Executive Insights: United States Equestrian Federation | Sports Destination Management

Executive Insights: United States Equestrian Federation

An Interview with Colby Connell, Chief Marketing Officer

Colby Connell, Chief Marketing Officer, United States Equestrian Federation
The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) is the National Governing Body for Equestrian Sport. The USEF is dedicated to pursuing excellence and promoting growth, all while providing and maintaining a safe and level playing field for both its equine and human athletes. The USEF trains, selects and funds the United States Equestrian Team which consistently wins medals at the highest level of international competition, including the Olympic Games. The USEF also licenses equestrian competitions of all levels across the United States each year.

Sports Destination Management: Equestrian will be featured again in this summer’s Olympics. Are there any new initiatives or programs underway, or is everything focused on Rio?

Colby Connell: It’s always busy here; we have so many disciplines that we oversee, but with the added bonus of an Olympic year, everything is spun up a couple levels.

SDM: With the problems that have been talked about in Rio – everything from unsafe water to the presence of the Zika virus, is USEF taking any additional precautions?

Connell: You can listen to reports and hear that everyone is unprepared and everything is going to be a nightmare, but it will probably turn out all right. The staff in Rio might have to do some more work on their end, but we’re not that concerned. The Olympics, in our consistent experience, is always organized chaos. There is so much going on, but our athletes do well.

Photo courtesy of SusanJStickle.com
SDM: Are you worried about the Zika virus in connection to the horses?

Connell: I don’t think it’s a threat to horses. In addition, the area where they are holding the competition has been under very strict control as far as air and pests go; it’s actually one of the better places to be in Rio. Really, though, in every Olympics, in every Games, there is some challenge and you have to figure out how you’re going to manage around it. Zika is the one we’re all watching closely right now.

SDM: Is USEF doing anything to capitalize on the Olympics, to bring more visibility to equestrian sports?

Connell: We are working to be very media- and spectator-friendly; in fact, that’s something that comes up a lot for us. I’m passionate about making the sport more accessible to people. In some ways, it seems like a secret society. We want to help people understand it better and be able to enjoy it, the way they enjoy so many other sports. It’s hard for a lot of people, for example, to understand eventing because they don’t understand dressage. So we need a way to make it – and other aspects of equestrian – understandable and interesting.

SDM: In other words, USEF wants the viewers at home to have an experience like they’d have with football or baseball; even though they don’t play it, they can still follow it?

Photo courtesy of Shawn McMillen Photography
Connell: Yes. We’re always asking ourselves, ‘How do we show people equestrian sports? How can we help them understand?’ What’s interesting is that FEI (the international governing body for equestrian sport) has made an investment to help bring equestrian to people. FEI launched its Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League qualifiers in 2015, and they started carrying those events on their video platform, FEI TV. Competitions leading to the qualifiers were also livestreamed on the FEI’s YouTube channel, so people had another opportunity to watch and learn what was going on. People can stream things on demand and it’s set up in a split screen to show the two top riders, and you can see who did what, how they’re making up time and how it dictates who wins in the end.

SDM: Some sports at the Olympics will have new events or disciplines this year. Does equestrian?

Connell: Equestrian tends to be more traditional and evolution comes very slowly. There are some discussions about variations on our existing disciplines and we may be seeing that in the future.

SDM: Like changing Three-Day Eventing to Equestrian Triathlon?

Connell: Yes, and it’s funny; I’m an eventer, and when people say ‘What’s that?’ I say, ‘Well, it’s like a triathlon for the horse.’ As a sport, you want to stay relevant and to engage people, and those sorts of things are important.