The governing body of horse sport in New Zealand appears confident that Endurance in the country will not be at a standstill for the next few months, following ructions at board level.
Resignations have left the New Zealand Endurance Board unable to muster a quorum. There are no plans to hold by-elections before the next endurance board is elected at the discipline’s annual general meeting in July.
Equestrian Sports New Zealand (ESNZ) released a statement on Friday in which it addressed the “complicated circumstances” around the discipline.
It said the ESNZ Board had sought expert advice to guide the management of the sport in the next few months, given that the discipline no longer had what it called a functional board.
The ESNZ Board had agreed to revoke the delegation of the Endurance Board until a new panel was elected. This, it said, was fully supported by the remaining members of the Endurance Board.
“ESNZ does not intend to take over the running of Endurance,” it said. “It has been agreed with the Endurance Board that it would continue with the day-to-day running of the sport in conjunction with ESNZ when formal decisions were required to be made.”
The move is the latest development following several months of controversy within the upper levels of the discipline in New Zealand, and a series of events at board level that appeared to have their roots in a “swell of unrest” within the discipline.
On March 15, ESNZ members Warren James, who is a former Endurance Board chairman, and Louisa Muir wrote to Endurance Board chairwoman Alison Higgins to seek an immediate Special General Meeting, at which it was intended to move a vote of no confidence in the board.
The request had the signed backing of 30 ESNZ Endurance members.
James and Muir said their concerns stemmed from the reading of the minutes from the meeting of February 20, which said the board had resolved to renegotiate the structure of Endurance membership of ESNZ or organize the “breaking away” of Endurance from ESNZ.
The pair criticised the move. “In taking that action and recording it in the minutes the board has acted in contravention of the ESNZ Constitution and the ESNZ Endurance By-Laws. The action by the board is therefore invalid.
“The individual board members who proposed and voted for the action have failed to act in accordance with their duties and in accordance with the contract they have, through the code of conduct they signed, with ESNZ and the Endurance membership.”
The board responded with a statement in the days following, saying its members were disappointed the issue had not been raised with them first.
It said it was committed to ensuring a sustainable sport, from grassroots to elite levels.
“There has been/is no intention to move away from FEI or to stop holding FEI events,” the statement said.
“Given ESNZ’s dire financial situation and feedback from members, the board has asked ESNZ to provide a value proposition to explain the benefits ESNZ currently provide our clubs and members, as well as what they can offer going forward to help promote and support Endurance and Competitive Trail Riding.
“There has been no resolution or voting by the Endurance Board to leave ESNZ as a discipline.
“Yes, there was a discussion at the last Endurance Board meeting with Richard Sunderland, ESNZ President, where the value of ESNZ was questioned, as well as what options may be available to Endurance under the proposed membership structure as the review document had not been released prior to our meeting.
“As a result of this discussion the board agreed that we would like to look at our current structure and what other options may be available to us; this included a scenario of returning to an Affiliated Organisation type status as opposed to a discipline.
“We wish to confirm that this was a discussion point only and that the only proposal put forward to ESNZ is one requesting if there was any way they would allow ESNZ membership and horse registration to be compulsory only for those who wish to participate in FEI competitions like is done successfully in other countries who are involved in Endurance.
“We are waiting on an answer to this proposal.”
They continued: “As a board we would be remiss to not explore all options available for our membership especially given the swell of unrest within the sport and current status of ESNZ.
“Obviously any decision that would have a major impact on our sport and members would need to be discussed in detail with the membership. It would then be up to our members to vote on where they would like to head with the sport.
“This is not a decision that the Endurance Board has the power to make or would want to make in isolation.”
The Special General Meeting was set for April 13, to be held before the National Endurance Championships in Taupo, but it was later cancelled due to a procedural error. It was then rescheduled for May 10 in Wellington.
On March 22, ESNZ chairman Nick Pyke voiced the national governing body’s support for Endurance.
It said ESNZ was committed to the sport and wanted to see it grow and offer more options to riders at all levels. “It does need to be made clear, however, that the responsibility for the strategic direction and marketing of the sport of Endurance rests with the Endurance Board as set out in the discipline By-law,” he said.
“ESNZ can assist wherever possible with this and is happy to do so, but the sport and its issues need to be managed by the Endurance Board in the first instance.
“ESNZ has worked hard to try and get the Endurance Board to address this, to the extent of identifying key strategic issues affecting the sport.
“To this end, the ESNZ general manager identified an external facilitator (which ESNZ offered to pay for) to help Endurance with strategic planning, and we have also offered administration and assistance on many occasions. These offers of assistance have yet to be taken up and utilised.
“There are solutions for Endurance to make more money, be more efficient and to learn from the experiences of others around them – such as Jumping, Eventing and Dressage, all of which are performing well – and these have been offered many times over the past six months.
“We are aware that some members of the Endurance Board are critical of the value of being part of ESNZ. There are enormous benefits to being part of the National Federation including access to central staff for all sorts of administrative support, ideas, guidance and information, record keeping, access to FEI events, the high performance programme, and much more.
“The ESNZ general manager and other staff have attended many meetings and offered ideas and solutions, as has the ESNZ president at the Endurance Board’s last meeting.
“The most important point is that the Endurance Board needs to take advantage of any guidance offered – to ask for help, to connect the relationships and to benefit from open discussion.
“There are opportunities for Endurance to benefit from the collective experience and information available for them to change, promote and develop their sport in line with changing trends and environmental operating pressures.
“Instead several have failed to see the benefits of a strong and interactive relationship with ESNZ.”
ESNZ said it had stepped in to ensure the Endurance Nationals were run as advertised on the original discipline calendar.
“It is our view that the sport needs to be analysed and reviewed from a proactive and future-focused perspective by a cohesive Endurance Board that believes in the principles and ideals of ESNZ, Endurance and equestrian sport.
“The Endurance Board needs to promote open, sincere and beneficial dialogue within Endurance, with ESNZ and other disciplines so it can reap the benefits of being part of ESNZ and it needs to show leadership and commitment to the sport.
“ESNZ is committed to Endurance and will work hard to assist the sport to overcome its key strategic issues in the future.”
A month later, the Endurance Board issued a brief statement saying that all its members had chosen to resign from the board, effective from the July 22 annual general meeting.
“We have not reached this decision lightly and will decide over the coming weeks whether or not we individually choose to re-stand.
“We feel that this gives our members the best opportunity to elect a new board and in doing so, give them a renewed mandate of support to govern our sport.”
However, in the days following, board chairman Higgins received the immediate resignations of three board members – Braden Cameron, Mark Tylee and Ashley Cole.
The resignations leave the board unable to form a quorum, resulting in ESNZ seeking expert advice on how to proceed in managing the sport until the July annual general meeting of the discipline.
ESNZ has since cancelled the May 10 Special General Meeting in Wellington. This, it said, was procedurally correct as the sole purpose of the meeting was to call a vote of no confidence in the board.
“As there is no current functional board there was little value in holding a formal Special General Meeting.”
However, the ESNZ Board agreed to continue with a meeting on May 10 at the same time and venue.
“This will ensure that those members who want to contribute to a forum on what will happen next and in the future for ESNZ Endurance can come along and join in to a future-focused discussion on solutions and ideas for maintaining the viability and future of the sport in NZ.”