Strategic Cooperation between Riders and Officials

In many meetings over the last few months there has been talk of officials, since their role is crucial at all events, where judgments can condition the life of riders, in both the positive and negative sense.

Exclusion from a Grand Prix or a decision that leads to slipping down in the final rankings can compromise the future of a rider radically.

Officials need to possess a special “feeling” for the job, which requires a variety of knowledge and skills, making this role extremely difficult to define.

Last January in Amsterdam, IJRC Director Eleonora Ottaviani and the IJRC Board member Henrik von Eckermann were invited to address the officials about their professional function, at the “FEI Refresher Seminar for Jumping Judges 2019”.

Henrik von Eckermann took part in a panel discussion, along with Stephan Ellenbruch – Chair, FEI Jumping Committee, John Roche - FEI Jumping Director and Rob Ehrens - Chef d’Equipe Royal Dutch Equestrian Federation KNHS.

Eleonora Ottaviani spoke on “Strategic Cooperation Riders and Officials” through the analysis of the following key words: professionalism, respect, comprehension, cooperation and dialogue.


A good judge is not only someone who has memorised all the norms and applies them to the letter (something a computer could do just as well), but he/she has to be able to interpret the rules and sanctions, (as is the case with modern jurisprudence) with common sense, pragmatism and the spirit of the rules, considering aggravating and mitigating circumstances (as well as repeat offenses).

For example, at sporting tribunals (because here, too, we’re talking about norms, although not within a sporting ring) the norm regarding provisional suspension, in the case of a positive drug result due to contamination, has been changed. Suspension has now been cancelled until the executive sentence has been passed.  The norm decreeing disqualification (now elimination) in the case of spur marks has also been changed.

Recently a norm on martingales, which the club would like to discuss again, has been introduced.

Considering the complexity of so many variables and their continuous evolution, the IJRC agrees that officials must be paid a fair and equitable amount for their job and that the training of officials must be supported.

It would be important to be able to discuss before norms are put into force, both in the judges' and in the stewards' manuals, to evaluate the consequences of new regulations before they come into play.

It is also fundamental that athletes should know the rules in order to respect them.


All relationships must be based on mutual respect and esteem.

Riders have to see the Chief Steward as a professional, to respect him/her and to recognise his/her knowledge of horsemanship, otherwise they will tend not to take him/her seriously, which can lead to unpleasant situations.


The judges should ensure that all riders compete on a level playing field, learning to know them and their individual quirks as well as being empathetic with other people and their problems.

Unfortunately, sport today has become a business, and an added pressure stems from results that can affect a rider’s life, negatively or positively.

The federation is watching for potential selection, there’s the responsibility towards team members and owners, as well as the value of the horse and its welfare. In short, today the professional rider has an absolute necessity to achieve a result.

So during the events the stress level is high, both riders and horses are striving to achieve maximum concentration, and the intervention of a steward during the warm-up, for minor infractions (for example, a top pole that is not 100% parallel to the ground) can break that concentration and cause great irritation. In extreme situations, it has not been unknown for riders to request that the stewards intervene only when absolutely necessary.

Riders generally know when they are about to commit, or have committed, an infraction in the warm-up arena, and a good steward will be able to intervene by just making eye contact or with a quiet world. The steward’s job is a delicate one, and his/her attitude and approach can have a huge effect on the atmosphere and outcome of the entire event.

 Cooperation and dialogue

The stewards’ position is also delicate because they spend the entire show in close contact with the riders so cooperation between athletes and officials is necessary.

Excellent communication skills and a well-developed sense of fairness and common sense are therefore fundamental qualities, that could help to learn to know the riders and their individual quirks.

An Official is not alone in his/her job. He/she has to work as part of a group and has to be prepared to discuss matters in order to clarify them or when he/she is uncertain, working together, analysing problems together, sharing difficulties and helping the different sides understand the reasons for a decision that may at first appear harsh and unpopular, or even plain wrong.

The officials have to remember that perhaps a rider in a competition is at a disadvantage compared to the judge, within this relationship.

It would be wonderful if a riders’ representative were present at competitions to facilitate unpopular and consequential decisions and to deflect rumours and miscomprehension.

By working closely with the FEI, organizers should choose the right steward for big events, according to their experience, approach and language skills. Organizers should assist their chosen team by giving them the correct tools to allow them to work to the best of their ability in order to achieve the common goal: the success of the event.

The IJRC would like to take this opportunity of thanking all stewards throughout the world who, weekend after weekend, work hard - sometimes in less than perfect circumstances - to fulfill their duties. The Club would  also like to invite all organizing committees to ensure that they appoint a sufficient number of stewards for their events so they can divide the burden of their duties more equitably.

A good stewarding team is not a “waste of space” but an excellent point of reference for all the riders.

The IJRC is always willing to cooperate with the OC, Show Directors and Chief Stewards in all aspects of event management; it is better to examine important matters before the event than to take drastic action during or after the event.