Top 5 Takeaways From the USEF Strategic Plan

The USEF wants you back. It understands why you left or never bothered joining in the first place, and it’s prepared to earn your trust and support.

In his first official week on the job, President Murray Kessler unveiled the 4 Year Strategic Plan at the United States Equestrian Federation’s Annual Meeting Wednesday in Lexington. The nearly 2-hour presentation was packed with the requisite data, charts, bullet points and goals, but it also delivered plenty of earnest admissions of dysfunction while laying out the path to improvement.

Murray Kessler with daughter Reed. ©Kenneth Kraus/Phelps Sports
Murray Kessler with daughter Reed. ©Kenneth Kraus/Phelps Sports

There’s lots to take in (you can watch the full presentation here), but here are some key points… 

1. Down to business

Kessler’s business fingerprints are all over the USEF’s Strategic Plan. Bizzy buzzwords like “streamline”, “SWOT analysis”, “revenue growth” and “efficiency” bandied throughout the presentation, and that’s exactly what the Fortune 500 executive was elected to do.

First off, the USEF has rebranded.

One is serious. The other is fun!

It will also roll out a new and improved website later this week, and while we’ve yet to explore it, it can only be an improvement from the current model.

The tangled, arterial and committee structure has been reduced to 8 FEI Committees where previously there were 24. Kessler called the old model “cumbersome and complicated”, noting 500-600 new rules were being added to the rule book each year. The goal, said Kessler, is to become more service oriented and transparent.


2. Membership growth and retention

“There are more people that have left the Federation in the last five years than are in the Federation today,” Kessler admitted. Indeed, while roughly 17,000 new members join the Federation each year, 17,000 let their memberships expire. And of the estimated 1.9 million horse owners in the US, just 4% are USEF members.

“I was shocked by that,” said Kessler. “I just thought we were stable and stagnant, not churning like that. A lot of the data in there, especially around membership, was a big ‘a-ha’. It’s upsetting…but it’s an opportunity.”

Kessler wants to make the USEF attractive not just for competing equestrians, but all equestrians. This year the USEF will offer a non-competitive membership, which for $25, will grant full access to everything short of a competition pass.

The new mission: Bring joy of horse sports to as many people as possible. “The joy,” said Kessler, “is the bond between the horse and rider.”

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3. Increase support for Para-Equestrian

“We’re one of the most successful countries in equestrian sports with the results to prove it,” Kessler beamed as he ran through the list of international excellence. But there is one hole in the international program he is keen to fix: Para-Equestrian.

“We struggle to field teams. And that just shouldn’t be,” said Kessler. “We need to provide access to and increase participation in Para-Equestrian. It’s the right thing to do.”


4. Back to the roots

Equestrian sports are being consolidated by big organizers, and as Kessler pointed out, this has had many positive benefits. But as the big box shows continue to grow, the smaller, “grassroots” events suffer. Kessler illustrated that the top two event organizers in Florida represent 60% of all competition horses in the Sunshine State. Going forward, Kessler hopes to diversify the landscape and reinvigorate smaller, regional shows.


5. Members deserve respect, but cheaters will not win

Respect is important to Kessler. He cites a number of positive things that come from demonstrating respect for people at all levels of the sport—from the employees to judges to athletes.

Changing the confrontational element of the Hearing Committee process overseeing violations is part of that. Treat people with respect if you want respect. Everyone deserves it, and it’s easy to see how litigation can result from even the perception of disrespect, which he believes is reinforced by the process Kessler seeks to change.

Kessler expects that by making the hearing process less confrontational, litigation costs for US Equestrian will be able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually litigating cases that are mostly accidental in intent. “When it is cheating, it’s obvious. Then, we’re not so nice.”


Other items of note:

The Federation has plans in place for a new headquarters to be built at the Kentucky Horse Park. Kessler called it a cost-saving move, estimating nearly $300,000 in annual savings over the longterm.

Beginning immediately, the bulk of the content on the USEF Network will only be accessible to members.

To gather ideas for improvement, Kessler and fellow Federation executives studied the national programs of the German and Dutch, which have far greater involvement.

Hunter/Jumpers account for over half of all memberships.

Hunters accounted for 59% of all drug and medication violations in 2016.


Find out more at USEquestrian.org.

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