By Jean Kraus
With competitions starting back up, we are going to once again be able to participate in our beloved sport. However, we will be facing unique challenges. Having served as a technical delegate (TD) for over 30 years, I, along with everyone else, will be learning how to navigate within our new competition parameters. I know what my role has been but within our new parameters, I will also have to redefine some aspects of my job.
As TDs, we serve as the voice for the horse, ensuring that his interests and welfare are paramount. This is why you will often observe us watching the warmup ring. Are horses working comfortably, or is someone schooling too long, too harshly, or a horse is distressed? The TD is a resource for competition management in regards to how a competition is organized and run. Is the competition arena set up correctly? Has the day schedule been posted? For the judges, we are there if they have a rule question or an issue arises in their arena. For the competitors, we answer questions that may range from what equipment is legal for NAYC competitions to are there concessions? We wear many hats at a competition: we serve as the interface with US Equestrian, with the competition, with judges and competitors, and we work to navigate between all of the elements of a competition in order to help facilitate a good experience for everyone.
But now we are in our COVID world. Our dressage shows will be operating with ‘new normal’ parameters. This is going to impact on us, with our ‘learned routine’ as TDs. It will have an impact on how anyone connected to the competition functions. Everyone is going to have to be flexible and stretch into the new parameters.
We knew our ‘learned routine’ of how we operated and functioned with the horses, the competition grounds, competition management, horses being prepped to show, tests being ridden, picking up ribbons, etc. All of this was second nature. We had a groove of how we operated/functioned in whatever role we played at a competition as the judge, TD, competitor, trainer, groom, ring steward, etc. We will now have to learn and develop new practices/habits of operating. Now we have face coverings, social distancing, and the need for constant awareness. It is going to be difficult to get in the ‘habit’ of remembering our masks, of not walking right up to someone, of waiting patiently in social distance marked lines, and of constantly thinking ahead about our actions and how they will impact those around us.
As TDs, we have to study the US Equestrian Presidential Modifications to see what has shifted within each rule and how that will affect every constituent at the competition. What had been orange, and we did not have to think about, is now blue. What had been the standard equipment check will be shaped differently now. We have a great number of paradigm shifts to learn.
The USDF Dressage Competitions Best Practices outlines how competitions may stretch to maintain a safe environment for everyone. I recommend reading every resource available on both the US Equestrian and USDF website, thinking of how you will accommodate around the shifts and being prepared. Plastic screens between the judge and scribe are a possibility now. What will your horse think when you come down the center line and see that? Plan ahead!
TDs will be able to help all participants navigate the new parameters that have been put into place. Ask us questions and let us be a resource for you. What we do not want to have to do is chastise those who are unwilling to follow the new parameters.
As you have undoubtedly observed with people coming out of isolation, some have gone a little crazy. Not wearing facial coverings and packed together in whatever environment, the media has lit up with concerns. As was stated in the US Equestrian/USDF Joint Webinar “Preparing for a Safe Return to Competition”, we only have one chance to do this right. One chance to show that we can respect the rules for the good of our sport and fellow humans. With our shows starting back up, the eyes of the world will be on us. If we follow the guidelines that we have been given, wear our facial coverings and keep social distancing, we will demonstrate that our sport is important to us. If we congregate and a picture is posted on social media showing that ‘those horse people’ will not respect the rules, we risk getting shut down. Of all the equestrian groups that I have worked with, I believe that the people involved with dressage are the most disciplined. I am betting that we will do it right and that our competitions will be the standard-bearers for how it can be done correctly.
My money is on dressage! Let’s do it right!