sport community in competitions.
“The federation is not some sort of aristocracy that can benignly grant gifts like show licenses whenever it feels like it, or withhold them if they have some sort of personal or other sort of issue with a particular stakeholder in the sport.
“My feeling is that this issue between Bill Moroney (USEF CEO) and and Roby Roberts (CEO of WEC that has been built by his family) involves jumping, doesn’t impact dressage or eventing whatsoever. The licenses that have been requested do not compete with what is going on in Wellington and they only benefit the community—they don’t divide the community in any way at a time when dressage sport is struggling and suffering.
“Why deny licenses to an entire region of this state and the country for petty reasons I feel is bad faith on their part. I think, unfortunately, the only way to register my discontent and our discontent on behalf of what we’re raising money for is to withhold that funding until we feel international shows are re-established in Ocala.
“We feel we have given a large amount of funds in a short period of time to establish a good youth program. I don’t feel the programs are under-funded at this point because of limited activities due to Covid.
“Right now I don’t think the USEF is taking the dressage community seriously, or have their best interests at heart.”
She has made known her views to USEF and, she said, the federation reaction was: “We understand your position and we would like you to understand ours.”
“I think it’s not too late to save the 2022 calendar year shows for Ocala and I believe that is what everyone wants—everyone I speak to, everyone I represent—they all want the same thing: the parties to sit down at the table and whatever their differences are work them out.
“We have to be uncompromising in our request to restore international dressage and eventing shows to Ocala.”