Watching the Wheels October 2023

by Mike Tanner, USTA Executive Vice President and CEO

Change Is
Gonna Come
…but it starts at the local district level

IT’S THAT TIME of year again when a new USTA election cycle begins, district meetings are scheduled, and rule change proposals are considered. I know that it sounds odd to celebrate a bureaucratic process, but one of the things I like best about the association is its unique, member-centered approach. Everyone gets a chance to have their voice heard and work to change things in the industry that they don’t like or feel could be done better. In today’s cynical political climate, that counts for something. I’m not a director and I don’t have a vote, but I always enjoy the debate.
And now, it’s time for a brief public service announcement. . . . Here goes.

Please attend your district meeting, either in person or virtually. If you can’t do that, let your director (or me) know how you feel by email. I’ll share whatever feedback I receive with the board. Even more important, vote! Twenty USTA membership district director seats are up for grabs this year, all on Tuesday, Dec. 12. To steal from Jefferson, the government you elect is the government you deserve. (Did I mention that you should vote?)

End of sermon. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Thirty-two rule change proposals were submitted by the Aug. 31 deadline and are listed beginning on page 62. I’m not sure if that’s a record number, but in my 15 years at the USTA, I can’t remember a higher volume received. That’s encouraging, and there are stories behind many of the submissions.
Several of the proposals almost certainly were prompted by recent industry events.

Proposal No. 5, from Mary Martin, of Honesdale, Pa., would mandate that chain-link fences between 10 and 12 feet high be erected in front of all grandstands at county fairs. That immediately hearkens back to the unspeakable tragedy at a county fair this summer in which a little girl lost her life.

Similarly, Proposal No. 4, from Renée Mancino, executive director of the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association, has its roots in an accident, this one at Northfield Park in January 2022. Renee’s proposal, which is already in place and working in Ohio, would extend to the fairs a three-color warning light system designed to alert drivers and other on-track personnel in the event of an emergency.

Director Casey Leonard, a driver based in Illinois, has put forth Proposal No. 21, which would require all newly purchased sulkies to have five-year warranties provided by the manufacturer and/or the USTA. Many will recall the reported failures of the Spyder 3D bike that led the association to remove it from its approved sulky list in June. Most racing states followed suit and the manufacturer subsequently went out of business, leaving those who had purchased that model largely unable to use them.

Other rule change proposals tie directly to the issue of transparency. Two in particular will look very familiar, as they were debated, albeit in slightly different forms, during last year’s cycle.
I’ve written before about the electronic draw, and Rod Allums Jr. in Proposal No. 14 seeks to make mandatory the public posting of myriad details related to that process. There was a similar proposal that was received and considered last year, although I don’t immediately recall why it didn’t pass. The sponsor statement puts forth, “There are too many instances of horsemen complaining about the electronic draw system.” Amen to that, Rod, and you should see my email. (Although I’m still waiting for the first owner to draw an inside post three times in a row and write to complain about how the process is rigged!)

Seriously, though, there’s a reason why this issue seems to pop up every year, and it’s worthy of continued examination.

There’s another repeat proposal that, at first glance, might fly under the radar of most members but which generated intense discussion at the Rules Committee portion of last year’s annual meeting. This time it appears as Proposal No. 26, and it’s been resubmitted by its co-sponsors last year, directors David Siegel and Jason Settlemoir.

What the proposal would do is require that any votes conducted by the USTA board regarding rules, bylaws, and/or resolutions be made electronically, with results made available publicly. It was approved by most districts last year, but it didn’t find the necessary support at the annual meeting. The argument, made passionately by a number of horseperson directors, was that they feared retribution via the implementation of private property rights by track ownership should their votes on particular issues not align with the owners’ votes. Exercising the right to a secret ballot, unless a roll call vote was mandated via the association’s current existing protocols and rules, was the line in the sand that they drew, and when the vote was taken, it wasn’t close. The measure was soundly defeated.

That bothered me. I spoke privately to one horseperson director who had opposed the proposal:

“I was a director for a year when I was employed by Harrah’s Philadelphia (then Harrah’s Chester) in 2008, and I wouldn’t have objected to having any of my votes recorded,” I told him. “I don’t get it.”

“I understand that,” he told me, “but you weren’t going to go back to Chester to be told that you weren’t allowed in the paddock anymore and would have to relocate to make a living. That could happen to me. Don’t doubt that.”

That probably speaks to a larger issue, one that would take longer to unpack than the limited space this column provides, but his point landed. I hadn’t walked a mile in his shoes—er, boots. Proposal No. 26 again will have my full attention this year.

It, along with 31 others, hopefully will have yours, too.

Mike Tanner

The views contained in this column are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association. To comment on this column, email us at

356 More posts in Hoof Beats Magazine category
Recommended for you
Life After Racing: Leading the Way

Art History’s post-racing career has taken a different track by Megan Rider Art History has...