I’ve been reading about the new Safe Sport initiative, which is meant to help expose and stop harassment and bullying of athletes. As the United States Equestrian Federation is part of the international equestrian sport umbrella, according to the Safe Sport guidelines, if you show in USEF competitions, you are under that policy.

It’s important for stable owners, instructors, and trainers to know the policy considers them a “covered adult” for reporting purposes. And so you had better know what that means. If someone reports sexual harassment to you, you are obligated to report it to SafeSport regardless of where it happens (on showgrounds or not). And there’s special rules for children, too.

The link to the USEF page about Safe Sport is here: USEF Safe Sport Any reports of sexual harassment can be directed to three specific people at the USEF, and their contact information is listed on that page. In addition, they are providing training. “A critical component of an effective Safe Sport program is education. The Safe Sport Policy requires certain categories of individuals to successfully complete awareness training every two years. USEF encourages all members to complete the training. The training can be found here and accessed using the access code 7MNA-86XI-FX4E-9GAN. ” Note: the training is required for USEF officials (judges, technical delegates, stewards) and background checks must be made on a regular basis of these officials as well.

Further down the page is a list of resources including some checklists for various issues in reporting abuse and harassment. As a stable owner or trainer, you will want to read through some of the linked documents that pertain to you, and know what you should do if someone reports abuse to you.

The link to Safe Sport download page is here. Their written Code is important to read. They define and explain bullying and sexual harassment. Those regulations alone are worth reading. They explain the reporting procedure very thoroughly. There are other things in the Code that is important to know, so you should download and read through it. In addition, you may want to pass on copies or links to your lawyer, and they should get back to you on what your responsibilities might be as a trainer or barn owner under the Code.

If you have clients that show in USEF-recognized competitions – you are subject to the Safe Sport code, and it makes sense, since most trainers and barn owners are interfacing on a daily basis with children in equestrian sport.

Do you think someone might be sexually harassing a client in your barn? What about an equestrian professional doing this to someone, and  you’ve witnessed it – or have been the person that received a complaint. You might know both parties very well, and might have an opinion on what really happened. What do you do? The answer is not, “nothing”. In some cases, nothing might be the worst thing you can do. The Safe Sport initiative repeatedly lays out that a “Covered Adult” (which would be a trainer or barn owner) must report incidents, and neglecting to report things, or giving incomplete information, etc., can get you into trouble.

While much of the Safe Sport initiative came about before the recent USA gymnastics scandal, that set of incidences brought publicity to the spectre of sexual abuse of vulnerable athletes. Equestrian sport isn’t immune from this. I know people in equestrian sport who have been sexually harassed, and I’ve been harassed and bullied in my career with horses.  I wish that Safe Sport was available many years ago so that there was a way to report things that happened, and the system still isn’t perfect – they state right up front that anonymous complaints don’t go very far in the system. And if you are in a position where there’s only a couple of people – and a complaint is made – they are going to know who made it, which makes your life toast. So it’s not a perfect system, but as horsewomen, we are just going to have to figure a way to make it work for us – and more importantly, teach younger women to empower themselves and be better at protecting themselves from bullies and predators.

I think there is also a danger of the pendulum swinging the other way, and miniscule things having the potential to be blown out of proportion. No one should be put in the position to experience the difficulty of defending oneself against a completely false accusation, which does happen.

The good thing is now we have a way to stop both of those problems and protect our friends, clients, customers and competitors from being abused or harassed by wrong-headed people who probably shouldn’t be in the horse business anyway. Here’s hoping for that.

A couple of more important links: