MHC Sport Horse Committee Report
by Katherine O. Rizzo (first published in the September 2022 Equiery)
It might be easy to forget that the world still is affected by the COVID pandemic when walking around a horse competition these days. On the surface, it may all seem “business as usual.” Any competitions running under U.S. Equestrian Federation rules, however, must still comply with USEF’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Plan.
USEF first addressed the COVID pandemic on March 10, 2020 with a letter to its members simply stating that they were monitoring the situation closely and had created a resource “hub” on its website to update members on how the pandemic was affecting USEF competitions. Just three days later, USEF announced that as of March 16, 2020, all USEF owned and sanctioned activities were suspended for 30 days while the USEF, and the world, tried to figure out what to do next. As many will remember, USEF subsequently extended this suspension through May 31, 2020.
Throughout May 2020, USEF issued and updated its new COVID-19 Action Plan with the goal of returning to competitions and activities on June 1, 2020. When competitions and activities did resume – in those states that allowed them to – the horse competition experience was much changed with limited capacities, required mask use and temperature checks before entering competition grounds (among other USEF requirements).
On May 18, 2021, the USEF revised its COVID-19 Action Plan in order to “provide increased flexibility in a rapidly changing environment.” At this point, most of the Action Plan was re-written to be more vague and directed members to stick to those COVID guidelines and restrictions issued by their state or local governments.
Now, two years and three months later, the USEF updated the COVID-19 Action Plan as of August 15, and has issued a COVID-19 Emergency Response Plan Suggestions booklet. The updates begin in Appendix C of the 13-page document and states:
“This document has been designed to provide general guidelines for managing incidents in the event a COVID-19-related situation occurs at a US Equestrian Licensed Competition. Most organizers of US Equestrian Licensed Competitions have comprehensive protocols in place to address a suspected COVID-19 situation, but others may find these suggestions useful in developing procedures that meet their needs.”
“This resource is generic in nature; therefore, not all of its contents will apply to every US Equestrian Licensed Competition organizer.”
The appendix continues to encourage organizers to create their own COVID-19 Emergency Response plan based on their state and local requirements but also reminds organizers that the following procedures are still REQUIRED by USEF (USEF COVID-19 Action Plan, Section D).
“USEF-Licensed competitions must operate in accordance with state and local requirements. In the absence of state or local requirements, USEF recommends compliance with CDC guidelines. In an effort to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19, Competition Organizers can impose more restrictive requirements if they so choose.”
“Additionally, competition organizers must implement the USEF requirements listed on the following pages and are encouraged to implement all recommended best practices contained in the referenced appendices or similar practices for mitigating risks related to the COVID-19 virus. These requirements are in effect until future notice: however, they are subject to revisions as the COVID-19 virus environment continues to change.”
The USEF requirements are summarized below. For a full list of requirements, please see: https://www.usef.org/forms-pubs/XhKGVYiiwTA/usef-covid-19-action-plan-for-operating
1. Ensure that all participants, licensed officials and volunteers provide emergency contact information and fill out a USEF Waiver and Release of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement.
2. All persons entering competition grounds are required to self-monitor for COVID-19.
3. The following individuals are not allowed to enter the competition grounds regardless of vaccination status:
a. Regardless of whether a COVID-19 test is taken, anyone who exhibits COVID-10 symptoms, including a temperature of 100.4° F (38° C) or higher
b. Anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 5 days
c. Anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 outside of the past 5 days but still is symptomatic
4. Competition organizers must post signage on their website, in their prize lists and throughout the competition grounds that state any specific COVID-19 requirements for that competition facility.
5. Competition organizers must post the USEF Poster “STOP! If you proceed past this entry point, you attest to the following…” which reminds anyone on the grounds what the USEF COVID-19 policies are. Organizers can download this poster from the USEF website.
6. Competition organizers must comply with state and local requirements regarding the use of face coverings/masks, if imposed. Any individual may choose to wear a face covering/mask even when not required and can do so without penalty.
7. Spectators are permitted to attend USEF-Licensed competitions, but the number of spectators is dictated by state and local restrictions, if any.
8. Any VIP or Hospitality areas must also comply with state and local requirements.
9. USEF Stewards and Technical Delegates will inform individuals when they are not in compliance with the regulations issued by the competition organizer. The competition organizer has the authority under GR 702.1 and GR914 to remove from the facility any person who does not comply with the regulations at that facility. If a person is removed from the facility, the name of said person must be included in the USEF Steward/Technical Delegate Report.
The Maryland Horse Council strongly encourages all horse businesses to create their own COVID-19 Action Plans, even if not hosting USEF-Licensed competitions, and stay on top of current state and local COVID protocols and requirements as they apply to public spaces.