Years of competing as an amateur equestrian jumper have seemingly come to an end for a Bible Hill woman after a complaint made against her resulted in the revocation of her amateur status, just a week before she was to travel to Toronto to take part in a national level competition.
Jessica McNutt Wells works as a mental health social worker while working toward earning her Master’s degree.
On top of that, she finds the time to work with her coach to hone her equestrian skills, jumping with her horse Bacardi, which Wells affectionately calls “Rummy.”
Equestrian sports are her passion and like many athletes, she has always been happy to give back by helping younger competitors.
Since 2015, she’s done so by coaching Dalhousie University students who attend the Agricultural Campus near her family’s home, providing them with horses to ride, a fenced-in jumping course to practice on and more.
But that good deed recently landed her in hot water.
“This summer I had kind of a complaint made against me that I shouldn’t be allowed to show as an amateur,” she explained.
McNutt Wells says as a token of their appreciation, Dalhousie provided her with a $1,700 honourarium each year — funds she accepted and assumed were permitted.
“When I’d first been approached about it they said, ‘you know we don’t pay someone to coach, we don’t pay someone to teach,’” she said. “I said well that’s great that’s not something I can do anyway.
“They said we do offer a small honourarium as a ‘thank you,’” she explained.
“But it also says you can accept an in kind gift or token,” she said. “In my mind, an honourarium is like a ,thank you, for helping the community.”
McNutt Wells says she isn’t turning a profit from the funds. Insurance costs, transporting the horses and more ensure that the honourarium doesn’t go very far.
Equestrian Canada says they look at situations such as this and weigh the number of hours invested against the amount of money received in determining whether an amateur is receiving payment or an acceptable gift.
“Equestrian Canada recognizes remuneration rather than specifically an honourarium and we define it as a payment either in cash or in kind with the exception of a token gift,” explained Jennifer Eastwood.
“Each situation is evaluated on the facts presented and if an athlete is in doubt whether they are receiving remuneration versus a token gift we encourage them to reach out to us.”
The organization wouldn’t speak to the situation directly, saying that it’s currently under review.
Whether her amateur status is returned or not will be determined later. However, with the Royal Winter Fair now underway, McNutt Wells says the damage has already been done.
Even so, she says she’s tried to plead her case with the governing body and has so far had no luck.
“When they did contact me I told the individual that I would be happy to give up that role, that I didn’t realize and I was willing to do anything to resolve it,” she explained. “I wrote a letter and explained that yes I’d be happy to resign from that position, I’d be happy to give back the honourarium if that was in violation.
“They basically wanted nothing to do with any resolution in that sense.”