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From the Desk of Edward R. “Hoppy” Bennett



Dear Members of The American Saddlebred Community,
 
As predicted, we have received pushback from various members of the Saddlebred industry, namely the American Saddlebred Horse & Breeders Association (ASHBA).  When we made our decision to replace the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) with Equine Sports Council (ESC), we were aware of and discussed this pushback and moved forward with the changes, knowingly.

I would like to address a letter from the ASHBA that has been brought to our attention.  The Association has positioned this letter, and themselves, as the mouthpiece of the Saddlebred industry as a whole.  They have used this representation they claim to have to incite shock and panic.  I would like to level the playing field.  This letter contains approximately 100 digital signatures – a percentage of which are no longer actively participating in the World’s Championship Horse Show.  However, the ASHBA has nearly 7,000 members – so these 100 signatures constitute only 1% of the body of the Saddlebred membership.  This is hardly a share worth any concern toward the organization historically.

The decision to seek licensure from an alternative governing entity for the World’s Championship Horse Show was driven by the conduct and integrity that we experienced from the USEF.  They came with a punch list of notes and violations, which we executed on quickly and efficiently.  Rather than being met with satisfaction, we were told that our USEF certification was in jeopardy with no quantitative understanding of why, or for how long.  

Upon further conversation, we were treated unprofessionally, and in a manner completely absent of integrity.  Around every corner, we found that the USEF was pinning us with violations and guidelines, as well as undermining our state held offices such as our fire marshals, state veterinarians and electricians.  This doesn’t benefit us, our exhibitors, nor our event - so we sought alternatives.  The ASHBA claims that the disassociation from USEF “affects the integrity and prestige of our event, our industry and our breed” and I would counter that it’s quite the opposite – an association with USEF is what is affecting the integrity and prestige.  That association pulls the emphasis away from competition and into red tape and corporate liability.  As organizer and producer of this show for the past 120 years, it is our responsibility to do the best we can for our exhibitors and find ways to avoid this.

USEF has been championed as a “promoter of excellence and sportsmanship”, but please understand – USEF is an organization built and focused on the equestrian arm as the National Governing Body of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC.) Saddlebred competition is not one that is offered at the Olympic games, nor does it need to be governed as such.  You wouldn’t bring the expectations of European football referees to referee USA football games – the stake, guidelines and sport are categorically different – yet this is how USEF has positioned themselves in our event.  Our exhibitors don’t need the benefit of being able to ladder their competition into the Olympics, so why should they take on the disadvantage and cost burden of the scrutiny placed upon an Olympic competitor?  We have no need for the increased litigation suffered by Olympic athletes; if anything, it presents an unnecessary burden and cost that then becomes a hardship for our participants.  The choice to move to ESC allows our competition a governing entity specializing in the Saddlebred sport and ensure that governing guidelines treat it as such.

Finally, the ASHBA has called out a lack of “consultation with the breed associations or the UPHA.”  My response to this is two-fold.  Firstly, our event is not beholden to any breed association.  The World’s Championship Horse Show is a 120-year institution as part of the Kentucky State Fair, and the ASHBA – a registry organization – has ebbed and flowed as far as their involvement and support throughout that tenure.  This was a business decision of a licensure change – from one that was hard to work with and costly, to an amicable and cost-effective counterpart – that is entirely within our jurisdiction as a Fair Board to make independently.  We don’t – and should not – rely on the ASHBA to provide input into our business decisions, and this one is no different. Secondly, we came together as a Board and determined that this decision to replace the USEF would be best not only for us, but for all involved. 

REMEMBER THAT TWO SEPARATE COMMITTEES OF THE BOARD EVALUATED THE ISSUE, AND BOTH COMMITTEES UNANIMOUSLY RECOMMENDED THE CHANGE TO THE KENTUCKY STATE FAIR BOARD.   

We did not make this decision without “consideration given to the possible broader ramifications in the industry.”  This UNANIMOUS decision, by the KENTUCKY STATE FAIR BOARD changes nothing in the industry.  Award points are maintained and bestowed by the ASHBA, qualification guidelines are determined by our Board and show management, and the rules and standards through ESC brings no material change to the nature of our competition and the governing of it.  I would go on to suggest that the ASHBA, rather, has not considered the ‘broader ramifications’ of keeping the USEF involved and looked at the bigger picture of what it’s doing to the Saddlebred industry.  

In 2010, there were 74 Saddlebred horse shows that were sanctioned by USEF.  In 2023, they were down to 22, and I would hazard a guess that those 50-some horse shows did not receive a petitioned letter like we did from the ASHBA.  We are neither the first, nor the only show that has made the decision to separate from USEF.  Rather if anything, we are part of the trend of those trying to free our industry from the overbearing guidance of an organization ruling without the industry’s future in mind.  

We made this decision unanimously and were aware of and prepared for the backlash that would come of it, notwithstanding those grounded in the personal agendas of our constituents.  Please remember the reasons behind our decision – all sound, thoughtful and guided by a long-term outlook – and help to spread those as we move through what will most certainly be a trying year as those involved work to adapt to change.  

Sincerely,

Edward “Hoppy” Bennett 
Kentucky State Fair Board Member
American Saddlebred Horse and Breeders Association (ASHBA) Member and Former Executive Committee Member

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