VALLEY, N.S. — Jessica McNutt Wells was excited about competing at the Royal Winter Fair. She was working with her horse, Bacardi – barn name, Rummy – and had everything booked, when her plans suddenly fell apart.
Seven days before she was due to head to Toronto for the event, she was informed her amateur status was being revoked and she wouldn’t be allowed to take part.
“Another rider made a complaint because I got an honorarium from Dal AC for helping with the equestrian team,” she said. “I didn’t realize an honorarium was in violation. That’s not clear. I said I would return it if that was the issue, but Equestrian Canada wasn’t interested.”
McNutt Wells began helping with the Dal AC team in 2015, after she was approached by someone at the university who told her they had no one to help with the team.
“They told me they don’t pay, and I told them that was good because I can’t accept pay anyway,” she said.
“I’m not a coach. When I compete, my coach is there to help me with Rummy.”
As a former Dal student, and someone who encourages young riders, the mental health social worker felt helping the team was a great way to give back. She often provided horses for the students, and a place for them to ride, as well as transportation to events. She also allowed them to spend time at the barn when they simply needed to brighten a tough day with some horse therapy.
Dal gave her an honorarium of $1,700, before taxes, per year, as a thank you. She said it doesn’t go far when considering the costs of things like insurance, and transporting horses.
The complaint against her was made in July, and she tried dealing with Equestrian Canada over the phone.
“I pay to be a member, and I thought when there was an issue they would do their best to support members,” said McNutt Wells. “From the first phone call, I did not feel supported; I felt attacked.”
She hired a lawyer and there was a hearing, but now she’s been told she has to pay the costs of a hearing, along with a fine, and return all prizes and trophies won since 2015.
She could also lose her amateur status for two years, meaning she would not be eligible to compete in any amateur level events during that time.
If a rider is deemed to be not in good standing, horses she owns would also be banned from competition.
“I have young people riding some of these horses, so it would affect a lot of people,” she said. “She plans to appeal and is no longer helping with the Dal AC equestrian team.
“If I’m in violation, then there are a lot who are in violation,” said McNutt Wells. “This has made a lot of people nervous because they don’t know what’s allowed and what isn’t. People are even worried about accepting money for trucking horses.
“There are so many people who help at the grass-roots level who are worrying now.
“I’m really disappointed by this whole thing.”
Equestrian Canada was contacted for comment, however, they were unable to provide a response by presstime.