From Endurance to Dressage
Yesterday I wrote about US Equestrian contemplating rule changes for Adult Amateurs. As I had hoped, a number of people commented and shared their thoughts and concerns. On the USEF survey (it closes on Thursday), I voted for change on every question. I don't know exactly what those changes should look like, but it never hurts to take a look at current practices. After reading the comments that were shared on my Facebook page, I decided a few things.
1) It is impossible to get everyone to follow the rules. I am sure we all know of someone who has violated one USEF rule or another. In life, not just in sport, we all break rules. We do it because we think we won't get caught, we think a rule is unfair, or we disagree with the rule. It doesn't really matter what the rules are regarding amateurs, someone is going to disregard them. So not changing the rules because not everyone will follow them doesn't seem like a good reason for maintaining the status quo.
2) What does it mean to be an amateur anyway? Truly, I think this is the real question. Before USEF begins deciding what amateurs should and shouldn't do, maybe we need to rethink what we mean by being an amateur. The generally accepted definition for an amateur is this: a person who engages in a pursuit, especially a sport, on an unpaid rather than a professional basis.
That's not very helpful. If you get paid, you're a professional; If you don't, then you're not. The reason this definition doesn't really serve us anymore is because of the Olympics. For many, MANY years, amateurs could participate in the Olympics, professionals could not. The rules were simple. If you received any payment for playing your sport, you couldn't compete. In the 1980s that began to change. Television realized a lot of money could be made if the world's actual best athletes could compete (NBA players for example). The world's best were quite often professionals, not amateurs. So, things changed. No one cared that Michael Jordan was not an amateur. People wanted to see the world's best play, so that is what happened. This is a good article about this very issue.
I guess my point is this: if professionals are allowed to dominate the Olympics, a place once reserved for amateurs, what does being an amateur actually mean? If it simply means doing something you enjoy without getting paid for it, that seems like a poor division to have in sports. World's best, you play over here. People with deep pockets, you play over there. You poor people who like doing this just for fun, you're in right field.
This idea is especially frustrating since having lots of money is one way for amateurs to stack the deck in their favor. More money means better equipment (aka a nicer horse), better training (aka a world class coach), and probably more time to practice your sport (aka a full time trainer with a full service barn where you aren't doing all of the mucking, cleaning, feeding, etc.).
So really, what it comes down to is that the people most limited by the amateur rules, no remuneration or compensation, are the working amateurs who generally have the least amount of money to spend. And in many (most?) cases, it's those same working amateurs who don't have the best horses or even the finances to compete as regularly as they'd like.
3) I already give lessons. Giving lessons seems to be one of the things opponents of the rule change are citing as proof that the rules shouldn't change. I don't get paid for my lessons, but I still give them. Does that make me a professional? Not according to the definition of amateur. So whether I get paid or not doesn't change the fact that should one choose to, one can still give lessons. What does the act of giving lessons have to do with being an amateur? Nothing. It's the receiving of payment that seems to be causing the issue.
I think what people assume is that if someone is good enough to give lessons, then they should be competing as a professional. Aha! That's where the trouble lies. That's what we need to consider. Maybe being a professional or an amateur shouldn't be determined by whether you get paid or not. Maybe it should be determined by your skill level.
If the world's largest stage for international competition, the Olympics, now demands that competitors be the best of the best regardless of their amateur or professional status, maybe there isn't a need for the amateurs of old. Maybe the current definition of amateur is no longer valid in the world of sport.
I definitely don't have the answers, but I know that with way the system is currently set up, there will always be those with more talent, more money, better horses. In the whole scheme of things, what does it matter if someone makes $25 a weekend teaching someone else to ride? Or $125 to ride? Maybe we need to rework our divisions and not base them on how much you make, but rather how much you know.
You know what? I think they already do it like that in a few other countries. Does it work? I don't know, but it's worth considering.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: