I remember the first time I served as a licensed official. It was the early ‘90s, and I was the Technical Delegate. I was confident because eventing had been “my" sport since the mid-60s, so I had a lot of experience riding and competing. But when the first horse started, all I could think of was, “Oh no, this is WAY different!” It was in that moment that I realized that, when I rode, my only responsibility was me, and now my responsibility was every rider, every horse. What a wake-up call!
I hope I’ve learned something in all those years. Here are some insights that come to mind.
This is about not only the things you have to do – check dressage rings, walk/approve cross-country courses, fill out forms, etc. – but about who you, as a licensed official, are responsible to.
It’s true that we’ve been hired and get paid by the organizer, but for me, my first responsibility is to USEF. USEF is the National Federation for Equestrian. USEF has many roles as the NF, and two of the most important ones are the rules and the licensing of competitions and officials. For me, it’s a no-brainer that any decision made during a competition must take USEF into consideration.
As licensed officials, one of our important responsibilities is to know the rules. Here’s another anecdote that illustrates that this is something we should pay attention to. I remember seeing Jack Fritz reading the Rule Book on a Thursday or a Friday and saying to him, “What are you doing, Jack?” His answer was, “I’m reading the rules. I do it before every event.” I’ve taken that advice to heart. I read the rules each time before each event that I work at.
Knowing the rules also means staying current with any rule changes that might have become effective since you last officiated. Don’t forget to check for any updates before you leave for the event and make sure you have access to all applicable up-to-date Rule Books!
That brings me to the next point – Teamwork. Yes, USEF Rules state that the Ground Jury (at most horse trials it’s just a President) is in charge, but with so many moving parts, it’s key that everyone works together to ensure that the competition runs smoothly, and most importantly, is safe. The President, the TD, and the Organizer will be the key members of the team, but everyone helping with the event will participate in its success.
Here’s another way to look at it. A friend of mine works for a large insurance company. They use the RACI matrix. This is a system which identifies the individuals who are “Responsible for each action item, who would be Accountable, and, where appropriate, who needs to be Consulted or Informed.” Think about the smoothly run events you’ve been to. They’re probably doing this already.
And don’t forget to check your ego at the door. This event is not about you. Like the RACI matrix, it’s about acknowledging everyone’s role, listening to their perspective, and, when applicable, making decisions together and sharing other decisions with members of the team.
If you’ve checked your ego at the door, you’ll find that you learn something at every competition you go to. The sport is very different now from when I started in the ‘60s, and look at how much it’s changed in the past few years! Frangible technology comes to mind. Talk to the Course Designer, the Course Builder; you’ll probably learn something! Back to responsibilities – it’s our responsibility as a licensed official to stay current on all aspects of the sport we love.
So what’s my conclusion after being involved with Eventing for so long? What do I like about being a licensed official? I like being part of the event. I don’t enjoy being a spectator. I love working with my fellow officials, many of whom have become friends. But at the heart of it, I love to watch horses, whether it’s the pony with the small child, the older horse taking care of the beginner rider, the young horse learning his job, or the amazing horses at a five-star event. They are all special in their own way, and how lucky we are to be part of their journey!
Sally Ike, an accomplished equestrian in her own right, has dedicated more than 30 years of service to US Equestrian. In addition to her licensed official career, she served as the jumping team leader for every Olympic Games, Pan American Games, FEI World Equestrian Games, and FEI World Cup Finals from 1990 through 2008, and has worked extensively with the vaulting and eventing disciplines. In 2021, Ike was the recipient of USEF's Lifetime Achievement Award.