Responsible for crowd control, public engagement, and rounding up the occasional loose horse, mounted stewards play a fundamental role in the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by MARS Equestrian™, especially the cross-country phase.
According to the event’s 2023 Mounted Steward Guidelines document, “the primary purpose of Mounted Stewards is to alert spectators that a horse is coming to an obstacle and ensure that they either clear the track of the course or do not try to cross the course so as not to impede the progress of the horse. This purpose has been accomplished over the last 43 years at Kentucky by blowing a whistle and announcing ‘Horse Coming’ in a loud (and calm) voice.” In other words, these volunteers provide a safe environment for both competitors and spectators by ensuring they do not get in each other’s way.
Mounted stewards come from a variety of backgrounds and have experience across disciplines. Jean Mutrux, a volunteer from St. Louis, participates in several.
“An avid foxhunter, I compete mostly in dressage and eventing, but I also dabble in the hunter/jumper world with my American Saddlebreds,” Mutrux said. “Other members of my hunt have been doing this for years and always raved about what an awesome weekend it is, so I decided to join in!”
Tim Miller and Amy Miller, a husband-and-wife team from Springfield, Ohio, also got their start as mounted stewards through fox hunting.
“Most of the riding I do is hunting or working hounds on trails or open fields—jumps, uncertain terrain, basically all cross-country, all the time! All my hunters are off-track Thoroughbreds,” Tim Miller said. “I got started as an outrider back when Helen Sproat was still the coordinator. Helen hunted with my parents and had been a family friend since before I could talk. She asked me several years running, and it wasn't until I was sure I had a good horse that I started.”
Miller said his main duties center around ensuring “the safety of competitors, horses, and spectators: keeping people out of galloping lanes, helping catch loose horses, advising staff on the ground when a horse is coming.”
“Depending on what area I'm assigned, I'll either be right in the busiest of areas where people will want to pet my horse and ask lots of questions or in a less-populated area where I just have to alert the jump judges of coming riders,” Mutrux said. “Being atop a horse gives a fantastic view of all the competitors, and I get to be an ambassador for the Saddlebred breed.”
Tim Miller said he interacts with the public “almost constantly,” as competition spectators often want to discuss and pet horses along with just observing them.
“During down time, I will choose passersby and tell them my horse will be sad if they don't pet him. Parents love taking pictures of their kids petting big horses. And all the Pony Club kids are aching to tell you about their ponies,” he said. “There's always a little girl who starts off too shy to speak to me who will gradually offer my horse a handful of grass, then timidly ask his name. Within 10 minutes, she's telling me all about her Breyer horse collection and all the Marguerite Henry books she's read. I'm there for her.”
The Mounted Steward Guidelines document alludes to this as well: the last section is titled “You Are One of the Sport's Best Ambassadors.”
“Don't be shy about talking with folks along the way. They are as impressed by you as they are by the competitors,” the document reads. “For you to take the time to include them in your sphere and to assist them in enjoying the competition adds immeasurably to their experience. For a child to be able to pet your horse will put them on a high for days.”
“I really enjoy interacting with the spectators and answering their questions, from my horse’s name and how old he is to where jump 12 is or what rider just went by,” Amy Miller said. “My horse loves to get attention from people, and one of my favorite things is when a child or an adult that has never petted a horse before is able to come up and touch his nose and to see the look on their face when they realize how soft and fuzzy it is.”
Amy Miller also mentioned her affinity for cheering on first-time riders.
“I admire these riders at this level and their horses so much. The horses are so brave, and the trust and the partnerships are just amazing and wonderful to watch up close,” she said.
Overall, mounted stewards bring diverse representation to the event and the equestrian community as a whole.
“My favorite part is watching all the hard work pan out and all the interesting people I get to meet and work with along the way,” said Amanda Norman, volunteer coordinator for the Kentucky Three-Day Event. “I have learned so much more about how events run by working behind the scenes. It makes me appreciate so much more the events I compete in and am not working or volunteering for.”
Now, the mounted stewards are heading into this year’s cross-country day with high hopes.
“I have the best seat in the house, and it's delightful to watch people enjoying themselves and to contribute to a special weekend for them,” said Tim Miller.
“I smile so much when I am out there, at the horses and riders that take those huge jumps, at the spectators that are enjoying the day,” Amy Miller added. “Also the dogs. There are lots of good dogs on cross-country day.”