You can’t be a practicing USEF member or even a casual participant in the sport these days without feeling the winds of change nipping at your heels.

Mostly, they come in the form of updated U.S. Center for SafeSport and Minor Athletes Abuse Prevention Policies (MAAPP), which are being rolled into USEF programming effective January 1, 2022, and have been adapted for equestrian athletes.

Some of these changes (think: social media contact, transportation, and more) have been in effect at USEF-sanctioned horse shows and for team coaches since 2019. But the latest of these—namely, those concerning one-on-one interactions between minor athletes and adults—will roll out in the New Year and have been extended from USEF events to home barns, affecting both amateurs and professionals, alike.

If you’re hearing about them now for the first time, start by reading the full list of revised policies here. We’ll wait.

How’d it go? Feeling hen-pecked? Confused? Panic-stricken? That’s just the latest headlines surrounding Omicron. Now take a deep breath. With a bit of perspective and maybe a dab of essential oils, we’re going to help you understand the 2022 MAAPP changes and some of the thinking behind the oft-misunderstood “rule of three.”

Let’s start by breaking down some common myths (pulled from actual reader comments!) to separate the facts from the fiction.


We’re picking up on a general sense of annoyance and frustration here. (If you don’t speak internet, OFFS stands for ‘Oh, For F—‘s Sake’.) All fair. Before you go back to panic-scroll through the fine print, though, let’s talk big picture.

The basic idea: the new MAAP rules extend to any adult within the governance or disciplinary jurisdiction of USEF—not just members—whether you and/or your trainer compete at one sanctioned show a year or 20-plus. Keep in mind, these rules apply to lessons, clinics, and events at your barn, but also to outside outings, including but not limited to pre- or post-competition meals, reviewing show or clinic footage, awards celebrations, fundraising, and more.

We know this feels like a lot, so while you’re trying to figure out how you might be impacted, we totally get why you’d want to post some salty acronyms in the comments section. But let’s focus on the facts.

The primary objective of the rule change is empowered oversight—engaging people, such as parents, to be required observers at the barn is a proven strategy that not only helps protect minor athletes from abuse but also creates a culture where their safety is first and foremost. And while it might seem daunting at first, there are plenty of ways these changes can be integrated into your program in a way that works for you.

“This may be going too far.”

How much the new rules will impact your barn depends largely on how many minor riders you accommodate. The primary thing to keep in mind is that any in-program contact that occurs between an adult amateur and minor rider, or a trainer of minor riders, must be “observable and interruptible.”

In other words, don’t be the sole adult alone at the barn with a kid, or behind a literal closed door with a minor in the tack room or anywhere else. End of story.

“In youth protection, that’s generally referred to as a ‘rule of three.’ You can have two athletes and one adult; two adults and one athlete. But you try to have additional observers there,” says youth protection expert Les Nichols.

Parents are the obvious first choice to fill that role. If they can’t be on site, there are work arounds, says Nichols.

“For example, there are standards in recreational swimming where a single trained lifeguard should be supplemented by informal spotters, whose role is to help see and communicate potential problems that typically precede a drowning. The same concept applies to sexual abuse prevention.”

What that means in practical terms: If you are friends with students or fellow riders on Facebook, Instagram, or other social platforms, make sure all your messages are “open and transparent” (i.e. public and not in private DMs) so they can be easily read by another adult. If you’re texting a minor or minors about lessons or the weekly schedule (or they text you), copy a parent or another trainer, barn manager, etc. in your message or reply. Better yet, post your exchange on a shared group thread.

One option many barns will likely adopt to help them maintain the status quo is to give parents the option of providing informed consent by signing a waiver (see this example from USEF), which will allow their child to participate in one-on-one training or transportation with a designated adult (i.e. their trainer). But even if this is the route your barn takes, knowledge is power, and all parents should plan to do their own due diligence by reviewing both MAAP policies and the training information at USEF’s SafeSport for Parents page, available here, before putting pen to paper.

“This is a CYA statute to protect USEF from lawsuits.”

It’s more than an effort to cover USEF’s rear. It’s a federal mandate. 

Beginning on January 1, 2022, all National Governing Bodies (NGBs) under the auspice of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement—that means USEF—will be required to implement, at a minimum, these revised MAAP policies and translate them for their sport-specific audience. The new rules will apply to some 11 million athletes across all sports, and guyyyys… while the roll out part of these mandates might come with some headaches, the general sentiment behind them is a good one.   

Equestrian, as we all know, doesn’t boast a sterling track record when it comes to sexual misconduct (see this or this major case, just to name just a few). In fact, in sports where one-on-one training is common, like equestrian, minor athletes are potentially more at risk for misconduct and grooming situations, especially as they progress up the ranks.

“Young athletes, particularly those in elite sports, have a more frequent incident of sexual abuse by coaches or trainers when they are competing at a higher level,” says Nichols, adding that the required dedication, one-on-on time with trainers, and the pressure and increasingly high stakes—financial and otherwise—that come with success for athletes and their families all play a role.

Recommended reading: Grooming Is an Inside Job.

“If there is an adult whom people don’t feel safe leaving a minor [with], said adult shouldn’t be anywhere near the sport.”

But that’s just the problem. Predators don’t come with a warning label. In fact, they’re most commonly someone the victim, and often the community, knows and trusts.

“In theory, anybody could be an abuser,” Nichols says.

“Only a very small percentage of abusers have a criminal record.”

Nichols doesn’t mean we should all start to side-eye our trainers or look at one another with suspicion. He means we need to take an open-eyed view of the facts: Abuse occurs in all sports, and its mental health effects on young athletes can last a lifetime (see: Simone Biles). In fact, according to MAAPP, more than half of all athletes surveyed have reported having unwanted sexual experiences, with at least some or all occurring before the age of 18. Of these same athletes, 34 percent reported mental health impacts as a result of sexual harm experiences.

“Each [barn] has to see its accountability in this, and the more you can push that down from the national to the local level, the more success you’ll have,” explains Nichols, who says a diverse approach, including limiting one-on-one interactions and private communications, is an important first step. The second step is getting athletes at the grassroots level on board, not just because we have to be, but because we support the greater mission at large: Protecting young athletes also means protecting the future of the sport.

“This will be the end of the barn rat; that kid willing to clean stalls, lunge horses, groom, and learn skills from a mentor.”

It doesn’t have to be. Mentorship will always be an inherent component of equestrian sport, not just for developing riding skills, but for providing young athletes with the knowledge and horsemanship they need to succeed in their discipline long-term. As a trainer, limiting one-on-one interactions may mean you need to rethink how your program provides this education and extra-curricular time.

For instance, you and/or your adult amateur riders might need to:

  • Create a weekly schedule or coordinate a buddy system to ensure there’s more than one adult on site at a time when a minor rider is present.
  • Require parents to attend their child’s private lessons or to switch to semi-private lessons. (Note: Even for lessons composed of more than one minor rider, MAAPP recommends having parental waiver forms signed in advance in case someone needs to cancel or show up late.)
  • Take a revised approach to sanctioned drop-offs and open barn hours for minor riders coming to hack their own horses. A program-wide, shared calendar with the week’s schedule (Google is a great option) can help to keep parents and riders of all ages in the loop.

If you already have an assistant trainer or adult staff member that works full-time, your barn may be impacted less; there is also a close-in-age exception for minors and young adult riders within four years of age.

As with so much in life, clear, open communication can be the key to your success here. Your barn might find it helpful to provide adult amateurs and parents of minor riders with the full picture of the new rules as well as your barn’s updated expectations in 2022 (pssst… a barn-wide meeting in the New Year might not be a bad idea).

With a little planning and a spirit of flexibility, everyone can get the training and riding times they need while still allowing aspiring barn rats everywhere the extra opportunities to muck, groom, and learn while developing their love for the sport. 

“It’s about time, other sports like local flag football and soccer leagues put such restrictions in place years ago.”

The new MAAPP rules are here to stay, and equestrian is just one of many sports that will need to adjust to the changing tide. To be sure, there are probably some inconveniences headed our way. But the need behind them—to help shift the culture and better protect the next generation of young riders in our sport—is a good one.

At the end of the day, abuse is not a problem that can be fully addressed by legislation.

“That’s one of the weak spots,” says Nichols. “It really takes a cultural shift.”

Let’s lead by example, and meet the coming challenges like the tough, no-nonsense horse people we are.