Let’s Discuss: Speaking Up

As a competitive rider, I have probably been lucky to have only ever once had to explore my options for contesting anything in the world of eventing.

In that particular instance, I ended up talking with a TD, and in their role was able to understand better what the circumstances are and why they are so. It may have been born out of frustration, but I was satisfied to have had the opportunity to exercise my voice.

Recently, I have been frustrated by another competitive aspect- what I perceive to be unfair judging. And yes, if you were wondering, it relates to my most recent show; so I have decided not to go into details on what happened. Instead, I think it’s much more beneficial, not to mention interesting, to talk about the avenues that amateurs have in voicing their opinions.

We live in an exciting age, where social media is a double edged sword of empowerment and destruction.

Sometimes, it’s a force of evil- such as when a video of a high schooler smiling at a Native American went viral and people assumed he was being arrogant and confrontational. Many death threats ensued, among many other things, before it came to light that the aggressor instead had a different face and the young man was cleared of his assumed charges, though I’m sure he will long be judged by those that don’t know the full story.

Other times, social media helps stand up for those that have no voices. Most recently, social backlash prompted the FEI to look into what was clearly a case of neglect on the part of stewards, owners, and others. I’m thinking of Carollo, the horse that won a 5* jumping competition one day and then blundered his way through a derby course the next, obviously exhausted and without interference from the staff/stewards/etc at large. Now the rider is being investigated, and hopefully future riders will consider their horses more lest they rick public backlash of that magnitude.

But what happens when the stage is so much smaller? What happens when discrepancies and injustices happen at the local level? What would you do? What have you done?

I admit, I’m not even close to a TD- I don’t know the rule book back to front. I doubt myself and what I am doing if I speak up, and wonder if it will even matter.

But I’ve talked to the pros about my complaints, and despite my lack of formal education in the sport I am officially an amateur in, they are encouraging me to speak up. Because the amateur perspective is special in equestrian disciplines- horse sport isn’t up there with football and soccer and baseball or any other sport that has thousands (millions) of fans willing to just spectate while they support the sport with their dollars, our sport relies on the amateur riders who put their hard earned funds towards participation as its foundation of support. Without amateurs, it’s hard to imagine where eventing might be- Fair Hill, LRKY3DE… I’m not sure that any of the big events would exist without amateurs funding the way.

Eventing without amateurs be like…

So for the first time in my entire life, I am putting my mouth where my money is. I have a complaint, and as a long standing (albeit annual) member of the USEA and USEF, I have a right to exercise my voice. I feel inadequate doing it, and like I have to list every caveat in the world to explain myself… But dammit I know it’s worth doing.

Tell me, friends- when have you spoken up against (or for) leaders or practices in horse sport? How did you do it? Did you see results? Was it worth it? What were the stumbling blocks you encountered? What were the avenues you took?


17 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss: Speaking Up

  1. Honestly, I don’t think I have shown enough, consistently, in one sport to lodge a complaint. I have seen PLENTY of people doing it the wrong way. (Coming into the SJ judges booth in the middle of a competition to yell about how you think the XC is unfair is not the right way to do it).

    I have also seen some correct ways of doing it. Rider felt she only incurred 8 jump faults vs. 12. She protested the score and came to the judges booth when we had a drag break to show the judge the video. She was gracious and understanding and the score was corrected.

    It is very rare that anyone WANTS to screw you over, but in the chaos of horse shows, poop happens.

    • I think this is really interesting- how long do you think you need to have competed/participated in a sport to be able to lodge a complaint?

      Also- totally agree, you’ve GOT to find the right time and place to lodge a complaint. That’s only fair to the volunteers and staff that put on the events, as well as to the other competitors.

      • I think I misspoke haha. It’s not that I feel like I need to be there a while to lodge a complaint. I just haven’t been around enough to have any thing to complain about.

  2. I had an issue at a H/J show last summer in which the timer malfunctioned and I placed last in a class I would’ve won. I went and talked to the steward (basically a TD) about it because it was an add back class that cost more to enter and I was not pleased. The judge didn’t say or do anything at the time of the problem, which was weird.
    The steward and show manager talked to the judge and were apologetic and had no idea what happened. I wound up getting refunded for the class. I felt super awkward making a thing out of it, but I felt much better after. So I’m a full supporter of speaking up!

  3. This is a really interesting thing to think about. I had an experience last summer that I decided not to blog about at the time, because it was a very negative experience but I didn’t want to necessarily go to social media with it. In that case, it was an XC time recording error. My frustration was not about the rules, but that the TD we were trying to talk with wouldn’t even have a conversation with us about it. She just kept repeating that rules are rules and that I should’ve made my complaint within the allotted 30 minutes after scores were posted. After a lot of frustration, discussions with some truly wonderful other officials, and yes, tears, it finally came to light that we could make the change because it was a transcription error – they’d timed me properly, but recorded the time incorrectly. This meant, per the rules, that we could’ve made the complaint up to 3 days after the end of the competition. It would’ve been much less pain on everyone’s part if the TD had been more willing to listen to the issue and have a conversation. I didn’t file a complaint officially at that time. I’m not sure that was the right thing to do.

  4. The only route I’ve taken has been event evaluations. I did one with a lot of (well founded) scathing remarks about how the show was run and the management, and heard absolutely nothing back. So that was a bummer and made me think, are these things even being read or taken into account? And if not, what more do we need to do besides take our venting to public social media?

    • I sure hope that at least my complaint will be read. Or that maybe this post will encourage others to speak up. If enough people speak up about an issue then it seems to have an effect, but to your point if mine is a lone voice then there might not be any consequence at all.

  5. I have considered in the past on lodging a complaint but I needed to collect a sufficient amount of evidence against the person first and that was just not going to be feasible for me. People talk though so usually in the end something happens to perpetrators. Good luck with your complaint and it’s investigation!

  6. I have only had to file one official protest that I remember, which the TD was really nice about, but I always fill out event evaluations. I think it’s important that the organizers get your feedback, both positive and negative. Shoot, before we left Coconino I sought out a few officials to thank them, and ended up having one particularly fantastic discussion regarding my input on the footing and courses. Some people aren’t willing to listen to the average joe, but most are, especially if you’re polite and encouraging.

    And then there’s that email I sent to USEA, about the same person that you’re having issues with, which as you know blew up into kind of a big deal. I have no regrets about that, because this person was 100% in the wrong and I feel like it’s really important to speak up in those situations. Officials have to be held to standards too, and USEA/USEF needs to know what’s going on.

    • I really should fill out event evals, I think that’s a great comment. It was just suggested to me that I should talk to the event staff about the incident as well, which I’m going to do. The staff and volunteers are amazing and do a great job, and giving them the heads up that I’m filing the complaint seems like a good idea.

  7. I know everyone has their nightmare story, but I am going to state my experiences based on breed bias. I compete on Standardbreds, I have had to deal with some unkind words to outright bias. Here is the experience I had when I finally spoke up.

    I was at a local schooling show, I was in two flat classes and one hunter class (first mistake). The two flat classes while I felt we should have placed higher, I was still pleased with a 4th and a 3rd. My hunter class was very solid, my OTSTB mare had a beautiful canter with a nice tidy jump. We had a clear round with only a small “rack-a-lope” when I messed up a corner. We didn’t get any placings yet a girl on a nice WB with a rail down got 5th.

    I saw the judge at the coffee stand where I just asked very nicely “so I can work on at home” so I could do better when she said, “Bring me a real horse, I will not place a jughead ever.” I was stunned and very hurt where I stewed on it until I finally went to the show mgr where I mentioned the judge’s comments. Thankfully he was horrified and the judge wasn’t asked back.

    It is very discouraging when we work hard to spend our dollars at a show, for a biased judge or a dodgy rules interpretation. I get it, sometimes our horses have a bad day, or you forget your test/course, I can accept that. I also understand judges can have a bad day but when it becomes routine, this is what drives a lot of amateurs out of the show ring.

    We amateurs need to have the confidence to speak to managements, stewards, etc when we feel something is not correct. Management also needs to be patient with us amateurs as we try to navigate this very complicated sport.

  8. I’ve contacted USEA once about an event where I felt the officials were not prepared at all.
    I DO think that if we’re speaking about dressage, things can be really tough as it is completely subjective. I’ve never argued a score, as I don’t think that’s an argument I can win. I just need to get on with things and try to end on that score, no matter how much I don’t agree with it.
    In the jumping phases, I know people have argued stops before. And as a frequent jump judge, oof, I can tell you, sometimes it is really tough to decide if something was a stop. I think most jump judges are more forgiving in what they consider a stop. So that when you meet one who holds you to the standards, it can feel like they were being unfair.
    This all said, I think speaking up is our right and should certainly be done when necessary. You’re right, this sport is nothing without amateurs supporting it

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