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2023-24 Equestrian Convention Season Wrap: Five Things You Missed If You Didn’t Attend

Read on to learn what happened at the 2023 year-end equestrian conventions, and what you may have missed.

When spending time with their equines, probably the furthest thing from the mind of any equestrian is sitting in a meeting room for a convention, hashing out the details of running an organization. OK, they might dream of winning a year-end award with their favorite horse; admittedly those are often handed out at such events. But, the administrative work (rule changes, elections and the like) that happens at a typical annual meeting, albeit necessary and important, might rank high on the “not so riveting” scale.

You might think that year-end conventions are only for those serving on a committee or a board of directors, or for award winners. Yet, there are many compelling reasons for equestrians to register for an organization’s annual meeting/convention, whether it is staged by a state, regional, breed-specific or national group.

If you chose not to attend any 2023 competition season year-end equestrian conventions, here are some fun and beneficial things you missed:

1. The chance to snag some really cool swag!

Many organizations include some fun welcome gifts in the price of meeting registration. Checking in at a convention may feel like your birthday when they hand you a gift bag along with your name tag. And, there are often raffles and drawings to win prizes. These get-togethers often feature fun items for sale as well, offering logo-emblazoned sportswear, tack, housewares and gifts. Corporate sponsors display products at their booths and offer “convention discount” promotions to consider. And, of course, you can always use free time to see local attractions and shop for area specialties since the annual meetings usually move to different locations from year to year. So, enjoy the free gifts and plan to shop to your heart’s content―just make sure to save room in your suitcase to get it all home.

Gifts for 2024 USEF Annual Meeting attendees included a bag and notebook decorated with lino art by Sarah Lockwood-Taylor. Photo by Kim MacMillan

2. The in-person opportunity to offer your two cents on horse industry hot topics and important issues.

Ever wanted to be able to voice your opinions, concerns and questions directly to industry leaders? Conventions/annual meetings are your chance to do just that in a setting designed for individual thoughts to be shared and received.

3. Attend some amazing educational sessions.

These are included in the price of your convention registration. So, take advantage of the educational events offered and get the most bang for your buck out of your trip. You’ll travel home informed and inspired.

4. Meet top riders and industry professionals.

Do you ever dream of getting the chance to visit with a rider, judge, trainer, groom or animal scientist that you admire? Or maybe you’d like to hear more about the life of a famous horse directly from its owner? Conventions often afford you the opportunity to rub shoulders with champions and top professionals.

5. Network with other equestrians with similar interests and challenges.

It is easy to feel alone in the world when training on your own at home. You stand to gain a lot by visiting with other equestrians over a meal or in a workshop at an annual convention. They are a place to make business connections, meet potential mentors and form lifelong friendships.

2023-24 Equestrian Convention Summaries

Want some specific examples of the above benefits and to know what happens at these meetings? Following are short synopses of some of the top national equestrian conventions, starting with the recently concluded 2024 US Equestrian (USEF) Annual Meeting held January 12-14 in Louisville, Ky.

Then, working back in time through the highlights of some others held in late 2023: United States Eventing Association (USEA), December 7-10, in St. Louis, Mo.; the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA), December 4-7, in Concord, N.C.; United States Dressage Federation (USDF), November 28-December 2, in Omaha, Neb., and finally the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), held November 29-December 3, in San Diego, Calif.

The dates for the 2024-25 equestrian conventions are also given where available. Don’t suffer FOMO; pencil in at least one into your calendar soon. You’ll be glad you did!

2024 US Equestrian (USEF) Annual Meeting

The USEF Annual Meeting capped the equestrian convention season in mid-January. There the main topics of discussion echoed common themes from the preceding USEA and USHJA national conventions: the urgent need for increased vigilance in horse welfare, and the related topic of equestrian sports needing to understand and embrace the concept of “social license to operate.”

If you haven’t heard the term “social license” yet, you will. The definition gives one insight into why this is so important to equestrian sports (flash back to coverage of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics pentathlon horse beating debacle or any number of troubling stories about horse deaths on tracks and show grounds, and the inexcusable Safe Sport violations by now-banned coaches, to get an idea of why this is so important): The social license to operate (SLO), or simply “social license,” refers to the ongoing acceptance of a company or industry’s standard business practices and operating procedures by its employees, stakeholders, and the general public.

With most of the USEF administrative decisions being shifted to their mid-year board meeting held in the summer, the organization had adopted a workshop format for their annual meeting in January. They continued that idea at the 2024 Meeting. The purpose was to ponder and debate key horse industry topics with the goal of identifying steps for the USEF to take to address these issues. The seats at each table in these workshop sessions were assigned in order to intentionally get a mix of representatives from different breeds and disciplines in each discussion group.

Workshops topics at the 2024 USEF Annual Meeting included “Biosecurity,” “Creating a Good Life for Horses,” “Five Questions On the Future and Vision for Equestrian Sport,” and “Licensed Officials.” According to USEF Chief Executive Officer Bill Moroney, the workshop idea was that of USEF Chief of Sport and eventing Olympic gold medalist David O’Connor.

USEF Chief of Sport David O’Connor leads a workshop discussion at the 2024 USEF Annual Meeting. Photo by Kim MacMillan

O’Connor explained why he decided to try this new meeting format, “It’s stuff you end up learning from other seminars and you apply it to here. Basically you are always going to do better if you have the involvement and interaction of more people. Instead of pushing information at people [at our convention], we are trying to pull information out of them. We tried to split it up so that there are six or seven different viewpoints at a table and see what they come up with. It’s just trying to engage people, pull the information and then trying to guide it along.”

USEF Senior Veterinarian Dr. Katie Flynn answers questions during the Biosecurity Workshop at the 2024 Annual Meeting. Photo by Kim MacMillan

Other activities at the 2024 USEF Meeting included a few committee meetings (Western Dressage Association of America, Connemara Pony, Endurance), meetings of the International Disciplines and National Breeds & Disciplines Councils, and a general session led by USEF President Tom O’Mara and Moroney (reports on the accomplishments and financial status of the Federation over the year with lots of charts and videos to illustrate the information they shared). Two awards dinners spotlighted exceptional horses and humans, the SmartPak/USEF Horse of the Year Awards Dinner on Saturday which honored top horses from many breeds and sports, and the Pegasus Awards Dinner, a salute to equestrians who achieved big things within the various breeds and disciplines.

USEF President Tom O’Mara delivers a state of the organization report during the 2024 USEF Annual Meeting General Session. Photo by Kim MacMillan

Among the many awards given over the two convention banquets, the show jumping mare HH Azure ridden by McLain Ward and owned by Ward and HH Farm, won USEF International Horse of the Year, and the show hunter gelding Paradigm, ridden by John French and owned by Meredith Lipke, took top honors as USEF National Horse of the Year. Ward also garnered the International Equestrian of the Year title, but in a video acceptance speech gave all of the credit to his long-time friend, barn manager and groom Lee McKeever proclaiming McKeever was “the true horseman.” French, a well-respected hunter rider who now works for show jumping star Kent Farrington, followed suit, winning National Equestrian of the Year.

The USEF Lifetime Achievement Award went to the Arabian circuit’s Cecile Dunn who received numerous mentions in the acceptance speeches of her many protégés as they crossed the stage to accept other awards before Dunn was honored. The USEF Junior Equestrian of the Year award winner was Marin McKee who also competes Arabian horses. The Equus Foundation Humanitarian Award went to wild horse and burro specialist Neda DeMayo.

Arabian horse world icon Cecile Dunn (at podium), accompanied by family members, won the USEF Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2024 Meeting. Photo by Kim MacMillan
Jumper rider McLain Ward (left) recognizes his longtime friend and groom Lee McKeever during his video acceptance speech of the 2023 USEF International Equestrian of the Year. Photo by Kim MacMillan
Hunter rider John French accepts the 2023 National Equestrian of the Year honors from USEF President Tom O’Mara. Photo by Kim MacMillan
Eventer Tamie Smith (center) was named a 2023 USEF Equestrian of Honor and winner of the William C. Steinkraus Trophy, while her equine partner Mai Baum was honored as USEF International Eventing Horse of the Year. In the photo with Smith are Mai Baum’s owners Alexandra Ahearn, Ellen Ahearn and Eric Markell, and USEF President Tom O’Mara. Photo by Kim MacMillanmore
Internationally successful para-driver Tracy Bowman, a 2023 USEF Equestrian of Honor and winner of the Becky Grand Hart Trophy, poses with USEF President Tom O’Mara. Photo by Kim MacMillan

Helpful Links
More information about the 2024 USEF Annual Meeting statistics shared in the general session and awards
General sessions and workshop videos from both years

Though the exact schedule and host venue are still to be determined, the 2025 USEF Annual Meeting is set for January 22-26 in Lexington, Ky.

2023 United States Eventing Association Annual Meeting & Convention

The USEA’s Annual Meeting schedule was jam-packed with educational opportunities and great speakers. In addition to the many board of directors, committee and working group meetings (and a couple awards banquets) on the docket over the four days, a general membership meeting and luncheon on Saturday featured renowned animal behaviorist Dr. Temple Grandin as keynote speaker. Grandin outlined insights into the way horses perceive the world that could benefit any equestrian.

Renowned animal behaviorist Dr. Temple Grandin was keynote speaker at the 2023 USEA Convention. Photo courtesy of USEA

Most of the other educational sessions were offered in two tracks, A and B, which attendees could choose from. Space doesn’t allow listing all of them here, but the agenda offered at least 35 additional learning options for eventers. Just a sampling of the topics included: “Best Mental & Physical Exercises to Get Balanced in the Saddle”; “Tips for Being Your Best at the Show”; “Horse Syndication”; “Tips for Applying for USEA Foundation Grants”; “Safety Committee Open Forum”; “Preceptor Training”; Equine Law 101”; “Feeding for Health and Performance”; “Is Your Saddle Helping Your Rider Biomechanics Position?” and many others.

2023 USEA Meeting attendees stroll through the convention trade fair. Photo courtesy of USEA

Serious discussions during the convention about improving safety in the sport included mentions of tracking verbal warnings given to riders and the creation of Eventing Coaches Program Ambassadors (ECP), who would be available to help riders at events. Another topic explored was things that event managers could do to encourage on-time entries to help maintain sustainable competition participation.

Helpful Links

The 2023 full schedule, with explanations of the educational topics
News from the 2023 USEA Convention
2024 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention Info

The 2024 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention will be held December 11-15 in Seattle, Wash.

2023 United States Hunter Jumper Association Annual Meeting

The 2023 USHJA Meeting included a number of town-hall-style discussion sessions and an annual awards banquet. Among those honored at the banquet were Marty Bauman of Foxboro, Mass., executive director of the Show Jumping Hall of Fame, who was presented with the William J. Moroney Visionary Award, and Robin Rost-Brown of Ocala, Fla., who was the recipient of the Volunteer of the Year Award.

USHJA Annual Meeting registrants received backpacks in 2017. Photo courtesy of USHJA

Perhaps the most significant event at their Annual Meeting was when USHJA President Mary Knowlton related an actual event where a horse collapsed in the stabling area at a large indoor show. Witnesses said the people handling the horse kicked it, hit it and threw water on it in an attempt to get it to rise (Knowlton guessed after it had an apparent reaction to a medication given to make the horse quieter to show).

Hoping to foster an honest, open conversation on horse welfare, she followed the story with a challenge to the audience, “And people saw this. They didn’t report it. Just think about that for a second. Just go back in your mind for one minute to the first time you ever got on a horse. Mine was a pony at a pony ride. Did you ever think that was what you’d be part of? And your silence, does that make you part of this? That’s the question I really want to get answered today.”

Lots of discussion on this topic did ensue during the convention and by the end of the Town Hall on the second day, Knowlton announced the formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission. Knowlton emphasized that this Commission will have carefully selected members. They will examine animal welfare concerns and social license to operate and report to the 2024 USHJA Mid-Year Board Meeting.

USHJA will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the association at their 2024 Annual Meeting to be held in Tucson, Ariz., sometime late in the year (historically it’s been held in December). Before 2004, national hunter/jumper discipline representation was as part of the USEF at the committee level. But then, a group of discipline leaders proposed that this national association be formed and act as an affiliate organization to the USEF.

Helpful Links
Videos from the 2023 Meeting
More details of the 2024 Meeting to be announced

2023 United States Dressage Federation Annual Convention

The USDF went back to their roots in Nebraska, celebrating their 50th anniversary as an organization (the USDF was founded in 1973 in nearby Lincoln, Neb.) at their 2023 Convention. The golden anniversary was marked with a cake presented by USDF President George Williams and attendees received tote bags and photo frames celebrating the occasion.

USDF President George Williams presented a 50th anniversary cake during the 2023 Convention. Photo by Nancy C. Bryant
The USDF celebrated 50 years during their 2023 Convention where guests received commemorative tote bags and photo frames. Photo by Nancy C. Bryant

Over the five meeting days, board and committee members, as well as delegates and general members from all of the USDF’s nine competition regions, attended meetings, open forums and workshops. Social events and an awards banquet were also on the docket. Quality educational sessions were also part of the event with topics including, but not limited to: “Biomechanics of the Horse’s Neck”; “Horse Fitness Routines for Winter”; “Conformation and Its Relationship to Training”; “Moving up Through The Levels”; “Incorporating Video into Your Lesson/Training Program”; “Bit Fitting for the Equine Athlete,” and “Training Problems; Why Horses/Riders Get Stuck at Certain Levels.”

One fun tradition at the USDF Annual Convention is the chance to win one of the well-appointed gift baskets provided by the various USDF regional group member organizations (GMOs). The goodie baskets were on display and each meeting registrant received a ticket that they used to put their name in a box in front of their favorite basket. Then, the name of each basket winner was drawn, but they had to be present to win, no exceptions. “It gets to be a big thing, as people look forward to winning a basket. Many who win a basket share the contents with people seated around them, especially if they are flying home and don’t have room to take their basket with them,” said longtime Midwest Dressage Association and USDF member and creator of the MDA basket, Nancy Bryant from Oxford, Mich.

One of the USDF group member organization-sponsored gift baskets (this one created by the Midwest Dressage Association with products from Michigan) up for grabs at the 2023 USDF Convention. Photo by Nancy C. Bryant

Key takeaways from the 2023 USDF Convention were the necessity of the raising of dues and other fees to help outpace inflation and maintain a sound financial operating position. And, a discussion about the increased freestyle qualifying scores (raised from 68 to 70%) required to make the US Dressage Finals with pros and cons shared on the subject.

Another important topic was the proposal to the USDF by the United States Para-Equestrian Association for the USDF to take over responsibility of being the national affiliate for para-dressage. The USPEA plans to step down from that role and concentrate on fund raising. A task force to determine how best to integrate para-dressage into the USDF will be created. President Williams shared his thoughts on the proposal, “Integrating para-dressage with able-bodied makes sense; I think it’s a natural step forward for our sport. As the official equestrian affiliate for dressage, USDF is the obvious home. The Executive Board has blessed this in concept.”

FEI dressage and para-dressage judge Kristi Wysocki was a featured educational speaker at the 2023 USDF Convention. Photo by Nancy C. Bryant

The 2024 USDF Annual Convention will be held December 5-8 in Houston, Texas.

Helpful Links
More information on the 2023 and 2024 meetings 

2023 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention

Once a year, specialists in equine veterinary medicine gather at the AAEP Convention for continuing education, to elect officers, provide a social support network for equine practitioners, and to recognize leaders in their field. Their 69th Annual Convention attracted 4,708 veterinary professionals, students, technicians, guests and exhibitors, with another 500 equine practitioners and students who registered for virtual learning offered after the Convention. The attendees had a choice of over 123.5 hours of educational offerings.

“Our annual convention embodies the importance of empowering equine veterinarians and students with solutions that create healthier patients, practices and lifestyles,” said AAEP Executive Director David Foley in a news release. “This year’s combination of strong clinical education supplemented by the rollout of AAEP-member generated solutions to traditional impediments to career sustainability really showcased the transformation and opportunities that exist in equine practice.”

During the AAEP Convention a record amount of scholarship money ($535,000) was awarded to 29 veterinary students and one graduate research student through AAEP partner The Foundation for the Horse, a fundraising entity governed and stewarded by equine veterinarians and dedicated to improving the wellbeing of horses.

The 2024 AAEP Convention will be December 7-11 in Orlando, Fla.

Helpful Links
More information and news from the meeting

This article about the 2023 year-end equestrian convention season is a web exclusive for Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Kim MacMillan

Kim MacMillan graduated from Purdue University where she majored in agriculture communications and animal science. She has been reporting on equestrian sports, agriculture, science, travel and history for over 35 years. She and her husband Allen, who is a professional photographer, have covered several World Equestrian, Olympic and Pan American Games. The MacMillans share their Northeastern Indiana farm with several much-loved horses, dogs and cats.

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