Thursday, October 23, 2008

What's an Amateur?

Since the can of worms about amateurs has been opened in Trash Talking Comment, let's take a look at the subject. Those who cheat justify their behavior by saying "Everyone's doing it." and those who don't mumble about it privately but no one ever talks about it in the open. So what's the deal? What really is the rule? Is the rule broken because people don't understand it? Or is the issue about money?

To answer that question let's first take a look at the rule. I'm going to quote the rule that applies to Arabians. It's a United States Equestrian Federation rule and also applies to all breeds and disciplines governed by that body which would include Morgans, Saddlebreds, Paso Finos, Andalusian, Hunter, Jumpers, Friesians, Eventing, Dressage, and Hackneys to name a few.

The USEF rule states

Regardless of one's equestrian skills and/or accomplishments, a person is an amateur for all competitions conducted under Federation rules who after his/her 18th birthday, as defined in GR101, has not engaged in any of the following activities which would make him/her a professional.

Remuneration for riding, driving, showing, training, schooling or conducting clinics of seminars.

Accepts remuneration for giving riding or driving lessons, lessons in showmanship, instructions in equitation or horse training.

Accepts remuneration for employment in other capacity (e.g. secretary, bookkeeper, veterinarian, groom, farrier) and gives instruction, rides, drives, shows, trains, or schools horses, other than horses actually owned or leased by him/her, when his/her employer or a member of the family of said employer or a corporation which a member of his/her family controls, owns, boards or trains said horses.

Rides, drives, or shows any horse for which he/she or a member of his/ her family or a corporation which a member of his/her family controls accepts remuneration for boarding, training, riding or showing. (A family member of a trainer may not absolve themselves of this rule by entering into a lease or any other agreement for a horse owned by a client of a trainer.)

Gives instruction to any person or rides, drives, or shows any horse for which activity a member of his/her family or corporation which a member of his/her family controls will receive remunerations for the activity.(A family member of a trainer may not absolve themselves of this rule by entering into a lease or any other agreement for a horse owned by a client of a trainer.)

While these passages are only excerpts from the rule, they cover the basics on activities that would deem one a professional in the eyes of USEF. If you engage in these activities, then you aren't supposed to be showing in the amateur division.

Simply stated if you take money, trade or gifts for working horses or giving lessons, you can't ride as an amateur. But it also means you or a family member can't take money, trade or gifts for board from someone and then ride or show that horse and still qualify as an amateur. Or you can't work for a training facility in a capacity other than a trainer and give lessons, ride or show the horses there (that you don't own) and still quality as an amateur. So what's really happening out there?

I think the infraction that gets griped about the most is family members in big training facilities who are out there showing as amateurs. Behind the scenes those family members are schooling horses, giving lessons and who knows what that really are the duties of a professional yet they still show as an amateur.

Probably the next most common offense comes about because of the person who works for the professional but supposedly isn't a pro themselves. Grooms who ride horses they don't own at their place of employment do NOT quality as amateurs......even if their bosses tell them because they aren't being paid to ride horses, it's OK. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Any groom who rides horses that are under the care of their employer (but not owned by the groom) are functioning in a professional manner according to USEF rules.

In many cases those grooms are young people hoping to make it some day as trainers. They'll do anything to learn from the trainers hoping to get a "start" in the industry. Riding horses at the barn might help them get noticed or deemed as valuable and help in their pursuit. They believe what they're told about not being "paid to ride" means they can still show as amateurs, even showing the training horses in Amateur to Ride classes. The trainer wins all around by paying less to the employee but still getting full charges from the client.

As I see it, the real problem with this is the rule allows no consequences for the employer in this case. If the groom gets caught and brought up on charges, the groom is suspended by USEF and looses all awards earned as an amateur. If the client's horse was shown in the amateur division, the horse is stripped of the awards as well so the client loses too. You can bet the employer has profited from the groom working or showing the horse and yet gets off scott free. I can't help but wonder if the trainers who engage in this practice would do so if they faced consequences too.

Probably the least understood part of this rule would have to do with boarding horses. Most people would think just because an owner of a facility gets money for board, that does not make them a professional. That would be true as long as that person does not ever ride any of the horses within their care or give lessons to the owners.

It doesn't seem fair that boarding has been added into the mix because of those people who have used the term to manipulate the system charging high board and no training to mask their behavior. But it is exactly because of these kinds of lengths to stretch the rules, that boarding has been included in this rule. That leaves the owner of the boarding facility who is just trying to help out a client having a tough day, torn between being helpful and remaining within the rules.

To me the sad part about this is the only people it really affects are those who do not cheat. Those who do will go ahead and cheat because, like I said before, "Everyone is doing it!" They will have no qualms about breaking the rule. Yet little guy who's just trying to be helpful has his/her hands tied. Not to mention the many beginners out there who might need a little help now and again to get to be successful horse owners. They will be left to their own devices because the owner of the facility where they board wants to show as an amateur.

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  1. Reading about all this cheating and sneaking is difficult for me. It makes me not want to even bother showing. Why show when people are going to cheat in order to beat me?

    I like your attitude because you seem to judge every class with your own butt: if your horse feels soft and round and rated, then the class was a success. Ribbons are nice, but aren't the primary focus of each and every class.

    I know in your business of breeding that awards and ribbons are ultimately very important, and knowing that makes me appreciate your attitude even more. You aren't cheating. You aren't beating yourself or your horse up when you don't get the blue ribbon.

    Thanks for being a bright light of REASON in this wacky world!

  2. This is a good post and republishing the rules should make some people stop and think. But there will always be the ones who a ribbon means more to than a good honest ride. When we opened our boarding/training business my daughter's status changed from amateur to professional and we abided by the rules. Not so with the barn we leased stalls from, their trainers and grooms etc... rode in all the shows as amateurs. The worst part ,of course, were the judges who allowed it because they were all friends. I wouldn't even take a ribbon and feel proud of myself under those circumstances, but then again we don't condone cheating, apparently it doesn't bother some others.

  3. I have a question. I used to show Arabs as a youth. I last showed probably 8-10 years ago. Since then I played polo in college and I am now starting my arab gelding for endurance. So, I am out of the showing loop. US Nationals is in Tulsa this year and I have been to visit a few times. Something that has struck me as odd is the shoes on the english horses. I think it used to be that purebred shoes could not weigh more than 14 ounces. Now I am seeing big shoes with wedge pads being held on with metal bands over the hoof wall. Has there been a change in legislation? I thought at first it was an allowance for half-arabs, but I saw it in a purebred costume class. Could you talk about shoeing and clarify some of this for me please?

    Heather at

  4. this is an issue that is very important to me. when i was an amateur, i had to show against people who i knew for a fact were earning money as trainers while i stuck to the rules and never accepted money or gifts, etc.. and of course, most of my competitors also had professionals riding their horses for them at the shows as well, often in the class preceding, which gave them an (imo) unfair advantage, especially since i produced all of my own horses. So much for a level playing field; one way or another, I was showing against professionals in amateur classes. and unlike them, i had to shop around for unpaid catch rides to get experience, and ended up being a crash-test dummy for every 'unrideable' horse that was passed over by the 'professionals' because i didn't have much of a choice if i wanted rides. eventually i left showing and traveled to europe to get experience in an instructor certification program so that I could turn professional when I got home.

    when i finally felt I had enough knowledge and experience to relinquish my amateur status, it occurred to me what a disaster this system is - not everyone has the inclination or the opportunity to get their experience the way I did. some people play by the rules, but so many others cheat and everyone looks the other way for political reasons, but the end result is that most of our up-and-coming professionals are likely underqualified from lack of experience, and/or are unethical cheats who got their experience by breaking the rules. this is no way to maintain a high standard within the sport. there has to be a better system.

    i like your suggestion of holding the trainers/employers accountable. if these 'amateurs' are riding someone else's horses, the owners should also be disciplined. and i'd take it a step further and extend the amateur designation to the horses amateurs ride, so that no professional may ride or show an amateur's horse on the showgrounds and vice versa. maybe we could do with more amateur-owner classes to encourage amateurs to produce and ride their own horses. also, some people hang onto their amateur status because they don’t have the ability or the fancy horses to compete in the top level classes, so they lie and stay at the lower level - i’d add a greater variety of open (or professional only) classes so less experienced professionals or those with less talented horses don’t feel the need to ‘hide’ in the amateur divisions. for example, in the h/j world, let’s face it, not everyone has a 4’ hunter or a grand prix jumper, and it’s tempting to go back to the amateurs where classes are less demanding – maybe some professionals would appreciate some 3’ or 3’6 divisions for young or less talented horses, etc.. just some random thoughts, but I agree – this subject needs to be out in the open so people can start thinking of ways to deal with it effectively and fairly.

  5. I'd say that the rules aren't that easy to understand and that they need to be rewritten so regular people (the amateurs) can understand them clearly.

    There will always be cheaters, people who will skirt the rules or bend them to suit their purposes. The only way to change that is for the AHA to enforce the rules - all the rules...

    For instance in the halter class rules, it specifically says that the hair on the inside of the ears should NOT be removed, nor should the whiskers on the muzzle or around the eyes... And yet every single horse in a halter class has that hair removed. The rules state that bridle paths should be no longer than an ear length plus one half an ear. Yet you see horses with bridle paths dang near half way down their necks...

    These are just a couple of examples of how the AHA doesn't even enforce the rules in the ring that they have made. If they can't do that, what makes anyone think they'll enforce the rules outside the ring?

    Someone needs to be accountable and I think it should start with the Association first. Then to the members themselves.

  6. katee, if we didn't show because of the cheaters, there would be very few things in life left to do. I'm afraid those cheaters are out there everywhere.

    You're right I show against my own standard. I know if I can reach that, I will reach my goals regardless of all those cheaters out there.

    grey horse, you are right, there are some people who only care about the ribbon no matter how they got it. But those are not happy people. I am happy every time I ride because I'm doing it on my terms.

    heather, the rules have changed for english horses. There still are requirements for weight, although I forget what they are. Also, the length of foot has been increased. The thinking on this was the prior rule didn't allow enough length for the bigger horses. I'll see if I can track down those specs to do a post.

    jme, I think because the horse can be stripped of its prizes they think they have the owner covered. But I agree it would be good to do to the owner the same as the trainer.

    As for classes for amateurs, there is a new division that hasn't caught on all that much at the shows yet. It is the "independent amateur" division. That is an amateur who horse has not been trained or ridden in the last year (I think, it's a year) by any professional. To see these classes added, go to your local show management and request them. You'r more likely to be heard if you find a sponsor for the class, however. As those classes grow, there will be more added and eventually it could make it's way even to nationals.

    lady of chaos, To clarify AHA isn't responsible for the rules at Arab shows, USEF is. They can only enforce what is brought to their attention. That means a member, a USEF steward or show management must step up and file a complaint. Without that happening, their hands are tied.

    As for halter, you are misinformed about those rules. The only rule concerning the grooming on your list is about balding over the eyes. Judges can penalize for excessive goop (which some of them do.) and for dyed manes and tails. But there are no rules about length of bridle paths or clipping ears or muzzles (however the eyelashes cannot be removed..that only applies to the short fine ones, not the longer feeler type ones though) for USEF sanctioned shows. See AR107 sec 6 of the 2008 rule book. That sounds to me like it might be the case at some of the Al Khamsa Shows, but I wouldn't swear to that. I've never been to one, only heard about them and I believe they are the ones with the au naturel rules.

    It really pays to know your way round the rule book. It's not uncommon to believe you know the rules from what others have told you, when those others don't have it straight. AND the darn things are changing all the time. But at least they put the new changes in red so once you now your way around, you can just glance through and look at the areas that apply to you for those red changes.

  7. loc, sorry, it occurred to me after I posted this comment that the balding rule applies to not just the eyes but also the muzzle. Now balding is allowed and the horse can be dismissed from the ring. It can also be dismissed for artificially colored manes and tails.

    I have not seen a horse dismissed for either of these. However, I have seen horses dismissed for aggression by the handler and whip marks.

  8. LOL, I could have sworn I just read that online in the AHA handbook. Who knows how updated that is though.

    I do hope that they do start enforcing the rules. I saw so many rules broken this last week while watching the National show online. I guess it really is up to the judges and stewards to enforce the rules, but it should be up to the owners etc. as well.

    I try to read the rule books and learn from that.

  9. LOC, Geez, I can't seem to get it straight. There was a typo in that comment. NO balding is allowed but that is only in the halter classes. Horses in other classes can be balded. Does that make any sense? no wonder people are confused about the rules.

    Also, I'm going to do a post about the rule books. Hopefully that will make things clearer about what is where.