The View From My Office…

Lisa Laycock, Executive Director of Horse Council BC weighs in on the current turmoil surrounding Equestrian Canada.

I am coming up on my 13th year anniversary working at Horse Council BC (HCBC) and it has been a great pleasure and honour serving our horse community here on the West Coast.  I have a great respect for the passion and dedication members and volunteers bring to their barns, community groups, and provincial and national bodies to help support this great pastime.  It is in this spirit that I wanted to share my opinion about where things are at with Equestrian Canada (EC).   Recently, I have been a bit taken aback by the negative comments in a widely-read publication and generally on social media.  It reminds me a bit of the phenomena we are watching in American politics south of the border, often short on respect and facts.

I remember in recent years the equestrian community was pleading for EC to change.  Horse Council BC was very vocal about the challenges and the changes we felt EC needed to make. We were in fact their biggest critic.  The system was broken and with over one hundred committees all requiring staff time, the organization was unable to respond to the needs of participants effectively and efficiently.  After eating alive a handful of CEO’s and two failed attempts to change its bylaws, Equestrian Canada responded by bringing together for the first time (in my time) a taskforce from across the organization and across the country.  We were tasked with coming up with a structure that would work for the organization and allow it to serve the community with excellence.  There were some very well-known people on that task force including Terrance Millar, Al Patterson, and Mike Lawrence.  It was a productive and positive process and I do believe that the resulting structure can work well to service the equestrian community.  Less than a year and a half ago the new bylaws were approved by a vote from the membership which at that time included all sport license holders and PTSO members. Then the hard work began. An entire new governance structure had to be brought in, the office needed to be restructured, the staff and volunteers had to find new ways to work together. Re-building an organizational structure is not unlike building a house- most of the important structure is not visible from the outside yet it serves to hold everything else up.  This is the work that has been happening in the last year.

As a provincial sport organization (PSO) staffer a good part of my job is working with the national sport organization office. In our case it is Equestrian Canada (EC).   I have never been so optimistic about the direction and professionalism of the EC office under the leadership of CEO Eva Havaris and the leadership of the board of directors.  I can say without reserve that much progress and good work has been accomplished in the past 18 months. We do agree communication with stakeholders could improve, but we have never felt that EC was operating under a ‘veil of secrecy’ or without seeking expertise in their decision making.  Communication is a two way process and in all organizations there is room for improvement.  Staff and volunteers at HCBC are working with staff and volunteers at EC on a number of things that will lead to improved service for our stakeholders.  Here are some areas where good progress has been made:

  • Combined provincial/national planning for officials’ certification training and updating in BC a full year in advance.
  • Revamped driving officials and coaches program – which allowed HCBC to double the number of driving officials in the province.
  • EC technical staff engaged coaches and took their recommendations to streamline the transition requirements for coaches into the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) system.
  • The NCCP transition plan went from being time consuming and expensive to a streamlined process that is efficient and fair.
  • National rule changes that incorporated important horse welfare and rider safety improvements like the concussion protocol.
  • There was an open and accessible process for submitting rule changes.
  • Partnered with HCBC to deliver an exciting program for the 2017 EC Convention in Vancouver.
  • Current structure eliminates multiple layers of approval for competitions, which had created unnecessary roadblocks.

At the NSO/PSO partnership meetings last autumn, all the PTSO Executive Directors met to identify and work on shared priorities. We were introduced to the Mushroom Cloud project where EC commissioned an audit of the governance and administration of the equestrian competition system in Canada with the financial support of the Canadian Olympic Committee.  The report is a compilation of the widespread feedback of members of the community (athletes, coaches, officials, stewards, competitions organizers etc.) providing insights into the deficiencies in the current system as well as recommendations as to how to build an athlete-centred competition system for equestrian sports in Canada.  This report was presented to the Board and PTSO partners in November, 2016 and received full endorsement.

We all recognize that things are not perfect, but they never are. This amount of change is a slow process and the board of directors and staff of EC should be given the opportunity to fix the errors of the past.  Negativity can be a huge detractor for the positive work that we all want to see happen.  Please keep in mind that on the internet and social media in particular, a lot of what appears to be presented as facts are most often opinions and speculations by particular individuals with their own agendas.

I would ask that we all remember change is tough, it takes time, and it makes us all uncomfortable. Please be patient and if there are difficulties, please communicate with EC in a positive way – being a destructive keyboard warrior isn’t going to help solve any problems, it just creates more discord.  I know it’s not perfect yet, but there are many people working hard to improve things.  We will see the benefits soon, of that I am sure.  Thank you to everyone who is working positively to support change for the better.  Only together can we build the equine community we want.  What HCBC has seen and experienced so far from EC has been very positive and signals success.