of an Amateur TD
Over the years, I've fortunately had
little opportunity or need to interface with the TD at
an event. As a result, my view of them was simplistic to
say the least: They OK’d the course and enforced the
rules. So when I got a call from the organizers at Full
Moon Farm last spring and was asked to be their TD, I
accepted. After all, how hard could it be?
A few months later, however, I was
asked to judge Dressage at an event, and after walking
away from that experience with a newfound understanding
of just how hard being an official really was, I began
to rethink what it meant to be a TD. During the fall
season, I used every opportunity to meet the TD at the
events I attended, and asked them for their advice and
insights. One of the best pieces of advice I got was,
"Always remember that events are first and foremost
to be fun and safe. And while rules are rules at
recognized events, at unrecognized, the focus should be
on learning, not on eliminating."
With this and many other time-tested
insights in mind, I set about doing something I had
never done before (or so my wife says) -- learning the
rules. While I've scanned the rules over the years, I've
never really sat down and read them cover-to-cover. What
an eye opener! The first thing I discovered was I had
been dressing 'inappropriately' all these years. I
immediately called my coach.
"Julie, what's this stuff about
men not wearing white breeches with black boots?"
"Mike, that issue has been
around for a while. White breeches and black boots are
not proper hunt attire."
"Hunt attire? I'm not hunting,
I'm eventing . . . wait a minute, you knew about this
all these years and never told me?"
"Mike, it's not an issue until
you go Intermediate. I almost brought it up last year
when Kat kept dumping you. I was beginning to feel sorry
for Audrey having to get those green stains out. I've
found it's easier to hide green stains on darker
breeches, but then I thought, well damn, he looks so
good in white. . . But with Riker going Intermediate
next year, you're going to have to get some different
Smarting from my ineptitude, I
proceeded to ask Ashley, our number-one working student,
if she had known this rule. "Sure, doesn't
Cassie Frederick, our resident pony
clubber and foxhunting expert broke into an
uncontrollable grin as I turned for her answer. "If
you had been a pony clubber, you would have known that
proper event attire is based upon hunting attire, and
white breeches are not allowed unless you have brown
tops on your boots."
My last hope of finding an ally faded
when Bethany added in her two cents: "That's the
first thing my first coach ever taught me."
As all three walked away, I heard
them mumbling: "And we let him teach us? Why?"
Well, suffice it to say, for the next
several weeks I went to bed reading the USCTA rule book,
and by the time I headed out to see Full Moon Farm for
the first time, I had learned more about the rules then
I could have ever imagined.
The Course Inspection
My first duty as a TD, according to
the rulebook, was to inspect the safety and suitability
of the courses. As the stadium course had not been set
up yet, I focused my attention on the cross-country
course. Karen and Steve Fulton, the owners of Full Moon
Farm, greeted me as soon as I stepped out of the car. I
admit, I was immediately taken by their friendliness. It
was obvious they were nice people and after chatting
with them about our backgrounds, I was sure they would
do anything to assure a fun, safe event. During the
course inspection, only a few items were identified,
most of which were already on Steve's 'to do' list.
Having recently seen a rider at another unrecognized
event cut in the face by thorns from hanging brambles, I
asked that brambles along a path between the second and
third fence be cut back. The course's seventh fence, a
cordwood, gave me some pause, but after re-stacking the
upper tier so the top tilted toward the ground, which
also made it much more inviting, I passed the fence.
Near the end of the Novice course was
a very small, very inviting jump out of water. I was
asked my opinion about adding a second flag for novice
riders at the water's edge, thereby having them judged
for entering as well as leaving the water. Given that
the water was at the end of the course, where most
horses are their boldest, and how simple the 'out' was,
I thought it was a great idea. Being flagged as an A/B,
it might also be the first introduction for many to a
combination fence, and thus an opportunity to learn.
Overall, I was very impressed with
the design, construction, and layout of all the courses,
especially the course for the 'eensy weensy beanies'.
Laid out in an enclosed paddock, it was sure to bring
smiles to every first time rider.
Overall, Steve and Karen's efforts
showed in the quality of the course and made my first
duty as a TD a pure pleasure to carry out.
Enforcement of the Rules
After completing the course walk,
Karen, Steve and I discussed how strictly we wanted to
enforce the rules. While this would not have been an
issue of discussion at a recognized event, at an
unrecognized event, it's a very important issue because
it sets the overall tone of the event. On their Full
Moon Farm web site, Karen and Steve had signaled that
the event would be run under USCTA rules, and added that
only hard hats with chinstraps would be allowed. While
this latter decree was a notable goal, I pointed out
that hard hats without chinstraps were acceptable for
adults in the dressage phase at recognized events. I
also pointed out that being it was a starter event,
there was a very good probability that a large number of
riders would probably not have medical cards or possibly
chest protectors, which were rules, and if enforced to
the letter, would probably result in the elimination of
Both Karen and Steve agreed that what
they were looking for was an event where competitors got
to learn and have fun, as such, we decided to use errors
of omissions as learning experiences, not grounds for
elimination. Offenders would be given the benefit of the
doubt, and instead of elimination, would have the broken
rule explained to them, and then allowed to continue.
Only those actually eliminated for cause, i.e., three
stops in stadium, three stops at one fence on
cross-country, missing a fence, etc., would be marked as
eliminated in the score sheets. The finals say on
whether a rider would or would not be eliminated,
however, would rest with me.
Sunday morning, the day of the event,
arrived way too early. After checking that my course
changes had been made, I reported to the Dressage Judge,
who as I had learned in the rule book, also was the
ground jury, and as such, my superior for the day's
events. After informing her of my acceptance of the
course, we discussed my role during cross-country. Given
that she would be preoccupied judging dressage during
the day, we agreed that in accordance with the USCTA
rules, I was to serve as the ground jury during the
cross-country phase. And the event was on.
Being shorthanded, Karen asked me to
cover for a late dressage ring steward. I no sooner had
assumed my position than a rider bolted by me and tried
to enter the dressage ring while another rider was doing
"Excuse me, I'm sorry, you can't
go in till this rider is done with their test. You need
to wait until the ring steward tells you to go in. But
now that you're here, have you had your ‘bit check’
"Your bit," I smiled.
"No. Why do you want to do
"It's the rule. If you don't
have it checked, you can get eliminated. Have you ever
"No, it's my first time, and I'm
a little bit nervous, sorry."
I smiled back, and as I checked the
bit, I told her the background of the bit check rule. By
the time I was finished, the rider in the ring had
finished her test. "OK, you can go in now. Have a
After finishing their test and
putting her horse away, she sheepishly approached me.
"Sorry about that," she
said, and with a half grimace, half smile, asked,
"Is there anything else that could get me
"Yea lots of things, let me go
over them with you. Got a pen?"
It soon became obvious to me that
lack of knowledge of the rules was going to be a bigger
issue then I had expected. The policy that errors of
omission should be used as learning opportunities was
going to save many that would have been eliminated at a
The dressage steward eventually
arrived. Unfortunately, she also lacked the necessary
knowledge of the rules. Fortunately, she, like all the
others Karen and Steve had recruited to help, was eager
to learn, and as such, was a pleasure to work with. The
new steward quickly figured out her responsibilities and
within a few riders had got the hang of what was and
wasn't an acceptable bit and spur. With two great
judges, and two able stewards, dressage went off without
The First Infraction
I no sooner left the dressage warm-up
area than the announcer called me. "We have a rider
showing her horse the first fence on the cross-country
course. I told her to get away twice, but she is still
Hum. . . How was I going to handle
this? Showing your horse a fence was a major no, no, and
would definitely get you tossed out at a recognized
event. But what do you say to a little 10-year-old who
hasn't a clue that what she was doing was wrong?
"Excuse me, is your coach
"Is your Mom or Dad here?"
"Yes sir, they are right over
"Good, will you come with me
The parents, who where busy browsing
one of the event's trade tents, were unaware that the
announcements to move away from the fence had been
directed toward their daughter. Needless to say, they
were mortified when they found out that her actions
would have been grounds for elimination. After
explaining to them the rational for the rule, I asked
her "If I let you go, do you promise never to do
She nodded yes so fast that I thought
her head would fall off. At the end of the day I saw her
with a ribbon in her hand and a smile from ear to ear.
It was impossible not to smile back.
The event's stadium course had not
been set up when I walked the cross-country course on
Friday, so I inspected it an hour before stadium was to
begin. Set in Full Moon Farm's nice sand arena, I found
it a very inviting course. Karen and Steve had indicated
to me that they would like to incorporate a small
Liverpool for the Novice riders. After listening to
their description of it, I concurred that it would add a
nice 'big event' feel without unduly complicating what
was otherwise going to be an easy course. Their
description was accurate: it was an inviting Liverpool.
Based upon the giggles of many riders recanting to their
friends how boldly their horses had jumped it, they were
successful in their efforts to create the 'big event
Karen and Steve had also incorporated
an old style Swedish oxer (one with an equal number of
rails on both sides) in the course, which at first gave
me pause. But when I realized that it was to be jumped
both ways, I knew that this type of oxer, as opposed to
a square oxer, was much more rider friendly. Given the
space limitations in the arena, I found myself
complementing Karen on her ingenuity. The oxer looked
more like a solid X then anything else and got my nod of
The simplicity of the stadium course
helped me to decide how I was going to handle requests
to go cross-country from those eliminated in stadium.
Years ago I had witnessed first hand the results of
allowing someone to go cross-country who had been
eliminated in stadium. As far as I was concerned, if
someone couldn't make it around this simple stadium
course, they had no business going cross-country. There
was going to be no exception.
(While the Liverpool and Swedish Oxer
seemed a good idea at the time, the incorrectness of
this belief was pointed out to me during a peer review
of this article. OK, OK, during a review of this article
by someone much more experienced then me. For those
wishing to learn why, I've included their comments in
the Hindsight section.)
Errors of Omission
my inspection of stadium, I headed off to watch the
first few horses warm-up for stadium. I no sooner turned
in the direction of stadium warm-up than I saw a rider
jump the vertical warm-up fence in the wrong direction.
"Excuse me. Can I talk to you
for a minute?"
"Are you aware that in eventing,
you can only jump fences in one direction?"
"Yea, but this is warm up, I
didn't think it mattered."
"The rule is especially
important in warm up. Let me tell you why . . . "
Once again, with a promise that the
error would never be repeated, I set the rider on their
way. By the end of the day, I had repeated this
discussion no less then 10 times, and thanks to several
experienced riders and coaches who helped the stewards
police the warm-up arenas, probably twice that number
now know the basis for this rule.
While for the most part those
breaking rules were courteous and thankful, there were
some exceptions. Having years before made the mistake of
using a running martingale without rein stops, I knew
just how dangerous it could be. I was therefore on the
look out for rein stops. When I approached one rider
without them, I was told quite pointedly: "Well I
wish you had said something earlier to me, I can't
possibly jump without my running martingale."
"I'm sorry, but it's dangerous,
and that's the reason for the rule. If the rings get
caught over the end of the reins……" Before I
could say another word, I was abruptly cut off.
"How come they never said that to me at any other
"I'm sorry, I can't explain what
other events have and haven't done. But at a recognized
event, jumping with a running martingale without rubber
stops on your reins would be grounds for
elimination." She didn't want to hear it and
marched off in a huff.
Another rider using a standing
martingale also tried to fall back on the "I've
been to lots of other events and no one has stopped me
from using it" excuse. Fortunately for me, her
father was standing near by and intervened before she
"Thanks for the warning, we'll
take it off right away," he said.
"But Dad, they let me use it at
"Honey," her father said,
"This is not a horse show; this is an event. Events
have different rules, and you should learn them if you
want to event. Now take the martingale off."
But Dad wasn't biting. "Take it
I thanked the father, and left, quite
satisfied that that rider's evening would be spent with
the rule book in hand.
As I noted earlier, with the rare
exception, those making errors of omission were
courteous and pleasant. As the day wore on, I also found
myself admiring parents who listened closely as I talked
to their offspring, and later approached me with either
thanks, or requests on where they could learn more about
the rules of eventing. It was apparent that most
everyone, from riders to parents, wanted to learn. Karen
and Steve had accomplished at least one of their goals
-- that of making the event one for learning.
Martingale issues ranked second in
the list of errors of omission noted that day (9), just
behind jumping warm-up fences backward (10).
Inappropriate spurs and whips (3), over eager parents
clucking at fences (3), and a saddle seat cover rounded
out the list. All thankfully, were resolved without
The Cross Country Fence Judge
On the Friday before the event, I was
asked if I would conduct the briefing for the fence
judges. Figuring I could pull something off the net, I
agreed. Unfortunately, the USCTA web site had nothing on
the topic, so I was left to my own resourcefulness.
Fortunately that evening, my wife and
I were having all the working students over for dinner.
Given that they had all fence judged at least once
somewhere this year, I was sure I would get an
exhaustive list of do's and don't from them. Boy was I
"Ashley, what instructions did
you get when you fence judged?"
"Hum……the usual. You know,
what a stop was, how to record it. The usual."
"OK. That was a lot of help.
Bethany, can you add anything to Ashley's bountiful load
"No, she pretty much said it
"Well……They need to know
what is and isn't an elimination."
"OK. Cassie, can you add any
words of wisdom?"
"I'm thinking! I'm
Just then Ashley jumped in and saved
the day. 'Ooh, Ooh, I know. Tell them to watch out for
coaches giving unauthorized assistance, like you did at
my first event that got me eliminated. Remember?"
Needless to say, I finished the list
of instructions by myself.
The actual briefing went smoothly,
thanks to the quality of the people Karen and Steve had
recruited. In all my years, I've never seen a better
bunch of dedicated fence judges. While only two of them
had any prior experience, what the others lacked in
experience they more then made up for in eagerness to
learn and attentiveness. Methodically we worked our way
down the gambit of items, from what was and wasn't a
stop (which I discovered, depended upon whether the
fence had height or not), to the rules governing falls,
unauthorized assistance and cruelty to horses. In each
case the questions were insightful and at times so
lucidly worded that I felt like I was briefing Nobel
While I thought I had covered
everything, I quickly realized I had failed to address
one very important aspect of their job, the
administrative side. Fortunately for me, Karen had been
listening to my briefing, and just as I was about to
dismiss them, Karen jumped in and saved the day. Karen's
directions on how to record what they saw proved its
worth throughout the day. When questions were raised, I
found that in each case, the fence judge had done such
an excellent job in writing down what had happened, that
the comment sheets could have been safely put in a time
capsule and read with the same result 100 years in the
future. The fence judges did a great job, and I can't
say enough good things about them. They were so good in
fact, they could probably make a fortune if they formed
a company and hired themselves out en mass to other
events, but then again, that would mean having to pay
them with something other than beer.
Eliminations for Cause
Fortunately no one got eliminated in
dressage, which as we all know, does happen.
Unfortunately, several did get eliminated in stadium. As
noted earlier, I've witnessed first hand the disastrous
effects of letting someone eliminated in stadium jump
run cross-country. After seeing how simple the stadium
course was, I felt safe in my belief that anyone who
couldn't get around it had no business jumping
cross-country. To be sure I had all the facts, however,
I decided that I would double-check each of my decisions
with the stadium judge, after all, it was quite possible
someone could be eliminated for doing something stupid,
like missing a fence. After conferring, with the stadium
judge, we agreed on this approach, and it was followed
throughout the day.
Plans are one thing. It's something
completely different when you have to tell someone to
their face that they can't run cross-country.
Cross-country had just begun when I
was once again called to the control center. The parents
of a rider, who knew they needed my permission to run
cross-country, had sought me out for just that.
Thankfully, they made this difficult task easy. They
listened attentively to my explanation for why I would
not allow their daughter to go, and politely accepted
the decision, asking only if it might be possible to
come back at a later date and school the course. While I
couldn't speak for the organizer on that issue, I did
nevertheless encourage them too follow-up on the
As if almost an afterthought, the
father came back to me and shook my hand. "I know
that was a hard decision for you. I have a safety
background. I understand why you did it. Thanks. We
enjoyed the day. My daughter learned a lot, as did I.
See you next year."
His comments made my day.
Fortunately, I only had to tell two
others they, too, could not run cross-country.
Unfortunately, as I would later learn, several riders
who had been eliminated were unaware that they needed
permission to run cross-country, and thus never sought
me out. The start box, unaware that they had been
eliminated, allowed them run.
I've never had much involvement in
scoring. The way I've heard it, all the volunteers are
made to draw straws and the loser has to do the scoring.
Having stood around once too often at
the end of an event waiting for scores to be posted,
Karen was bound and determined not to have her
participants suffer this inconvenience, and had arranged
for a ‘‘ringer’’ for scorekeeper. And what a
ringer she was. Dressage sheets were collected so often
that riders were almost assured to see their score
posted as they returned from putting their horses away
after dressage. Under the able hand of our scorekeeper,
scoring moved like Swiss clockwork. Near the end of the
day, however, I received a call from the scorekeeper for
a ruling on how to break a tie. At a recognized event
this would have been easy. The closest to optimum time
wins. But we didn't keep time. So ties had to be broken
by dressage scores.
Thinking the dressage judge had
already left, the scorekeeper handed me the two tests in
questions. I stood there with the two tests in my hands,
racking my brain on how to break the tie. I had once
read somewhere a procedure for breaking ties, and while
I knew it began by comparing the collective marks, and
from there it went to individual movements, the order of
what took priority escaped me. Fortunately, or so I
thought, I recognized that the tie had come about
because one of the riders had had an error. So I gave
the first place to the rider without the error. In my
mind, a test without an error was the better test.
I had no sooner given my opinion and
returned to the grounds when I spied one of the dressage
judges. I sought out her opinion.
"Well Mike. Understand, how you
break the tie is all up to you. Everyone has a different
way of doing it. If it were up to me, I would have
chosen the rider who had the error. They had the better
test as scored by the individual and collective marks,
they just made a mistake."
"Wow," I thought. I had
never looked at it that way. We returned to the scoring
office and reviewed the test.
"Now if there are no errors, I
usually award the top place to the horse with the lower
score on gaits."
"Yes. Think about it. The horse
with the lower score for gait had to work harder to get
the same scores as the horse with the better gait. So
you want to give it to him."
"Wow," I thought. And so it
went for the next half-hour. I was the beneficiary of
years of dressage judging experience. Her insights were
enlightening, and for the remainder of the day, I
followed her guidelines for breaking every tie presented
to me. Given that we were short on ribbons, the
scorekeeper didn't even want ties for sixth place; as a
result, I had lots of opportunities to break ties!
Based upon the number of smiles I saw
at the end of the day, I have to say the event was an
unqualified success. But like any activity or process,
there is always room for improvement. If I could go back
in time, I would suggest a few minor tweaks that would
have made it even better and eliminated some causes of
First, while it is commendable to run
an unrecognized event under USCTA rules, and frankly
anyone who wants to use the term eventing should run
their activity under the rules, I was not prepared for
the sheer number of riders who had no idea just want the
rules were, and the complications that brought.
As a first step in rectifying this
situation, instead of waiting till the course inspection
to meet the organizers, I would meet with them much
earlier. I would also suggest a pre-meeting of all the
officials, including the dressage judges, ring stewards,
and scorekeeper. Given that many officials are often not
eventers, or at least active eventers, I would conduct a
briefing, similar to that given to the fence judges, and
clarify the rules and establish just how we as a team,
because we are a team, would run the event.
Second, on the day of the event, I
would spend more time insuring that the 'gears' of the
event were running smoothly. It never occurred to me to
check that cross-country was being told who had been
eliminated in stadium, and as result, those who had been
eliminated and knew the rules sought me out for
permission to run cross-country, which I denied. Yet
those who were eliminated in stadium and were ignorant
of the need to seek out the TD’s permission got to run
cross-country. This created the unfortunate perception
to some that if you followed the rules, you were
Third, while I understand the
importance of getting the show under way, I would in the
future insist that everything be put in place before a
specific phase begins. This will insure that everyone
starts off on a level playing field.
Forth, if it is the intent to run an
unrecognized event under USCTA rules, I would recommend
that any exceptions be clearly displayed for all
competitors to read.
Fifth, given that many competitors at
unrecognized events do not have access to a USCTA
rulebook, I would suggest to the organizer that a
synopsis of key rules be included in each competitor's
packet, especially rules governing elimination and
safety equipment. I would also recommend a rulebook be
available at the secretary's stand for further review.
Lastly, and sadly I must say, I would
recommend to anyone volunteering to TD to develop a
thick skin. As in every other aspect of life, no matter
how hard you try to be fair, there is always bound to be
one person bent on blaming their own inadequacies on
someone else. The fact of the matter is, not everyone is
cut out to be an event rider. There is nothing you can
do about them other than grin and bear it and find
solace in the realization that for every one disgruntled
rider, ninety-nine will go home safely with smiles on
After writing this article, I sent it
out to some experienced riders for their review and
comments. While I received many comments on my creative
spelling and sentence structure, I also received some
insightful ones that gave me pause to think about just
how much I still have to learn.
With regard to the Liverpool and
Swedish oxer in Stadium, I received the following advice
from a well respected, recognized TD:
" Mike, you ignorant dolt……A
Swedish (or a fan or a narrow fence) is NOT allowed at
Novice--and NO spread fence can ever have more than one
rail on the back side--this one is a real safety issue.
If they have to have a fence that is jumped both
ways--it has to be a vertical -- with little ground
lines on both sides - -or a brush box or stone wall, or
a brick wall box under it.
Liverpools are NOT appropriate for
Novice - -would you like the feeling of that huge jump
on a very, very, green horse with a loose beginning
rider on it when that green horse jumps 6 feet high and
10 wide over it? Would you want to be responsible for
the trip in the ambulance when the kid gets dumped in
that situation -- I wouldn't!
At the low-level unrecognized events
the show jumping needs to be very safe and inviting --
they don't know what they're getting into and aren't
schooled to do jumper courses, most of them. They've
only ever done the twice around and diagonally through
the middle of the little hunter courses -- or it's the
VERY green horses of some of the more knowledgeable
riders and they're there because they aren't ready for
A lot of the show jumping 'rules' are
hard to find in the rule book because they are not only
in the section under "Show Jumping" but also
in the back where each level is described, AND/OR they
are in the AHSA Rule Book under 'Jumper' rules!"
With regard to the breaking of ties
using dressage scores, I received the following
" The AHSA dressage rules state:
'In case of equality of points the competitor with the
highest marks received under General Impressions shall
be declared the winner. When the scores for General
Impressions tie, the judge may be required to decide on
the winner after review of both score sheets or the
horses may remain tied."
With regard to dealing with
disgruntled participants. I got the following
well-seasoned advice from a new friend:
"Make sure the organizers have a
case of your favorite beer, and start drinking early,
say around the start of dressage."
While I had expected to learn
something from the experience, I would never have
dreamed I would learn so much. I left at the end of the
day with a newfound appreciation for how hard it is to
put on a good event. Karen and Steve Fulton deserve the
accolades from everyone who competed there that day.
They made a Herculean effort and it paid off handsomely
I also have a new appreciation of how
important unrecognized events are in the education of
new riders to the rules and code of conduct in our
sport. I appreciated even more just how important a good
eventing coach is, for throughout the day, I constantly
overheard coaches doing the same thing I was doing,
explaining the rules and the rationale for them.
I also have a renewed appreciation
for the unwritten responsibility of experienced riders
to keep an eye out for their inexperienced counterparts
- be it stopping them after jumping a warm-up fence
backwards or explaining to them how to best jump a
fence. We who know the rules are in the best position to
explain them. By doing so, we can all insure that
everyone has a safe and profitable day.
Lastly, throughout the day, I
witnessed well-meaning parents doing everything they
could to insure their children had a fun learning
experience. At the recognized events, it’s rare to see
this level of involvement by a parent. It was
heartwarming to see.
other horse related stories by Michael Hillman
other stories by Michael Hillman