Amateurs and Renumeration: Does the Forbidden Rule do more harm than good?

With all the rules and regulations USEF has recently added, it seems as if they are determined to make sure this sport stays “a rich person’s sport.” From the arbitrary mileage rule that led to USEF’s temper tantrum with WEC, to the exorbitant fees we have to pay in order to compete. Not to mention the long-standing rule that forbids amateurs from receiving renumeration. It’s gotten to a point where those without deep pockets cannot afford this sport. Especially those with ambitions of reaching the highest levels. But it also impacts so many others who just want to compete and enjoy this sport; either as a professional or as an amateur.

Here’s what I don’t understand. Other sports allow amateurs to have sponsorships. So why doesn’t the equestrian world allow it? USEF claims that amateurs accepting remuneration creates an unfair advantage. And while there are so-called “promateurs” (amateurs who take advantage of the system and really should be considered professionals), the number is grossly exaggerated by USEF. They are making a bigger issue out of it than necessary. USEF is one of the biggest hypocrites. To put it bluntly, they have no right to make rulings in the name of fair play. Not when they botched one the biggest drug scandals and they have to reach out to a reputable third-party lab, which by the way is the same lab that the National Snaffle Bit Association uses. USEF (now called US Equestrian) has lost its credibility with the majority of its members. Contrary to what the national organization says, amateurs accepting renumeration can actually be good for this sport and even create a more level playing field.

The reality is, there will always be some degree of inequality in this sport – and life – in general. But that doesn’t mean everyone can’t have equal opportunity. This sport is already expensive enough. Let’s not make it harder for those who already struggle to afford it.

Here’s an example: say an amateur rider is sponsored by a saddle company and gets a free or heavily discounted saddle. This doesn’t make the person a better rider or give them an unfair advantage. But having that discounted or free saddle can allow them to afford the much-needed lessons or exorbitant competition fees to ensure their green horse has a positive first experience. My trainer has always said, tack doesn’t make you a better rider but getting as much exposure and experience as possible will – whether it’s lessons, clinics, or competitions. None of these are cheap, which is why the majority of riders you see showing circuit after circuit have deep pockets. Again, just to be clear, I’m not trying to bash those with money. I’m simply stating a fact. If we want to create a more inclusive sport, we need to make this sport an accessible sport.

By creating rules that push out 95% of its members, USEF is not only nailing the coffin of so many riders’ goals and dreams, but they’ve also created a system where we aren’t producing good trainers. By making the sport inaccessible to the majority, they are pushing riders to turn in their amateur card long before they are ready. This sets a bad precedent for the sport as a whole. Our goal should be to produce high-quality riders and trainers. By putting all these restrictions on what amateurs can and cannot do, USEF is doing the exact opposite.

Allowing amateurs to accept renumeration will not only help to level the playing field, it will also be beneficial to businesses and the equestrian community as a whole. Many top brands in the equestrian world have a huge amateur clientele who use these products all the time and rely on them. Common sense would be to sponsor those who know their products inside and out and swear by them. Plus, it takes the burden off sponsored professionals and allows them to focus on training clients or showing/selling horses.

Picture this: a trainer is sponsored by a very popular saddle brand and may get a discount on a new saddle for their horse. But in order to keep said sponsorship, they need to get others to buy from the company, which leads to pressuring their clients and students. This creates an unhealthy relationship dynamic between trainer and clients. It also has a negative impact overall on the horse community. Everyone, two and four legged, has their own likes, needs, and preferences. No one should ever feel like they are better than someone else because they have a certain brand.

Amateurs are a tight-knit community where we can influence each other in a positive and effective way that would be hugely beneficial to businesses. The time of the equestrian sport being exclusive to the wealthy has come to an end, and the time of a diverse sport begins!

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