(Almost) everything you need to know before you compete (or volunteer!) at a “recognized” show
By Kim F. Miller
Reprinted from the April 2019 USDF Connection magazine
If you’d like to experience a recognized dressage show but you’re not ready or able to compete, volunteering may be just the ticket. There are opportunities for enthusiasts of all experience levels—even non-horsey friends or family members looking to keep busy between their loved ones’ rides. You’ll learn a lot about what it takes to compete in dressage, and you’ll meet other like-minded people, as well. Volunteers frequently receive perks ranging from complimentary meals, t-shirts, and “swag bags” to credits from GMOs that count toward awards eligibility or admission to other shows or club events.
“If we have to start hiring these positions, the costs will go up,” Tice says.
We asked Tice to explain the most common dressage-show volunteer positions, from least to most experience required.
Shows depend on volunteers to help keep a lid on costs, says Carol Tice. The current USDF Region 7 director, Tice, of Temecula, California, is also the volunteer coordinator for the Del Mar National Horse Show and for the Great American/USDF Region 7 Championships and California Dressage Society Championship Show.
Setup and tear-down. No experience required; just bring your muscles to help set up and take down the dressage arena, and to place and remove the letter markers and any decorative elements.
Runner. No experience required. This volunteer runs (briskly walks, actually) completed test sheets from the judge’s booth to the show office. Runners also relay information and requests among judges, scribes, management, and the show’s volunteer coordinator; and may deliver coffee, water, and snacks to judges and scribes. The amount of walking involved depends on the size and layout of the show grounds. At some large venues, golf carts are provided.
Awards. These volunteers work in the show office and may also help out during awards presentations in the arena. Awards volunteers distribute competitors’ test sheets, ribbons, and prizes. Those who assist with awards presentations need to know safe practices around sometimes-antsy equines.
Ring steward. Stationed at the warm-up entrance with show schedule in hand, the ring steward keeps track of competitors and provides riders with schedule updates and “you’re on deck” notifications, to help keep the show running smoothly and on time. Usually equipped with a walkie-talkie, the ring steward communicates as needed with the show office or the technical delegate in the event of competitor scratches, no-shows, rules-related issues, or accidents.
Although ring stewards don’t need extensive dressage knowledge, many enthusiasts enjoy this volunteer position because of the opportunity afforded to watch horses and riders at all levels warming up. In southern California, Tice says, it’s common to see Olympians Steffen Peters, Guenter Seidel, and others.
Scorer. Mad math skills are not required for the job of tallying individual movement scores on the test sheet to calculate the final percentage. But it helps to be quick on a 10-key calculator, as “you don’t want to be hunting and pecking,” according to Tice. Larger shows may use two scorers to help ensure accuracy, pairing experienced volunteers with first-timers to teach the rudimentary rules knowledge required, such as ensuring that every box on the test sheet contains a mark and how to account for errors.
Scribe. “Eighty percent of new volunteers I get want to scribe,” says Tice, “on the premise that they get to watch the ride and hear words of wisdom from the judge.” But some new scribes are disappointed when they discover that their front-row seats don’t afford extensive spectating. “Often, you only lift your head up from the test sheet to check that the exhibitor’s number matches the one on the test sheet.”
Scribing is neither an opportunity to befriend the judge—“you only chat when the judge wants to chat,” says Tice—nor a “sit with the judge” education session. “You are not there to learn; you are the judge’s secretary for the day,” she explains. Nevertheless, it’s virtually impossible not to learn something about what judges seek after spending several hours in the judge’s booth.
Traditional scribes write the judge’s marks and comments in the designated boxes on the test sheet. Neat handwriting and familiarity with common scribing abbreviations are musts (if you don’t abbreviate, you may not be able to keep up with the dictation). Some larger shows also use e-scribes, who enter numeric scores in the show’s electronic scoring system.
Whether your goal is to ride down center line in a recognized show or to help out from the sidelines, you’ll find plenty of information on the USDF website (usdf.org). The USDF Member Guide contains the most popular current USDF, US Equestrian, and FEI dressage tests as well as membership guidelines and awards- and championship-program rules. The online USDF Guide for Scribes is an encyclopedia of procedures, tips, and standard abbreviations.
The US Equestrian website (usef.org) houses all of the rules that apply to USEF-licensed dressage competitions. Besides the extensive descriptions of gaits and movements, the dressage section (DR) contains the latest lists of permitted bits, bridles, and other equipment, along with illustrations and photos.
Every recognized dressage competition has a rules expert known as a technical delegate on the grounds. See “Mythbusters, TD Edition” (March) to learn more about the TD’s role.
If you are a member of a USDF GMO, check to see if your club offers benefits and awards for volunteering. Many GMOs offer periodic training sessions for scribes and other skilled volunteers. To learn more about volunteering, contact your GMO or the show’s volunteer coordinator.
Enjoy the show!
Kim F. Miller is the editor of California Riding Magazine and a freelance writer and photographer. She lives in southern California and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.