A rider gets her official’s license and learns a new side of eventing.
A competitor works to get her eventing technical delegate license and in the process, learns a whole new side of the sport.
My mentor and coach, Susan Graham White, encouraged me to get my eventing technical delegate license several years ago to serve in the role of an official who helps with the technical and stewarding aspects of a horse trial. However, I wanted to wait until I felt as if I had enough experience and confidence to perform the duties to the level I expected of myself.
Fast forward 10 years. In that time, I completed several two-stars, a handful of Advanced-level horse trials and had more years of coaching other riders under my belt. But it wasn’t until a nasty fall left me unconscious that I decided to work on a backup plan that would allow me to stay involved in the sport to which I dedicated my life.
While I was considering a new path, several top riders sustained serious injuries. The sport was changing and so were the demands on riders and horses. Safety concerns were paramount. Amid the chaos, I thought if I could help one competitor or make one fence safer, then earning the license would be worth it. I wanted to do my part to make the sport safer. I also knew getting the license would give me a better understanding of the sport. I set out to earn my technical delegate and eventing judging licenses simultaneously. When I started my coursework, my respect for organizers and officials skyrocketed. There’s much more that goes into organizing an event than your average competitor realizes. Proper permits are needed to hold the event. Course design and preparation at a new venue can take one to two years before the course is ready. Organizers need a plan for traffic flow leading into the event, on-site parking and stabling. They have to consider the nearest hospitals and veterinary resources, and competitor flow from one phase to the next in addition to farrier services, on-site paramedics and volunteer coordination.
The most memorable part of my training was seeing how much officials and organizers pitch in to make sure everything is just right for the competitors and their horses. They often work well into the night and recruit family and friends to help.
As a requirement of my TD license, I went to seminars, observed show-jump judging and was a member of an organizing committee. I participated in course inspections and event briefings. During the educational sessions, I learned about the biomechanics behind the dressage movements and the fundamentals for correct movements. While understanding dressage is essential for an eventing judge, it’s important for a TD as well: If a horse is resistant in dressage, it’s possible he will continue to be in the jumping phases, creating a safety issue.
In the jumping phases, if the performance is deteriorating, we as officials may step in. Riders should know that officials aren’t there to police. We want to see riders be successful and finish the course. But there are times when it’s necessary to put on the brakes if a competitor is riding dangerously. When I have these difficult discussions with riders, more times than not, they are appreciative. Oftentimes, they know they are not having the best of rides but they continue because friends and family are watching. They’re thankful for the consideration made for their safety.
In general, a TD’s job is to keep the horses and riders safe. I remember one time a rider thought a jump on cross country was too difficult a question for a Preliminary course. The fence was a very upright skinny into the water that riders had to approach off a turn and coming up the hill. Horses couldn’t see the water until they were close to the fence. As the TD, it was my responsibility to follow up on the concern. Turns out, several riders questioned the level of difficulty of that jump, too. We consulted with the course designer, who suggested the fence be removed, and after conferring with the president of the ground jury, it was.
As an official, I’m an advocate for the horse, the rider and the sport. I want riders to have a fabulous ride and enjoy the competition. But if the day is not going the way a rider hopes, it’s important to remember that there is always another day to compete.
Samantha Allan earned her USEF Eventing “r” Technical Delegate license and USEF Eventing “r” Judging License in 2013. She has successfully competed at the Advanced level and was long-listed for the Pan Am Games in 2011. Samantha and her partner, Jennifer Clover, run Allan & Clover Sport Horses in Clermont, Florida.
Samantha Allan with her horse Scimitar