By: Meredith Neely
With the ever growing population of Instagram and Facebook accounts, there ought to be at least one rule in place to prevent misinformation. The overseeing boards of the equine industry always congregate in multiple meetings throughout the year to do their jobs as superiors to a massive industry. But what happens when this board fails to protect thousands of amateurs alike from a rule that could seriously harm non-professional riders?
The United States Hunter Jumper Association, commonly known as USHJA, is constantly revising and revisiting old rules in their books to help throw out outdated practices and protecting horse welfare while doing so. At least 40 rule proposals were brought to the table at the annual USHJA board meeting in November of 2020 from multiple groups and forces that strive to make change in the equine industry. The rule proposal in question, the Amateurs Task Force proposed rule GR1306.4. The Amateurs Task Force, a congress of 11 delegates that are the outstanding voice of amature equestrians, often hold meetings and conferences to discuss the future of amateur riders alike.
“It is the unanimous consensus of the Amateurs Task Force that social media influencers are not able to conform to the definition of an amateur competitor by their accepting products or services in exchange for promotion of those products and/or services,” says the proposal draft composed by an anonymous writer at the USHJA board.
The proposal indicates that while an influencer may not be a professional, if they have reached a point where they become sponsored by a company, they may consider themselves any level higher than what they currently are in order to eliminate unfair competition. If there were two riders of different varying levels endorsing the same brand, the rider with less experience is able to label themselves to the same level or higher than their competitor so that they can even out the marketing field, effectively preventing one rider under the same brand from making more than the other.
Many were appalled by the new accepted proposal, completely shocked that this could even be considered or brought up in an industry that strives to correct false information and help prevent horse welfare from being threatened. “I definitely wouldn’t ever consider myself a professional,” says Charlotte Farris, a 16 year old eventer from the Howard County area. Farris, who owns a social media account for her and her equine journey with over 1,400 followers, has seen plenty of this misinformation through her daily scrolling through profiles.
Along with the many reasons most were terrified of what this could mean for the future of the USHJA rule book, some feel that the industry would be in danger. “There would naturally be a diminishing number of actual professionals, more people can lie and become a professional without putting in the actual effort,” says Frankie Randhawa, a young amateur rider . Why be an amateur when you can just lie and no one would be able to tell you otherwise?
What is stopping riders from labelling themselves as something they are not, especially if there is a rule in place that protects them? With this adaptation, the power to change your label can be abused to the point where no one can tell if a particular individual is credible or not without doing extensive research on their backgrounds. Why make it harder for the public to access good information when their mission is to achieve clarity within the industry?
Some who have interacted with online horse advertisements have had mixed experiences. “I’ve mostly had good experiences with influencers, but I’ve been misled on multiple occasions where I was misinformed on a product endorsed by someone,” says Shayna Macklin-Ephram, a hunter/jumper rider from Maryland. With the constant ability for social media to show tailored ads to a particular individual, there are bound to be more occurrences of bad scenarios. These can lead to wasted money and useless items that were unknowingly bought with a false sense of it working a particular way in hopes of the same outcome with those advertising it.
The amount of false information spread is already high in the equine industry, as anyone has access to a social media account and can show bad horsemanship practice. Protecting this practice could severely damage the industry and endanger horse welfare. This rule pushes back everything that USHJA works tirelessly to prevent, allowing for bad practice to shine and flourish in a vulnerable industry.
“I think regardless of how much of a social media following you have and how many sponsorships you gain from that, you are only a true professional if you make money by training horses and riders. It's that simple,” Farris adds. Many in the equine industry are labeled as professionals when they reach this point, as they are the foundation for today’s competitions and popularity, effectively starting the entire industry itself. Without them, there would be no industry to even base these rules off of, which is a personal piece of shade thrown to these trainers when someone doing almost nothing could be considered the same level as them.
Changes need to be made constantly, but USHJA should not always conform to a standard that was preached by someone else. Overall allowing a diverse group of riders from all levels to decide how these rules may affect them may help the review board from allowing incidents like this to happen again. It may have been beneficial to a small group of riders, but in the larger picture, many others are also negatively affected and could be in serious trouble if proposals like this are taken seriously again.