I’m sure y’all have seen a lot of the chatter going on lately about USEF taking a hard look at revamping their amateur rules. There’s been a lot of discussions, a task force was created, and a few days ago they had a webinar about some of the ideas they’ve had/changes they’re looking at. A basic write-up of their ideas is here if you missed it. Admittedly, I didn’t watch the webinar, I just read the cliffs notes version. Mostly because I’m honestly just really tired of having the conversation at all.
I think eventing is the sport in which amateur vs pro classifications matter the least. Our divisions are rarely separated by amateur vs open, rather ours tend to either all just be open divisions or they’re divided into “Horse”, “Rider”, or “Open”. I think I’ve been in an actual Amateur division a grand total of once in my entire eventing career, and that was at AEC’s in 2015 where they split divisions every possible different way.
The way our classifications work in eventing is that “Horse” is for less experienced horses: A horse division is open to any competitors, but the horse cannot have completed an event above the next highest level. So for instance, no one could go enter Henry in a Novice Horse division, since he’s competed at Preliminary. A Novice Horse division could have pros on green horses, amateurs on lifelong low-level horses, etc.
Next is the “Rider” classification: A rider division is open to competitors who have not completed an event above the next highest level in the last five years. So basically since I’ve only competed through Prelim, I could enter Prelim Rider but I couldn’t enter Novice Rider. The rider divisions are also not limited to amateur or pro, only by the rider’s experience.
Last is the “Open” classification, which, as may be obvious, is open to any horse or rider of any experience, amateur or pro. Some people just always enter the Open divisions by default because it’s easiest (like Megan with Presto, she just always enters all of hers in Open, and that’s fine, you don’t HAVE to enter Horse or Rider even if you’re qualified for it) and it tends to shake out fine in the end anyway.
It’s slightly more complicated than that when you take into account FEI stuff (it’s all outlined here) but for the most part, that’s it. Pretty simple. However, one thing USEA currently DOES do is award “amateur placings” for points or championship qualification purposes. For instance, if someone who was classified as an amateur came in 3rd place overall but was the top placed amateur, they would get 1st place points toward their USEA amateur leaderboard ranking and would get a 1st place qualification towards championships. You don’t get any extra ribbons, heck you probably won’t even find out your amateur placing until the points get entered into USEA, but that’s the only place where amateurs can benefit a little bit. Honestly, I’d be totally fine with doing away with that and not even having an amateur classification at all. To me this whole amateur thing just seems way more freakin complicated than it’s worth. There’s got to be a better way, even if it’s something totally different than any sport has now, or with more classifications than I listed above.
So my question is – why would something akin to (even if not the same as) eventing’s approach not work for other disciplines too? I’ve come from the h/j world, and while it would be VERY different from how things are now, I can see it working. Honestly it’s a lot simpler than the way things are now with 9000 different things that amateurs can or cannot do under the rules and all the attempts to circumvent it or make allowances. The Horse/Rider/Open classifications also tend to sort themselves more fairly, IMO, because if I’m entered in a Rider division at least I’m not up against anyone who’s ridden at a much higher level.
Mostly though, I’m so tired of having the amateur conversation that I’m ready to just do away with it entirely. They don’t really use it in other countries either, so… why are we so twisted up in it? Is there really not a better, easier, simpler, way than writing a million rules about what people can or cannot do to keep an asinine status? Why are we clinging so tightly to this “amateur” classification in the first place?