Make it 10

I dunno about y’all, but my social media is ablaze with people debating the latest extraordinary rule changes put forth by USEA. If you haven’t seen them you can read about them or watch the video discussion.

I Make The Rules GIFs | Tenor

There are some big ones put forth here, most having to do with safety. Like the 5 or more rails equals compulsory retirement at Training level and above. I’ve already talked about that one. I still feel the same way I did when I first heard it.

There’s one not listed on the website though that was discussed in the video – raising the number of required MER’s from 4 to 10 (or fewer depending on the rider’s classification… which, rider classifications at the national level would also be new. FEI does something similar, so it’s not a completely new idea). Most “normal” folks or non-upper level riders would fall into the unlicensed category, and that would mean 10 MER’s. If you aren’t aware, an MER is:

When achieved at a National Horse Trials an MER is achieved by completing the entire Horse Trial and scoring. – not more than 50 penalty points in the Dressage Test; and – No jumping penalties at obstacles on the Cross Country Test unless specified otherwise, and not more than 90 seconds (36 penalty points) exceeding the optimum time; and – not more than 16 penalties at obstacles in the Jumping Test. – 25 penalty points received for Dangerous Riding will not achieve a National Qualifying result. Exceptions to the qualifications noted below may only be approved by the Credentials/Grading Committee.

So basically you have to have 10 runs with a dressage test under 50, a clear XC, and no more than 4 rails in stadium (which, you’d be eliminated anyway if you had more than 4…). I was and still am very much in favor of raising the number of required MER’s. I thought 4 was definitely not enough. But is 10 too many?

This is a tough one for me. When you’re on a budget and/or have to travel a long way to get to an event, 10 MER’s could easily be two years or more. Granted, that was exactly my own trajectory – 2 years at Training before moving up to Prelim. However, I did NOT have 10 MER’s after those 2 years. I had 6. If you counted unrecognized (which here are at least run over the exact same courses that the recognized shows do, and timed) I would have had 10. Of course USEA doesn’t count those, so they wouldn’t have gone toward the total. I would have had to do a 3rd season at Training before we could have moved up. But then taking three years would not meet the “within 24 months” part of the requirements. Endless loop.

Is it the end of the world if people can’t move up the levels? No. Is it adding to the expense of an already expensive sport? For sure. If this was in place when I was moving up would I have tried to run my horse more often than was really ideal for him? I don’t know. Or would I have ended up diverting my money away from unrecognized shows, extra jumper shows, etc? Possible. Would any of that have been for our overall betterment? Probably not. Or maybe I never would have even tried for Prelim at all, my interest waning and turning to something else instead. Hard to say what you would have done or what would have happened in different circumstances.

If you’re on the east coast, where you can pop into a recognized show for the day, spend less than $300, and get your choice pretty much any weekend, it wouldn’t be as difficult or as expensive. But in the rest of the country, where it’s a 4-day endeavor (or more) to show, there’s maybe one a month, and it costs 3 times what a one-day would… 10 MER’s is massive. I have to admit that when I was thinking “more MER’s” I was thinking 6 or 7. Also, what if for all 10 of those MER’s you’re BARELY meeting the requirements? Does hitting the magic number 10 automatically mean you’re safer?

You can also use Modified as part of your MER’s, which would be great except we have NO MODIFIED divisions offered down here. None. At all. That’s not an option for us unless we drive to the East Coast. Again problematic for the rest of the country.

Some other potential cons: It makes it more expensive to bring young horses and sale horses up the levels, which will probably in turn make their prices higher. The cost could discourage ambitious amateurs from really trying to give it a go and/or make it feel impossible, thus not worthwhile to even try. What impact could it have on unrecognized horse trials? Would it make people not even want to “waste” their time at one, needing so many MER’s, or will it drive people away from recognized events entirely and more toward unrecognized? Or away from eventing entirely?

Then again, if all of this really DOES result in keeping horses and riders safer, I can’t argue with that. I’m not confident that it will, because they haven’t shown a lot of in-depth detail on the data behind how these decisions were made. It’s hard to trust or put a lot of faith in numbers or statistics without knowing exactly how they came to be. Maybe if they shared more about this it would help people understand how they came to these conclusions, since it is such a BIG change.

As for the rider classification part, I have no issue with that. It does make sense to me that Phillip Dutton shouldn’t have to have as many MER’s as I do. That’s totally fine with me, and the “unlicensed” label doesn’t bother me the way it has others.

For me personally I think I’d rather see something like 6-7 MER’s, and a reverse qualification like “get eliminated at X level twice in X period of time and you have to move back down and requalify”. Then again, maybe the damage is already done in that elimination. I can see both sides of this, for sure.

I don’t know, this is a hard one for me. Seeing such a drastic rule change was a surprise to me, especially one that would potentially go into effect so soon. There’s some good discussion happening here from both sides of the debate if you want to see more points and opinions. I remain on the fence.

20 thoughts on “Make it 10

  1. The proposed rule just feels so punitive. I feel like the better solution would be a mandatory set-back if you have more than one elimination/withdraw on course at a level, or a certain number of xc penalties. If you can’t complete a course successfully after multiple attempts at that level, you need to take a step back.

    Also, a one-fall-and-you’re-done-for-the-day rule. No falling off in warm up and then going on course. Or falling off one horse and getting on another later that day. But that would hurt the pros ability to make money, so of course we can’t have that.

    Or maybe actually useful course ratings, which people have been begging for for years. Something like blue circle = suitable to people new to the level to double black diamond = championship/testing whether you’re ready to move up to the next level.

    Idk, I’m just a smurf with a semi-retired pasture potato, and I haven’t competed in years. But I volunteer regularly in the forgotten land of Area IV, and would like to get back into eventing in the future. I hope there’s still a sport going by then.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Funny that you describe Area IV as the forgotten land, because I’m sure many non-East-Coast areas (so basically anyone west of the Mississippi) feel similarly that rules are made in and for Areas I, II, and III and the rest of us can go fuck ourselves. I haven’t spoken to other organizers about it, but there’s some pretty intense ire about date/calendar/rule mandates coming down the pike from the big events out in California. Decisions that riders and lower-level event venues were purposefully cut out of.

      Apparently this has woken my inner antibureaucratic dragon because now all I can think about is how much I want equestrian organizations to pull their heads out of their asses and actually treat their base (amateurs) with the value they claim we have.


  2. I’ll more than likely never reach the level where I’d even have to think about MERs but 10 feels like SO MANY. While Area 8 isn’t the East Coast, we have a lot more within 3-5 hr drive than west coast or Texas, it still means a lot of driving and expense to do that many recognized events in two seasons. We have about a 6-7 month show season here, April (if weather cooperates) through October and some people opt out of August because it is just gross outside and I think that’s pretty average for much of the country (length wise, actual months depend by location obviously). So you’d need to average a recognized/month for two seasons straight. It sure seems like a lot to me, particularly if you’re not going somewhere for the winter.


  3. Oof. This is a tough one. Ten feels like a LOT. I could only afford 2-3 recognized events in a season. Georgie and I never had a xc penalty or more than 2 rails in all our outings. We ran Training for 3 seasons, including two T3D. But that still wasn’t 10 qualifying rounds. I can’t imagine having to do even more and putting more wear and tear on her, when, to be honest, I don’t know that completing a bunch of Trainings is what actually determines whether she is ready for Prelim. Does that make sense? Sure, horses that are stopping or having issues at Training probably aren’t ready to move up. But there are also horses who qualify for Prelim that shouldn’t move up.
    It’s all super tricky and I don’t have an answer. Like you, I’m all for additional MERs, but 10 seems excessive and will create its own issues.


    1. Yeah I totally agree with you. Based on your circumstances, you would literally never have qualified to move up. Unless you wanted to spend a couple years taking a lot of PTO and traveling like crazy, which is hard on both the human and the horse.


  4. My first thought was, “safer than what?” The lower levels have a low rate of serious accidents at recognized events. I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I don’t think fatalities from accidents even register at the LL’s.

    Once again the massive divide between LL and UL riders gapes like the Grand Canyon. As usual the USEA is boresighted on the minority of riders who are, or want to be, regulars at the UL’s. I don’t know what the stats are today, but at one earlier point only 15% of all USEA members ever competed above Training. Not just competed UL regularly, but competed at the Prelim level even once.

    At some point the question for a LL rider has to be — what’s the point of spending a fortune on USEA recognized when I can do more on less money at unrecognized? Over the same courses that cost a fortune to ride in a recognized event? At unrecognized, I can event more. I can move up when I decide that I am ready.

    I think that by next year they will issue a change lowering the 10 MER requirements for the LL’s, as they often do with such rule changes. That requirement is just not do-able or affordable in a reasonable amount of time by the huge number of LL riders who only event through the USEA 4-6 times a year, or less, anyway. But who are actively riding and getting their experience AND move-ups through schoolings, clinics and unrecognized horse trials.

    In the minds of the LL amateur/junior riders, in the context of their entire busy lives, is it rational to put in the time, money and work to chase 10 MER’s at USEA horse trials? Or just take another path with their riding that is more satisfying and less expensive – unrecognized, clinics, schooling? Or something other than eventing? In this day & age, LL riders have other options than the USEA. Maybe the USEA will wake up to that – although such a wake-up would cut hard against their entire history in this sport.


  5. So, preface this that I’m a dressage rider.

    I go to one, maybe two recognized shows each year because I cannot justify spending more money than that. I’ll hit up a schooling show or two as well. Overall showing 2-5 times a year. And honestly 4 sounds like a stretch lately. So I could zero percent qualify to move up with the 10 minimum. From my perspective it’s an insane thing to ask of an adult with a full time job and other responsibilities.

    However, I also realize that if I show above my level in dressage neither my horse nor I will likely die. Lord knows there are plenty of riders out there happily not meeting the criteria of the level with no one truly worse off.

    I think there needs to be some account for time spent training. (Though I don’t know of a great way to do it logistically). I spend my time and money on lessons and clinics and hauling out. So that when I do show, we’re totally prepared. And I know I’m not the only one in this boat. Now, showing is different than schooling, so some required shows is good.

    Basically, 6-7 is a lot more realistic for the most of us.


  6. I wonder how the impact to horse welfare factors into this. Many folks don’t have an endless string of horses. Hypothetically if a rider owns one horse and doesn’t live in Aiken, how would they ever move up? 10 successful recognized runs at a minimum for each level is a ton of mileage on a horse. You could literally have to have at least 50 recognized 3 day runs on a horse to get to intermediate. Is this the right thing to do for the horse?


    1. MERs only come into effect starting at the T to P move up, but yeah it would def be putting more miles on a lot of horses than they’d otherwise be getting. Especially if, say, an established advanced horse got sold to a “unlicensed” Prelim level rider and had to start back at Training again to get the MER’s as a horse/rider pair. That’s a lot.


  7. bof that sucks. all I can think of is at a different time in my life, the stars aligned and I had a horse I considered going prelim with. She was older at the time, and we didn’t know how much longer we had left soundness wise. we were already schooling our local prelim course regularly and came up with a tentative plan to get the 4 required MERs and hit prelim in likely our last season together. I can guarantee we would not have made 10 MERs. I have a lot of opportunity to compete being in area 2 and I could not really do more than 5-6 shows with her in a season to preserve her soundness.

    10 just seems like A. LOT.


    1. It seems like a lot to me too, especially when you live somewhere where the eventing season is 5-6 months a year, or if you have a horse you’re trying to preserve. Or, like my horse, who can’t do heat, so either I can event in April/May and Oct/Nov in Texas, or I can drive the wheels off my trailer, use all my PTO, and give my horse ulcers trying to find somewhere with better weather. Just kind of sucks for a lot of people.


      1. Yeah I was thinking the same. I really can’t start competing until like… at LEAST mid may. Bc I don’t go to fuckin Aiken/FL. Soooo I’d have to run my horse in the high heat of summer A LOT to get that many MERs.

        Oh well guess I’ll just never run prelim 🙃


  8. So let’s face it, in the Olympic/World Eq Games years, the Badminton et. al. have been more & more of a ‘disaster’, public-display-wise, due to insufficiently-prepared riders filling up the filler entries, and riding poorly over the course (because top riders are saving horses hoping for a chance at the team). Clearly in dangerous situations, refusing to raise their hand and walk away from a course that is over their heads and dangerous to themselves and their horses. Bad falls, injuries, horses clearly frightened.

    Can’t keep showing that shit over livestream and not expect to get horror (as has been happening), and the risk of major public fallout. But those riders have technically fulfilled qualifications, so how to deny their entry? I get it that this needs to be corrected. At the FEI level, and the USEA sees its own UL’s as default FEI, as they are prep. I get that.

    But while the USEA has eternally (and fruitlessly) wanted to push American eventers generally to Prelim competency – as is said to be the standard in Europe (particularly the UK where the USEA leadership has close connections) – now they are putting up a roadblock to riders with those ambitions. Who can NOT afford one USEA event after another (a whole other issue, the cost to compete recognized, and the increasing traffic to unrecognized). Keeping in mind that 85% of eventers do not ride above Training, often because of expense rather than competency. I am one that has schooled Prelim but never thought of competing at that level.

    I’ve watched a T competitor gallop madly straight into a small Weldon’s without so much as a half-halt to get the horse ready to jump, and after a tiny lift-off, smash right through it, demolishing the jump and leaving both horse and rider on the ground, side-by-side, not moving. It took about 10 minutes to get both up on their feet, but both walked away. Jump couldn’t be repaired on the fly so was taken out of the course.

    That round was intended to be their prep for their first Prelim. Girl + horse went to their first Prelim the following weekend. Here in Area 5.

    I get it, this garbage can’t be allowed to happen. Riders demonstrably unprepared for a UL move-up who move up anyway. Riders & horses out on UL courses that are totally over their heads. Totally get it.

    But this rule change is a classic of using a hammer when far more sophisticated tools are needed. And emphasizing the favoritism to pros, even though this country has a raft of amateurs who have the skills & experience to be pro, but who choose not to be.

    Who do they want to keep in the game? Who do they NOT want to keep in the game? Is this rule achieving those outcomes?

    If the USEA wanted to get a reaction to test the waters, they are achieving that, at least.


  9. And not for nothing, this sounds like yet another USEA rule change that *may* be intended to show effort to correct for tragedies that have occurred in recent years … but actually would have made no difference had the rule been in effect at the time. Just saying.


  10. I’m not sure why they just don’t make the MER standards better? If you’re squeaking by with a 49 dressage score with 3/4 rails but clear xc in time… that’s not what needs to moving up…

    While I understand dressage is most people’s least favorite part, a 50 is pretty much like signing your name correctly on the test… what about that says ready for P dressage?? If you’re constantly getting 3+ rails on jumps that fall down at 3’3”, that doesn’t bode well for solid 3’7” solid jumps.

    Quality not quantity?


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