November 2016 - Candid With Karen: Get Involved!
Written by Karen Healey
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 02:55

USHJA Annual Meeting in Palm Springs offers opportunity to affect change in the sport.

by Karen Healey

The annual United States Hunter Jumper Association convention comes to Palm Springs Dec. 11-15 and I look forward to seeing a lot of friends from around the country. I hope, too, that West Coasters will take advantage of the convention’s proximity and continue or begin getting involved in the governance of our sport.

New USHJA president Mary Babick has identified apathy as a major issue and, from my vantage point, I certainly agree that it’s a small group of the same people usually doing the majority of the volunteer committee work that serves all members.

My feeling has always been that if you want to change things, you can’t just stand at the back gate and bitch. There’s a process in place to implement change and if you want change, you need to get involved.

I also know that it can be intimidating as a newcomer to national governance issues. Whenever I’ve been chairman of an open forum at the convention I try very hard to make sure we are not dismissive of anybody or their ideas, but it does happen. If you’ve identified a subject you want to influence, come to the meeting with a thick skin and do your homework.

All of the rule change proposals for this year are available on the USHJA website, and they have a comment period that extends through Nov. 11. Take a look at the proposals and get up to speed with those that are of the biggest concern to you. Then check the convention schedule and plan to attend the committee session where that topic will be addressed. Even after the formal comment period, the reason we discuss the proposals at the convention is to get more feedback.

Sometimes people come to a convention, speak up in a session and, if the vote doesn’t go the way they wanted, they feel their voice wasn’t heard. That’s usually not the case. You have to understand that most topics have been discussed and debated at least two or three times before they’re put forward as a rule change proposal.

Committee members represent different parts of the country with different concerns for their constituents, and, ideally, that enables discussion of how a proposal might affect all regions and all levels of the sport. But, even though the proposals have already been through a long vetting process before they get to the convention, a lot of times the committee members agree that someone has raised a good, new point and the proposal might get held for further work.

Be Prepared

If you feel strongly one way or another about something, come armed with a lot of good reasons. You can change the mind of a committee. It happens. For example, one of the projects I’m passionate about is the Trainers Certification Program. About five years ago, the committee introduced the concept of certifying trainers at different levels. There was a small but very vocal group of people who derailed that process. I wish we had taken their input and still gone forward with the levels, but it’s an example of how things can change from input at a convention.

The Trainer Certification Program committee, by the way, has a retreat before this year’s convention. We’ll be coming to it with a very important presentation dealing with mandatory certification for trainers and implementation of safe sport practices. This will be part of the USEF Sport Integrity session, on Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 2:45. We urge anybody interested in this topic to attend.

Author Karen Healey is one of our sport’s most accomplished teachers and coaches. She worked for George Morris in the early 70s and has carried on his teachings ever since, along the way coaching 100-plus-and-counting medal finals winners. NAJYRC medalists and international stars including Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum are among her protégés. Karen shuttered her California training barn at the end of 2015, after 34 years, and continues to work with riders in lessons, clinic and coaching at shows through Karen Healey Training. For more information, visit or e-mail Karen at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Photo: Paul Mason

I’ve been attending the national conventions for 30-plus years. I was never intimidated about speaking up! It helped that I established a strong business and earned people’s respect early in my career thanks to some great clients, like Meredith Michaels Beerbaum, and to people respecting my system and work ethic.

I did have to scrape together the funds to attend those first few years. Committee members and everyone else attends on their own dime. Keep in mind you don’t have to attend all five days. Look at the schedule and go on the days when there are sessions of most interest to you. Share a hotel room with a friend to save money and be aware that attendance is a business expense for professionals. (Confirm that with your accountant, of course.)
There’s a social aspect to conventions that makes it fun and adds a networking component that can help your career.

First Steps

For those looking to get involved, I suggest hooking up with the USHJA’s Young Professionals Committee. Also, starting on a local level is a good way to gain experience and credibility for when you want to contribute on a national level. The process of serving on a national committee begins with putting your name on an interest list.  When we re-seat a committee, we take into account representation based on geography and various levels of the sport.

If you get on a committee, you have to show up and participate. Often there are a number of people on a committee who don’t even call in for conference calls and put absolutely no effort into it. We recently did a major re-seating of the equitation committee. Some members who were on it for a long time were dropped and very offended and some of the new people we put on did not participate. So, if you want to be part of it, be ready to put in the time, effort and, occasionally, travel.

In addition to the Equitation and Trainers Certification committees, I currently serve on the Emerging Athletes Program and Officials Education committees, all areas I’m passionate about. I honestly can’t estimate how many hours a week I put into it, but it’s a lot. It’s just part of my life.

See you in Palm Springs!

For more information on the USHJA Annual Meeting, visit