THE EQUESTRIAN CANADA ANNUAL CONVENTION
“The Equestrian Canada (EC) Annual Convention is our landmark event, giving the equestrian community an opportunity to network with peers from across the country, pursue personal development and education through clinics, attend presentations and innovation sessions led by world-class speakers, and enjoy engaging social events. The convention is also the platform for federation reports on EC activities and achievements over the previous 12 months, as well as an opportunity for the equestrian community to provide input on the future of equestrian sport and industry in Canada.” (EC website description).
I, as editor of the Gaitpost, coach, farm owner, and breeder, attended the EC convention, recently held in Vancouver at the Sheraton Wall Centre, with interest. In preparation for the convention, I went online to determine what points might be
addressed — it is easy in our little world to be a bit oblivious about the larger picture. I found a very one-sided presence, and not a positive one, regarding EC. I felt quite uninformed regarding EC’s activities, and on reading the online and social media information available, I didn’t feel much better! I contacted Jessie Christie at the EC office, and arranged to talk to CEO Eva Havaris. Let me jump to the end first, if I may. I came away from the convention with the impression that our national federation is in good hands. This might come as a shock to you if you only gather information from social media, but I went in with an open mind, attended all the governance and presentations regarding the EC that I was allowed into, and came out thinking two things: 1. Communication/gathering information is a very hazardous and difficult venture these days, and 2. I don’t envy Ms. Havaris her job. At all.
There have been some major bumps in the road for EC with the implementation of the new Not For Profit Corporations Act, and some groups were very outspoken about changes that were made to comply with the new bylaws, and the lack of consultation with the disciplines with those changes. From the outset of the convention, Ms. Havaris owned her mistakes very openly and promised to make the weekend and the future, about “bringing back together this community.” She apologized for those didn’t feel involved in the processes, and, having come from outside equestrian sport, Ms. Havaris recognizes now the abundance of support that comes from this passionate community. With that aim, EC set up interviews with many members of the equestrian community that could be considered ‘guardians’ of their sport, in an effort to have honest deliberation about how to address the problems. Victor Rosansky, of LHR International, a consulting firm on lignment within businesses and sports groups, talked to members of the EC Board, the Provincial and Territorial Sport Organizations (PTSO’s), and athletes to achieve this aim. Alignment is, simply put, having everyone involved on the same page with the same goals, and often discord is structurally caused, not individually caused. Mr. Rosansky gave a very good lecture and workshop on alignment, and, I believe, worked the room to a mindset that made them open to frank discussion about the problems with EC. I also believe the EC has adopted these principles of alignment and have the mindset to address the political and organizational challenges with cooperation and consultation.
A lot of discussion was centred on High Performance athletes and their sport. The High Performance Review report, lead by an external consultant, came to one conclusion that was a bit startling for many — that the money invested should be focussed on those that have the highest likelihood of winning medals. You could hear the collective intake of air from everyone involved in the disciplines other than show jumping! This proposal leads to the impression that grassroots and lower level competitors are being ignored or taken for granted. This is not the case. It was an analyst’s viewpoint and not a proposed action. Ms Havaris said “What does it do for the Next Gen to have teams in non-contending positions? Good or bad? Do we spend all our money to send athletes to the Olympics, or redirect those funds to build up a talent pool for down the road, or into coaching? — philosophically the organization and the key leadership with in it need to have a really good discussion about that.” She added “My standpoint is there is a really limited amount of resources to get things done, and we need to make the decision of where to invest. Where are we going to have the greatest impact — I have a point of view and I don’t think it is the top end of the sport. I think everyone knows the people at the top are doing fine — what is $30k at the top end going to do — likely nothing — but what is it going to do for Next Gen — quite a lot! Some of the most successful sports in the country — tennis for example — made a strategic shift where they decided they were no longer going to invest in the top end, where they got no results. They took all that money and they went to the 12-14 year olds they built centers of excellence, they brought in the best coaches in the world, and the result is Milos Raonic now, the first one through this programme. I think we can start to build a new culture in the next generation.”
REGISTERED PARTICIPANTS VS VOTING MEMBERS
The change to 27 voting members who represent the three groups of Category A (Sport), B (PTSOs), and C (Industry affiliates) left those who used to be considered the members feeling demoted. Now most people are “Registered participants”, a term that apparently didn’t sit well with anyone on either side of the table at the convention! I suspect that term will be changed in due course. The thought behind this change, apart from complying with the new Bylaws, was part of the vertical alignment this organization needs to make happen. With 90,000 potential voters at the last voting opportunity, only 1500 votes were cast, so it wasn’t exactly a representative sample of the whole community. Now this could be put down in part to poor communication, but I do remember many urges to vote at the time. Apathy, perhaps, resulted in this voter turnout? So, by having nine highly involved members selected from each area under the EC umbrella, perhaps there will be a more representative opinion of the needs of each segment? Certainly, EC will have a more direct conduit to the needs and desires of each segment of the community. Regarding the feeling of demotion, Ms Havaris said “I understand why they feel that way — I really do. It is quite a change from what we had previously. Even if people didn’t engage in the voting in the organization, there was still the equation of pay a fee, get a vote, at the very least, so it’s about the value part. What I want to really push now in the model, now that we almost have completed the transition, is that the Sport Licences come from the Disciplines, we have Discipline Committees, we have them on the website, and they do play a significant role in the organization. I think the communication and the conduit of really being engaged within the discipline — that is the channel for people to be heard. Category A is looking at their own pathway in communications. How are you going to populate our nine voting members…?”
TRANSPARENCY AND CONSULTATION
All financial information regarding EC is also available to the public online, and at the convention, an effort was made to explain the accounting process with regards to expenses, income, and their respective accounts. I saw nothing alarming, and no questions were answered unsatisfactorily. At the voting members’ General Meeting, I saw the first and only really obvious evidence of conflict, which came from a nonvoting member, and it was handled professionally by EC. It regarded terminology — expenses from the restricted account were high last year as it was an Olympic year — this person called them “losses” when in fact they were draw-downs, all properly documented, and expenses that were legitimate. The implication of the question was inflammatory. The lack of consultation was a big social media topic — Ms. Havaris and several other members of the EC staff and board addressed this many times over the weekend. She had this to say regarding the learning curve they are on: “Where last year I focussed my efforts, particularly with the committees, on getting the new Terms of Reference in place, I guess that was the extent of my dialogue with them (discipline groups.) Once we got those pieces in place, I didn’t play a hands-on role in the execution of the new way of operating — I delegated that to other staff to then execute and process the new ways of doing business and that’s where it fell off — not because of the staff, not at all because of the staff, but because we didn’t take the step further to be clear about the portfolios, the staff person on each portfolio, and the committee attached to each portfolio — we didn’t define what is the new process, and how is that going to work under the new model — we didn’t go line by line and define each one. It was by trial and error, and more error than trial, but it is a new way of doing business. The Committee wasn’t consulted by EC staff on the OTP submission. As a result, although the submission was deemed by OTP as the best submission that EC has made to OTP and it resulted in funding, an opportunity to strengthen the technical information in the submission was missed by not consulting the Jump Committee.”
” What these changes do is put the onus on the individual to be involved locally, either through their provincial organization or the committee or board of their group, which will channel the information to EC. I think the physical and virtual distance between EC and the average “registered participant” has contributed in the past to apathy, or the feeling that an individual’s vote was unimportant. EC can now make decisions based on the opinions of these 27 members who are directly in contact with the general population in their segment of the industry. I see this as a good thing, with people being able to get their opinion acknowledged on a more approachable, accessible local level and the selected experts on the boards present their opinion to the EC. Said Ms. Havaris “I see the opportunity to capitalize on a resource — EC is an office of thirty now, but if we now consider the PTSOs and grow that capacity, and now we become an administrative force collectively of perhaps 100 for the industry across Canada. That is the potential I see. Join forces. Remove duplication. Remove human error. Efficiency — it’s better for the enduser.“
EC has already produced press releases, including video and text from all the presentations, and have them present on their website. If you aren’t already signed up for receiving updates from EC Insider, you really should. Yes, the new website has had its difficulties, but correction is ongoing and EC is making amends for errors. For the full text of the many speeches, go to equestrian.ca/events-results/convention.
Ms. Havaris: “I found a lack of role clarity between the roles and responsibility of staff, and the roles and responsibilities of volunteers. What I want to see happen and what I didn’t execute well as we took this forward, was mutual respect; we need both parties to make this work really well. You need the contribution of the volunteers, not because they are volunteers but because they are bringing a particular technical expertise that we don’t have in the office, and we need the office staff because they do the work, get it done, execute good administrative process, because they are ultimately responsible for it. So, if you put the two of these together in balance with mutual respect, I think we will get good results for the community. If it is a constant battle of who is more important, it won’t work! We didn’t give attention to the detail, and for sure will have them involved in the future, and mistakes were made.
This sounds like a CEO who owns her mistakes, has approached major changes with determination, set goals for everyone in her office and domain, and is pen to consultation now, if not previously. Mistakes were made in the process of a large adjustment in procedures, brought along by legal Not For Profit requirements for EC. I offer my opinion that EC is, like riding, a work in progress. Two steps forward, one step back is not uncommon, and the long-term goal and working together are the objectives. What I witnessed this weekend was, I believe, a wholehearted effort at mediation, conciliation, and forward thinking for a federation and its community.