Saturday, December 10, 2011

RANT: USEA convention

Let me preface this by saying that I am not bitter because I'm not there this weekend. My decision to skip out and not participate wasn't due to limited finances (for once, if you can believe that); it was a conscious decision made after thoughtful consideration.

A month or so ago, I fully intended on attending the USEA annual convention in my own home state of good ole Tennessee. How exciting, right? Nashville is a great city, it's only 3 hours from me, and tons of my eventing friends -- not to mention my sister -- live there, and it would have been such a fabulous trip. But, as I realized that the meetings started on Wednesday, and I teach Monday-Friday, I began to wonder how much I could realistically attend. I teach for a college that does not allow sick days/time off for adjuncts without reducing their salary accordingly for each day they miss class. Say what? Yep, you heard me correctly. If I were to cancel class (for any reason at all, including death or hospitalization), my contract salary is docked for every day I do not meet with my students. With the convention falling during the last 2 days of the semester, this made finding a substitute to meet with my classes very difficult and all but pointless. My only option was to consider attending over the weekend (Friday evening through Sunday afternoon). So, I planned to do just that.

As the weeks progressed and I got excited about the trip to Nashville, I pulled up the schedule of events for the convention and I was deeply disappointed to realize that other than a few random sessions on Saturday and relatively none on Sunday, it would be ridiculous for me to make a 3-hour trip for very little involvement or participation. In addition to that, the cost of attending was in excess of $100 per day. Of course, there is a bundled fee of about $200+ for the entire convention (not including the banquet or the many $10-$12 cocktails I would need at the end of each day), but when the majority of the activities fell on Friday-Saturday, that's not much of a discount over the daily fee. But, I'll get to that shortly.

So, let's say that I had cancelled my classes for Thursday and Friday, took the subsequent pay cut, hired a farm sitter, made the trip to Nashville, and paid the registration fees. Let's see what I would have gotten for my efforts:

Thursday, Dec. 8

Continental Breakfast Sponsored by Rebecca Farm  Irrelevant
USEA Trade Fair  Irrelevant
USEF Eventing Technical Committee Not attending
USEF Eventing Technical Committee Committee Members Only 
Membership Committee Committee Members Only
Course Advisors Committee Committee Members Only
Area Affairs/Chairs Committee Committee Members Only
Professional Horseman’s Council Would attend
USEF Active Athletes Open Forum Not a USEF active athlete
Classic Committee Committee Members Only
Eventing Course Designers/Builders Committee Members Only
Rider Strength and Conditioning Workshop  Would attend
USEA Xentry: What's Next? Irrelevant
USEF Event Owner’s Task Force Irrelevant
Eventing Licensed Officials Committee Committee Members Only
Is your Horse Fit to Finish? Irrelevant
Board of Governors’ Reception Irrelevant
USEA Executive Committee and A&F Joint Meeting Committee Members Only
Friday,  Dec. 9

Continental Breakfast Sponsored by Rebecca Farm Irrelevant
USEA Trade Fair Irrelevant
Smart Business Practices for Eventers Irrelevant
USEA Board of Governors Meeting Not attending
EMSA Board Meeting Committee Members Only
Course Designers/Builders Open Forum Would attend
The Development Of SJ Courses At The Modern Olympic Games Not attending
Horse Parks, Hay Fields and Hack Lanes: How to Protect our Interest Would attend
Equestrian Sports Psychology Seminar Would attend
Dress Your Event For Success Irrelevant
Rule Change Open Forum Time conflicts with psych seminar
PRO Annual Meeting Irrelevant
Developing Your Eye: Judging YEH and FEH Conformation Irrelevant
The Latest in Eventing Safety Sponsored by Point-Two Air Jackets Would attend
Eventing Licensed Officials Committee Members Only
Area Treasurers/Chairs Working Session Committee Members Only
FEH Open Forum/Panel Discussion Irrelevant
Organizers Open Forum Irrelevant
Get The Most Out Of Your Pre-Purchase Exam Irrelevant
Young Event Horse Committee Members Only
Training Solutions from Top Event Riders Would attend
Competition Calendar and Rules Committee Committee Members Only
Raising the Bar on Barn Safety Time conflicts with riders forum
USEF Eventing High Performance Committee Members Only
USEA Endowment Trust Committee Members Only
Eventing Affiliates Irrelevant
PRO Year End Awards Pointless
Young Riders Coordinators Session/Comm. Meeting Committee Members Only
YR Dinner Sponsored By: Gallops Saddlery, Fleeceworks, Kerrits, and
VTO Saddlery Irrelevant
Saturday, Dec. 10

Continental Breakfast Sponsored by Rebecca Farm Irrelevant
USEF Eventing High Performance/Tech.Comm Joint Meeting Committee Members Only
USEA Trade Fair Irrelevant
Adult Riders Open Forum Would attend
The Road to The NAJYRC… Making Sense of It All Irrelevant
EMSA Open Forum Time conflicts with AR forum
Navigating Through the World of Joint Treatments Sponsored by Adequan Irrelevant
Eventing Calendar Planning for 2013 and Beyond Irrelevant
Colic: The Deadly Killer sadly know more about this already than ever wanted to
Young Riders Open Forum Irrelevant
Success Factor: The Influence of Tack on Biomechanics Sponsored by WEB Maybe
Where Does Your Entry Fee Go? Would attend
USEA Annual Meeting with Keynote Speaker Clayton Fredericks Yes, definitely
Pan Am Games Review Yawn
American Horse Trials Foundation Probably not
Cocktails and Live Auction Would need drinks by now, if had any money left
Year-End Awards Dinner NO WAY... too expensive on top of daily registration must be joking.

Sunday's "offerings" don't even merit listing here.

Does this bother anyone else besides me? As you can see, after I had done an in-depth analysis, it was almost ludicrous for me to give up my students on their last 2 days of class, lose that income, spend money driving to Nashville, spend money registering for the convention, and actually muster up the enthusiasm to mill around the Sheraton for 3 whole days attempting to mingle and participate in something that, on paper, appears to be designed with very little thought given to me at all. And, who am I? I am one of the lower-level amateurs who competes BN-T (hopefully), is an active member of the USEA, loves my sport, volunteers often, adores my fellow eventers, has a devotion to everything eventing, worships my horse, respects our professionals, supports local events, works hard to accomplish whatever I manage to accomplish, and never causes trouble nor complains about much at all. Why am I so unimportant? At first, I was surprised that none of my eventer friends (many of whom LIVE IN NASHVILLE) were even remotely interested in attending the convention. After much thought, I can now see why. I have only attended the USEA convention one time (when it was in Charlotte several years ago, mainly because I turned it into a 5-day visit with my best friend who lives there). I was initially so excited it was coming to Nashville this year, but I'm really frustrated now. I'm frustrated that much of what was offered was not relevant or open to my inclusion. I'm frustrated that it would have cost more to attend a few choice sessions over the span of 1 or 2 days than it would cost me to actually enter and compete in a USEA-sanctioned horse trial. I'm frustrated that I wanted so badly to attend, learn, experience, and participate, but it just wasn't worth it. And, I'm frustrated that out of dozens of USEA members, competitors, ammie/professional riders, and eventing trainers I know in the Nashville area that only ONE person is actually attending. What is wrong with this picture? Just think, if they had created more opportunities on Saturday/Sunday for people with a Monday-Friday job, and made the cost more affordable, I would have been there. Instead, I didn't go, didn't participate, and the USEA got $0 from me when they could have gotten $50, or $75, or even $100 if things had been priced differently. I'm not a math genius, but I do know that some profit is better than none. least Eventing Nation John is there reporting back to everyone via EN. I appreciate that so much. It certainly makes my decision to sit this out a positive one on my part. But, doesn't that mean there is something wrong with this scenario, when I am content (almost forced) to participate from afar?????

UPDATE: 12/11/2011
My blog is automatically posted to my profile on Facebook, and after this entry appeared last evening, a great discussion ensued on my page, and I am -- unfortunately -- not alone in feeling as I do. Here are a sampling of most of the comments.

  • [Area III adult rider and USEA member/owner]: thanks for taking the time to write my sentiments KERZACTLY!!!! Happy that all who could go and get together did so, but couldn't even BEGIN to muster an itty bitty bit of real regret in not going...let's have our own convention soon though, ok?
  • [Area I adult rider and USEA member/competitor]: Did not break this down in my head like this... Really good points...
  • [A convention-attending USEA member/competitor/T3D rider from Nashville]: I was there... and I hear ya. I did not feel like I got my money's worth.
  • [Local USEA event organizer, venue manager, volunteer coordinator, USEA member/competitor parent, and USEA member/competitor herself]: My thoughts exactly! Was planning on going, staying with a friend,(trying to cut down on cost) and looking forward to learning and being with fellow eventers and organizers. Then I saw the price. For me it WAS about the price. Out of the question. So how can it be a convention for me/us, members of USEA, when it excludes so many of us?
  • [My response to all of them]: [Name of previous commenter], It's almost like they should have all of the committee meetings on Thursday/Friday, and then lots of fun, informative, and interactive sessions for riders, owners, organizers, and course designers on Saturday/Sunday. I know they can't make everybody happy all of the time, but it sounds as though -- resoundingly -- I am not alone in my frustration! [Name of above respondent], you're right. This is about the third or fourth USEA convention agenda that I've looked at the past few years where it seems as though the offerings continue to move further and further towards administration and select participants, and further away from pulling in the people out there running competitions, managing venues, and entering/competing at events. It also irked me that there were NO SESSIONS (as far as I could tell) that discussed improving volunteer involvement. And, there was the "Pan Am Games Review" session, but where were the forums for riders who participated in the Classic 3-day in South Carolina this past spring? Or, the T3Ds across the country in 2011? I also didn't see ANYTHING that looked interesting for younger riders (our JRs, who constitute a lot of the lower-level membership and generate just as many dollars as you and I do). Kind of shameful, the more I think about it. Grrrr.....


eventer79 said...

THANK YOU. It's not just me! Chalk it up to about the 127th time this year the USEA has made me feel like they don't give a flip about me, the adult amateur rider/owner/member/volunteer/active participant who is the base of the organization. Le sigh.

Anonymous said...

Wow- you missed a GREAT convention. The safety lectures on Friday and Saturday were interesting, informative, and open to all sorts of people. The session with the physio was a ton of fun, and everyone I saw come out (almost all lower level, amateurs) not only had a blast but learned some good stuff. The Board of Governors had detailed conversations about stuff that absolutely matters to amateurs, but you claim that is "irrelevant".

Frankly, I'm glad you didn't go. You'd have been a massive Debbie Downer to the rest of us who had a wonderful time.

Anonymous said...

You missed out. There were a ton of lower level amateurs there who are the heart and soul of USEA. Great seminars, interesting lectures, fun trade show. Your loss, sourpuss.

Anonymous said...

If you don't like USEA, why aren't you volunteering with them to try to make it better? Or is it just soooo much easier to sit back and make nasty comments about all the people (including a ton of amateurs and lower level riders)who spend hours of their lives volunteering with USEA.

Holly Ratcliff said...

Hi Anonymous -- I am honestly glad that you enjoyed the convention. My blog post has been circulating for a few days now and I had not heard any comments from attendees who felt it wasn't lacking in some respect or couldn't have been more beneficial. There are always two sides to every coin. I am disappointed, though, that in defending your experience at the convention and in supporting the value of the 2011 meeting, you resorted to attacking me personally ("I'm glad you didn't go," "Debbie Downer," "Your loss, sourpuss") rather than trying to reach out to me and make me feel encouraged to attend next year. I specifically avoided making any personal jabs in my original entry, and I am sorry you needed to react so aggressively. Thank you, fellow USEA member, for making someone who already felt overlooked and devalued feel even more alienated and unimportant.

As to the other anonymous post about "why aren't you volunteering with them to try to make it better?" I would be more than happy to volunteer. I volunteer a lot at horse trials, so if there is an opportunity to volunteer for convention agendas/planning, I would love to do that, as well. Could you tell me more about that or help me get in touch with someone who can get me onboard? Thank you!

Low Level Amateur said...

I agree with some of your comments but not with others.

I wish they had more of the "interesting" things on Saturday and Sunday, and I wish it were not as expensive. In particular, I wish they has scheduled something additional opposite the Pan Am session.

But I think there is a trade off there. I think the meeting rooms were either less available or more expensive on the weekend, which is why they have more stuff on Thursday and Friday. To run more meeting rooms on Saturday and Sunday, they would have to charge more.

I find some of the things you describe as "irelevant" (in particular the Eventing Technical Committee, the Board of Governors meeting, and the Rules Change Forum) to be the MOST relevant, giving you insight into both the current issues and the direction of the sport, AND the opportunity to give them YOU insight.

The BoG meeting is not a "free for all" like the Rules Change Forum, but they DO accept (limited) comments from the audience. More importantly, once you know who they are, they are avaialble throughout the meeting, and you can talk to any member of the BoG about the things you like or don't like. That is your opportunity to put forward your perspetive as a lower level amateur rider.

I agree the session with the "physio" was great fun (who knew exercise could be so amusing).

The session about the FEH offered great information for anyone who buys young horses.

The information in the safety seminars is just as relevant to the BN amateur as to the ULR.

The talk on PPEs was useful to anyone who buys (or helps a friend buy) a horse.

I wish I could have gone to Richard Jeffries history of show jumping, the sports psychology, the Organizer's forum and the training tips, but they conflicted with other things I went to.

It is also a great opportunity to meet other lower level amateurs (some of whom actually have positions on various committees) from different parts of the country.

The first couple of meetings can be hard, if you feel intimidated. But you often see the same (low level, amaeur) people from year to year and they become friends.

If you are serious about wanting to volunteer (at the annual meeting, or with anything else), email Jennifer at useventing . com

Holly Ratcliff said...

Low Level Amateur, I can't thank you enough for taking the time to write such an informative and thoughtful comment. I am very grateful for your description of the Board of Governer's meeting, which I did deem as "irrelevant" to me when I initially did my decision-making. You are right to point out that my designation of "irrelevant" wasn't a statement on the relevancy of that session to the sport or to other participants....that was individual to me and only me. Like I mentioned in my post, the last time I attended a convention was in Charlotte, so that experience colored some of my decision-making rationale this time around, as well. The BoG meeting was pretty formal, as I remember. I think I enjoyed EN John's shorter recap than I actually would have sitting there in a crowded room, quiet as a little mouse. :-)

You make an excellent point about the meeting spaces, but if there is no alternative to that scheduling then I guess there is no alternative. It does make it hard for someone who can't easily escape work M-F to be there for some of those critical sessions (safety and physio, being the first that come to mind).

I really do appreciate you taking the time to give me a more productive response regarding what I missed. I don't think there is any way I could schedule to be in Colorado (nor afford the trip, to say the least!) next year, but I will absolutely email Jennifer about volunteering to help with some of the organization. Just because I can't attend doesn't mean I could not lend a hand between now and next December. The opportunity to become involved would certainly make me more enthusiastic about attending closer to home in 2013, I'm sure.


samantha clark said...

Holly, Sorry to leave this in the comments section. I'm not sure if I ever had your email address, and if I did I've lost it. Would you mind emailing me please? Thank you very much, Samantha