Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I guess I'll go first! my thoughts on stewards

Although there have been many visitors here since I put up yesterday's post, there have been no comments, which has surprised, and I admit, disappointed me.

But today is a new day, and I invite you once again to join in. If you prefer that your comment stay in the comment section only, say that. I'll respect your wishes.

On with a few things I've been pondering.

I went back just now and reviewed the FEI's announcement about the newly-formed working group:

The composition of the FEI working group tasked with expanding current guidelines for Stewards to facilitate clear implementation of the policy on warm-up techniques following on from last week’s round-table conference on hyperflexion/Rollkur has been finalised today.

As announced after last week’s conference in Lausanne, the working group will be chaired by Dressage Committee Chair Frank Kemperman. Group members are Richard Davison (GBR), Rider/Trainer; John P. Roche (IRL), FEI Director Jumping/Stewarding; Jacques Van Daele (BEL), FEI Honorary Dressage Steward General/Judge; Wolfram Wittig (GER), Trainer; and Trond Asmyr (NOR), FEI Dressage Director/Judge. The working group will also draw on the expertise of a number of other specialists, including but not limited to the participants of the round-table conference*. The working group aims to have the guidelines completed by the end of March 2010.

The guidelines produced by the group will be communicated directly to Stewards and also to riders and trainers. The working group is expected to put forward further proposals for the education of Stewards to ensure that FEI rules are strictly adhered to and that the welfare of the horse is maintained at all times.

Since the group aims to expand the current guidelines for stewards, and to facilitate clear implementation of the policies by stewards, I feel we should see at least a few regular stewards in the group. The actual front line personnel who will need to understand and implement these new guidelines.

The use of specialists is key, but we need the actual front line stewards in the room in order to make this truly useful and relevant.

The input of these people would, in my opinion, be invaluable to the working group. They will have real stories to tell about what it's like to steward, including the problems they face in dealing with upper level riders and trainers, who may not be amenable to intervention from staff they see as peripheral and unimportant.

In order to empower the stewards, we have to hear what they have to say. What better way than putting them in the working group?

It's also a necessary way to insure that the clarification of guidelines is indeed clear. As the guidelines are developed, and the actual language put into place, the working stewards will be right there to say "yes, that's very useful," or "that's confusing - how do I apply that?"

Or "that is clear but it won't work in action and here's why."

I haven't served as a dressage steward, but have volunteered as a cross country jump judge, and have personally dealt with a rider who I needed to flag to stop the course. The rider ignored me and kept galloping on, creating a potentially dangerous situation, as there was a horse down two jumps further in. Guess who got chastised for not stopping the rider? ME. I was out flagging as hard as I could, and there was no way the rider didn't see me. There was no penalty to the rider for ignoring my flag.

Bear in mind this was a recognized event, but nothing like the upper levels of the sport. The standards should be implemented from the lower levels and remain consistent all the way up. That way riders learn the ropes early on, and one of the most important "ropes" to learn is that one has to respect the stewards and judges.

In my opinion, the stewards' directions should be considered law, and if a rider or that rider's trainer ignores or argues with the steward, there should be automatic disqualification.

If the rider and/or trainer want to file a complaint, let it be done in writing, to the head of the show/venue.

The stewards won't stand up to riders and their trainers if they know they will be argued with, intimidated, and then not backed up by the judges.

Imagine the impact on the world of dressage if the steward in the warm-up arena had been empowered to approach Kittel and say UNACCEPTABLE.

And empowered to disqualify him from competition if he did not get off Scandic, examine his tongue and the bridle, correct the noseband, and release him from the rollkur position for the rest of the warm-up.

Epona TV would have captured that on video and we would have all been cheering instead of outraged.

Actually, that's what I hope to see in 2010. Someone capturing an empowered steward on videotape and sharing it with the world. The guidelines in action, successfully implemented, and the welfare of the horse being put before the rider's competition goals and the trainer's ego.

To me, that's a perfect example of the FEI in action, doing its job.

I welcome comments on anything I've written today, as well as any other thoughts you have.

Malina stopped by several times yesterday and has already been by this morning. She is listening. Do we have anything to say?


Wendy Kheiry said...

I agree with the premise that the stewards ought to be listened to as rule enforcers, but I'm wondering about whether the onus of disqualification should be put upon them. I think that in this preset hierachical structure, their report of infractions, and recommended course of action should hold weight with the judges, but that the act of disqualification should come from the judges.

In this case they are performing as a police officer and enforcing the rules, but not making the ultimate decision and referring it for judicial action. This would actually protect the stewards both from culpability, as well as attempts at subversion. Stewards should also be encouraged to act in concert with one another, much like referees.

Most importantly, the riders, horse owners, competitors, grooms, judges and all involved in a competition setting must see to it that winning cannot be accomplished at the expense of the horse's well being. That said with the knowledge that agreeing on what constitutes the horse's well being within a competitive environment will be a matter of debate for many years to come, however, the discussion has begun, which is a good thing.

As with most things that are both intensely personal, as in the case of animal stewardship and ownership, and publically scrutinized as in a competitive environment, much is a matter of degree. Question everything in its turn, and challenge tradition, and dare to carve out a better interpretation of the intricate dance that is horse and rider moving in grace and harmony.

Grey Horse Matters said...

The only thing I have to say is I totally agree with what you have written today. It is very thoughtful with all good points. I'd love to see the stewards empowered in the warm up ring. I'd also like to see the cameras recording everyone.

The only other thing I can think of at the moment is to perhaps get the current judges to stop rewarding incorrect rides. Placing the riders who don't use rollkur in their training, in the top spots (if they deserve it, of course, for a good ride) would certainly be preferable to what is happening now. We need to set a good example not only for the riders coming up but for the current top level riders to let them know rollkur is an unacceptable practice that will not be rewarded in the future.

The following quote should be posted in every barn, arena and training facility. It says volumes.

What the horse does under compulsion...is done without understanding...and there is no beauty in it.
- Xenophon

billie said...

Wendy, I like what you wrote about referring the decision for judicial action. This may well be the way it already works in theory, and thus just needs reinforcement as these new rules are clarified.

My comment for tomorrow was going to be about judges, so I was sort of on the same track as you here.

However, I do feel the stewards cannot be used as whipping boys by riders and trainers, and that the expectation should be that the stewards will be backed up by judges.

And that arguing with the steward is in itself an infraction. I think that's a weak link in the chain, where intimidation has been successful in getting things dropped and thus never getting before the eyes/ears of the judges.

The use of closed circuit cameras in warm-up arenas will likely assist with this piece.

Thanks for jumping in here.

billie said...

Arlene, thank you - I see we're all on the same thought pathway here - from stewards to judges, and then you took it to the next step wrt judging from the existing standards and rewarding classically correct riding and movement.

I am going to make that leap in tomorrow's comment and with your permission with use the Xenophon quote up top to create a sort of frame.

Thank you!

Grey Horse Matters said...

be my guest, there are so many great quotes fro Xenophon I couldn't decide which to use and settled on this one. I'll be looking forward to your nest post.

Máire said...

Hi Billie,

I have been following your blog for a while and I guess this is a good time to come in with a comment.

I have a problem with the FEI decision, in as far as I understand it, in that low, deep and round is allowed, whilst Rollkur is not. How is a steward to decide if aggressive force is used? What about horses that have such force used at home and therefore have learned to submit to LDR? That cannot be judged. Dressage judging is subjective and I think that the steward judging of warm up rides will also have to be subjective. What is aggression? Is it a braced position on the part of the rider? Is it obvious signs of discomfort such as swishing tale, excessive sweating and these signs could also be argued the other way?

I would agree with you about the input of stewards to the group as they will be on the ground facing the riders, trainers and everyone else.

I really like your blog by the way!

billie said...

Maire (sorry I am not sure how to get your accent in with my keyboard!),

I'm very happy to have you here and so appreciate the comment.

With your permission I will use the middle paragraph of your comment combined with the Xenophon quote from Arlene to frame my post for tomorrow.

I agree with what you're pointing out and am glad to see that even without trying to organize these thoughts and comments, there is a quite natural progression happening which I think illustrates exactly the issues that are being raised.

I think it also illustrates that there is no one simple answer for the FEI - the working group has a difficult task, for sure.

Dougie Donk said...

I totally agree that any change needs to come from the grass roots on up.

In the UK, most stewards at Riding Club level are volunteers, who are lucky if they get rewarded by lunch. We need to bear in mind that people won't keep on volunteering to help in a sport they love if all they are going to get in return is grief for enforcing unclear rules.

For that reason, I think the definition of LDR needs to be expanded into a really simple "If you see this (description of look/behaviour by horse and/or rider) this is what you should do. "

That level of clarity would help everyone develop a much higher level of common understanding of what is/isn't acceptable & people would then start to self-analyse & change their behaviours, coz they know they won't be allowed to do what they've previously done.

From such small acorns, great oaks grow.

billie said...

Dougie, exactly what I was thinking.

You nailed it with the "if you see this, do this" statement.

Anonymous said...

Any position that compels a horse to assume, for a prolonged period of time, a physical position that the horse would not sustain for a prolonged period of time when unconstrained, is abusive, period. And I don't care if we're talking about dressage, western pleasure, jumping horses in draw reins, etc. - it's all the same - it's forcing the horse into an unnatural position. I really don't care what the "theory" is that is behind any of these practices - they're all abusive, despite the so-called "experts".

The difficult thing is that someone (FEI, how about it?) needs to take a position to protect the animals (as opposed to protecting the "sport" or the industry) and empower those at ringside to censure/discipline those who abuse their power to force horses into unnatural, and painful positions. Will the FEI have the guts to do this, or just cave in to the interests who support these practices? And how will ring stewards be protected against retaliation from those who are powerful in the sport? I think live webcams in the warm-up rings would be a great way to start - who could object to that? - if the average viewer finds it offensive, then there's something wrong with how the horses are being ridden.

Máire said...

Hi Billie,

Of course feel free to use my comment.


Anonymous said...


Thank you again for the opportunity to converse with you and your readers.

In order to ensure practical results in less than two months, the working group had to be kept small. It is important to note however that the working group will be consulting widely outside of its membership.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Jacques Van Daele, FEI Honorary Steward General for Dressage, is on the working group. He has served at hundreds of FEI events from the lowest to the highest level over many years and is one of the most knowledgeable and experienced stewards working with the FEI. John Roche, who is FEI’s director for stewarding, is also a working group member.

The FEI has put in place a new education programme for stewards. All stewards officiating at international events will have to go through this programme in order to gain the best possible understanding of FEI rules and regulations and to be in a position to perform their tasks in the most informed and efficient way.

I hope that this information is of interest.

All the best,


billie said...

Kate, thanks, and Malina, you too, for commenting.