Pay It Forward

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When you go to a competition, you expect to see the standard volunteers and staff hard at work, including judges, show secretaries, ribbon runners and stable managers. Sometimes less visible are the show stewards and technical delegates (TDs). These officials are brought in to maintain a standard of competition and compliance with rules. While their job can make them unpopular with some competitors, the work they do helps to keep shows moving smoothly.

The TD or steward is the liaison between show management, show officials and competitors. If someone from any one of those categories has a question or concern, the steward or TD usually has to deal with it.

Equine professionals who’ve had some experience as a show official will say that even at the upper levels of equestrian sports, being a steward or TD isn’t a great money-making venture; it is, instead, one way you can give back to the sport that supports you.

The Job

The terms “steward” and “technical delegate” are not the same. “The main difference is that a technical delegate is licensed for a specific discipline—dressage, eventing, driving, pleasure driving—whereas a steward is licensed for either hunter/jumper competitions or the entire range of breeds and other national disciplines,” says Mary Smith, director of licensed officials for the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF).

Depending on the competition, officials may be licensed by a variety of organizations. At the highest level, these include national governing bodies such as the USEF and Federation Equestrian Internationale (FEI). And breeds and disciplines can also license TDs.

Like most businesses, it takes time to build name recognition for you to be front-of-mind when show managers are looking for officials. After a few years, most stewards and TDs are offered more competitions than they’d like to take. “Most of the time, competition managers contact me. I do periodically contact them,” says Deeda Randle, a USEF “r” eventing TD, “R” dressage TD and “r” eventing judge. (More on what “r” and “R” mean in a minute.)

The Process

Licensed stewards and TDs go through training and supervision before becoming officials, just as judges do. Training starts out with classroom work and moves on to work alongside other TDs and stewards at competitions. Stewards and TDs for other organizations or competitions may undergo less rigorous training, but should have a better-than-average working knowledge of their sport and its rules.

To become a USEF official, applicants must be at least 21 years old. They need to submit references and an application to the Licensed Officials Committee for review. The full USEF and FEI requirements are listed on their website at www.usef.org/­contentPage2.aspx?id=lo.

The national organizations designate officials with “r” or recorded status for the lower-level officials and “R” or recognized status for those qualified at the top national level. These designations determine the level of competition they’re able to officiate. “It’s a normal progression. You have to work your way up,” says TD Keith Yutzy of Lone Star Dartmoors in Brenham, Texas., an American Driving Society “r” TD.

Once you obtain a license, “Eligibility to renew licenses is determined by clinic and exam requirements as well as officiating requirements for the specific license,” Smith says.

The Shy Need Not Apply

The job of steward or TD is not for everyone. “They need to have very good people skills,” says Randle, who also runs Randle Equestrian in Laramie, Wyo. Yutzy, for example, says he chose the TD position over becoming a judge because “sitting in a booth for eight hours did not appeal to me.” As a TD, he’s actively working with competitors and making himself visible.

Diplomacy is key to success as a licensed official, too, as making and standing by unpopular calls are part of the job.

Show officials also must know the rules inside and out. “You have to memorize the rules,” Butler says. And Randle points out that the continual rule changes being made by all organizations are difficult to keep up with. You’ll have your rulebook at your disposal, but you need to be familiar with what’s in it and know where to look to address certain questions.

Both Sides of this Activity

Acting as a steward or TD can be a rewarding experience and a draining one, all at the same time. “The additional knowledge obtained about their sport could have a positive impact on their horse-related business,” Smith says. On the other hand, the effort required to obtain and maintain your TD or steward status on a national level involves a fair commitment of both time and finances.

About the finances: to obtain a license, you have to be a member in good standing of the organization licensing you. There are also licensing fees. Annually, there is some form of continuing education that’s required, which usually consists of traveling at your own expense to a clinic.

“If I go away to be a steward, it takes time away from my business,” points out Darolyn Butler, an FEI endurance TD from Cypress Trails in Humble, Texas. After three or four days away, her absence begins to have an impact at the barn.

However, she does appreciate the knowledge and techniques that she can apply to her business: “Anytime you’re part of an equine organization that runs by strict rules and protocol, it increases your ability to run your own business with protocol.” Also, with the rules and standards she’s learning, she’s able to more effectively teach her students according to what they will expect to encounter at a competition.

That brings up a key point: keep your officiating in perspective. Yutzy competes with his wife in combined driving events, and he needs to work both into his schedule. So he limits his TD duties to six competitions each year. In general, the TDs who contributed to this article agreed that if there was a competition they could reasonably drive to with their horses, they’d rather participate than officiate.

More distant events are another matter. As an official, you can get in an airplane and not have to worry about lugging your horse and equipment with you. People who like to travel have the opportunity to go around the country, and the world, on all-expense-paid trips. Some are creative enough to make their travels into working vacations.

Realistically, though, the financial benefits aren’t great. Shows usually pay a per diem fee in addition to covering travel expenses. And seniority rules apply. “It is understood that a newly licensed steward or technical delegate would be paid less than an official with much more extensive experience,” Smith says.

As with most aspects of the equestrian business, being an official is a labor of love. “You’ve got to love the sport and be willing to put the time and energy into doing it,” Yutzy says. That’s a sentiment that Randle echoes: “You need to do it because you believe in the sport. We’re all out there for the welfare of the horse and having fun."