At some point, unless you are incredibly lucky, every event rider has the same experience; for some reason your event season isn’t quite going according to plan. Either dobbin has decided to injure himself,
you have realised you don’t bounce quite as well as what you did maybe ten years ago and are feeling rather sore and off games, or you have been balloted out of your favourite event leaving you with a blank in your event calendar. With this gap comes the inevitable realisation that there is life beyond horses and the prospect of a weekend to oneself to do ANYTHING! Well, here is why you should consider using your time to give back to the sport of eventing through attempting a day’s volunteering as a cross country Fence Judge:
- You will learn the rules of cross country as you have never learnt them before. Yes you can indeed end up with 125 penalties from that fall between fences 6a and b despite coming off from a stop at the B element. This comes down to simple maths of 20 penalties for first stop, 65 penalties for falling off and a further 40 penalties for crossing one’s tracks trying to get back to the B element for jumping it. Yes you can circle in cross country but not you can’t circle in between elements of the same number. Whoever knew?!
- The Fence Judge’s primary job is not to keep course walkers clear of the cross country fences when
a rider is approaching. Keep your eyes and ears peeled people! The fence judge is trying to take a time from a marker, note down the rider’s number, blow the whistle to get you clear in time, watch for any pitfalls that may become the rider as they attempt said fence and report back to control via the walkie talkie system. Whistling multiple times whilst you are in a day dream walking the course will lead to frantic jumping up and down and shouting by a panicked fence judge!
- You will learn just how much pace affects the fences that you are riding. Going too fast downhill to a brush allowing your horse to run on his forehand will lead to either an absolute heart in your mouth flyer or a stumbled short step to a cat leap as your neddie attempts to get you and them safely from one side to the other. Similarly going through a twisty combination too quickly will lead to the Fence Judge jumping out of the way for fear of being trampled. This will give you a whole new perspective on what your cross country instructor is going through during a lesson.
- Similarly you will see how different riding styles affect the horse so much – especially at the later fences in the course. If your fitness is lagging behind your horse’s and you are struggling to maintain cross country position as the course goes on your poor horse suffers when you are hanging onto his mouth for support or struggling to maintain your balance. Whilst some horses have hearts of gold and continue along the track that they think is correct others may not be so forgiving.
- You will get a real perspective for the level you are actually riding. If you have been sticking comfortably at BE90 for a while, secretly contemplating your first BE100, you will soon get an idea for whether you are up for the challenge or not. There is a clear distinction between the horses and riders seen at each level and by the end of a day watching said pairs go round you may decide to give that BE100 a go!
- Stopping a horse cross country is NOT fun for anyone. Whilst you as a rider may be unhappy that you have been stopped in the middle of your mojo, think for a second for the poor fence judge who has had to endure standing in the middle of a cross country fence waving a flag whilst you hurtle towards them at 25 miles per hour, praying that you will notice them and stop!
- As a rookie Fence Judging, you will have the opportunity to meet the people that make the sport possible and see just what goes into organising an event. This will give you a whole new respect for the team that make eventing what it is and will really put into perspective the fact that you may be annoyed that you have had to queue for ten minutes for the Secretary.
- Fence Judging is a LONG day. The volunteers who put themselves forward for this job week in and out during the season show outstanding dedication. Usually turning up for a briefing around 8am with times that can go onto close to 7pm with no real break is a real ask for anyone and to do this for free in all weathers really shows how much our sport relies on the people who make it possible. If you have had a bad day or a result that you don’t think is correct, don’t be tempted to march down and speak to the fence judge – they will only refer you to Cross Country Control who can actually alter a result and will more than likely be left upset. When you see a Fence Judge whilst walking a course give them a smile and say, ‘Thank you’, this goes such a long way.
A day’s Fence Judging may make you keen to go back and volunteer more regularly or it may make you realise just what our sport’s volunteers are undertaking. Either way you will never bypass a volunteer again.
From the whole team at Eventing Worldwide we would like to say a huge THANK YOU to all of the volunteers that make eventing possible!
Photos courtesy of Dave Murray