Helen Alliston has been riding horses for over 20 years, competing in eventing at the FEI 2*, 3*, and 4* level. She currently runs Alliston Equestrian, a training program in the East San Francisco Bay area, alongside her husband, James. In addition to riding and training, she is also working to become a licensed official.
Alliston started to pursue her licenses out of a desire to stay involved with the equestrian world while recovering from a fall at the 2021 Spring Event at Woodside.
“I just sat around all season bored, so I thought to myself, ‘It would be kind of nice if I could have done something in that time, like judge dressage.’ So that's what got me thinking about it,” she said. “I started looking into the program last year and did a few clinics and apprenticeships, and I really enjoyed it.”
Alliston is now working toward her ‘r’ Eventing Judge and ‘r’ Eventing TD licenses and is currently balancing training and riding.
“The training's been easy because it's all in the offseason, so that's not really been a problem,” Alliston said. “I just apprentice at the shows I don't ride at, [so] it’s been easy.”
Alliston explained that becoming a licensed official was important to her because it provided more opportunities to connect with her peers in what is often an individual sport.
“You have your horse, but otherwise it's kind of [just] you, unless you're at a championship or something,” she said. “I like doing something outside of just my own stuff and just contributing to the sport in some way.”
Alliston said that her training has influenced her approach as a competitor by giving her a wider understanding of judging criteria.
“It's definitely helped because I'm quite a competitive person, and so if I get a bad score, I get all mad and grumpy, but learning all the little details behind it just makes you a little bit more mature as a competitor,” Alliston said. “I think it's just important to be well-rounded in whatever you do. You're always learning. It's kind of a different viewpoint than riding. You learn the behind-the-scenes stuff. It makes you think a little more critically.”
In addition to expanding her knowledge about eventing and judging operations, Alliston said that judging provides her with an opportunity to connect with others at events without the stress of competition.
“[At] the shows I've worked at so far, hanging out with all the other people is fun,” she said. “Low stress, I'd say, which is nice because being a competitor, you have nerves and put pressure on yourself. So it’s a bit more light.”
Alliston said that once she is licensed, she plans to maintain her ‘r’ licenses while continuing to ride.
“Right now, I'm balancing doing the riding and the judging, so realistically, I'm not going to be able to shoot up the levels as an official, because it takes a lot of time and commitment,” Alliston explained. “It's something I'd like to do when my riding career winds down, so it's more of a long-term goal.”
To learn more about becoming a licensed official, visit US Equestrian’s Licensed Officials webpage, as well as the Learning Center video Licensed Officials: Judges, Course Designers, Stewards, and TDs.