Written by: Craig Collins

Senior Officials Article Backlash
Jean-Christophe Gandubert’s opinion piece “Shortage of Officials Looms” in the November issue of Horse Sport set off a firestorm of controversy. Here is a rebuttal to some of his comments.

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“To ask officials to not perform their duties … when a clear violation or instance of abuse is discovered is not only wrong and absurd, but an invitation for litigation.”

Craig Collins
Caledon Pan Am Equestrian Park
Equestrian Management Group Inc.

From an organizer’s point of view, all officials that are contracted for our EC-sanctioned competitions make up a very valuable and critical part of our horse show team. They bring a wealth of knowledge and play a critical role in insuring fair play within the national rules of our sport. Without question, it is a huge challenge to find qualified officials for all of the roles required for an a National or International competition. I agree with the author that more needs to be done to develop and license more officials in our country.

Contracts issued to officials by horse shows outline the days their services are required to perform the duties that are outlined in the EC rules. The contract stipulates the standard fees for duties required. They are simple documents. They don’t attempt to tell the official how to perform their duties.

At EMG competitions we have set rates (at or above industry standards) for the various officials and the duties required under EC rules. In some cases the compensation escalates based on the status of the official (FEI, Senior, etc.). All officials at the same status doing the same duty receive the same rate of pay. Senior judges get the same, senior stewards get the same etc. The only difference is travel expenses, per diem and accommodations ‒ hence the reason that competitions certainly look for qualified officials that are able to stay at home and don’t require the additional expense. At the same time, it is important to provide opportunities for newcomers to gain experience at major competitions around the country. At EMG our policy is very accommodating; with the permission of the senior officials contracted, we always allow junior officials to assist and gain experience and credit for promotion.

The author goes off the rails in paragraph 3 when he speaks of “numerous incidents …….”! These are wild accusations with no examples or merit. It shows his lack of understanding when he states that “trainers/coaches who would then move his/her clients to another horse show.” Where? Another country? Also in this statement he insults and offends the vast majority of officials that do everything possible to perform their duties to the best of their abilities with knowledge, integrity, skill and grace.

It is beyond comprehension that any organizer would risk enormous liability and litigation by ordering officials to intentionally withhold information to save a few hundred dollars in insurance premiums. Most of us have huge exposure and make every effort to limit our liability and especially eliminate negligence through training and developing policies to deal with all contingences.

It would seem that the author is referring, too, in a not-so-discreet way, some sort of tacit agreement between organizers and officials. To say there is no consultation and discussion on issues that arise, especially within grey areas of the rules and policies, would be incorrect and not logical. Many organizers bring a wealth of experience to the game. However, to ask officials to not perform their duties, as provided for in the EC rules, when a clear violation or instance of abuse etc. is discovered is not only wrong and absurd, but an invitation for litigation.

In the extremely rare instance where, after a full investigation, it is determined that collusion, unreported issues, failure to perform in a responsible ethical manner, or some sort of other infractions has been concealed or taken place and unreported, then both the official(s) and the competition organizers, if involved, have to be sanctioned or fined strongly for a lengthy period of time, perhaps forever.

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A much more common problem is the lack of action by the NSO/PSO when recommendations and reporting of issues is provided by officials or organizers. This lack of support and follow-up certainly might lead to the despondency of the officials. I cannot begin to recount the number of issues that have been brought forward over the last three decades by organizers and officials that I have been aware of and little or no action or follow-up occurs.

Where are the reports filed? Are they reviewed by anyone with the knowledge to act if required?
The number of outdated and unenforceable rules and policies that currently exists puts all of the officials, organizers and competitors in the proverbial rock and hard spot. Volunteers on the rules committee do an admirable job of trying to keep the rules current and accurate. However, many rules still need review.

Of particular note are the recent efforts by EC to have non “participants” sign a person responsible form. While there are many reasons to be able to identify this person, ask any steward or horse show office staff how impossible this is in its present form.

Similarly, ask the question what is a stewards real role?

You will get a vast array of answers from educator to enforcer. I personally feel that somewhere in the middle might lie the appropriate answer. Clearly defining it in the rules would perhaps assist in the often incorrect perceptions from all involved.

The author again misses a simple point … organizers don’t wish to hire or have appointed an official that is not properly trained or experienced or shown an inability to perform under a difficult and competitive environment. This does lead to some personalities being exposed. Personalities that through an over-enthusiastic approach, poor ethics, or a simple lack of clarity and knowledge of the rules and the sport, could create an environment that may be challenging for both competitors and organizers. Some officials find that perhaps the role is different than they had originally envisioned. This could partly contribute to the reasons that so many officials do not take on higher challenges or attempt to gain a higher status. I believe that some officials struggle to have a clear image as to what precisely the parameters of their duties are. Certainly the majority have a clear understanding, but not all.

Horse shows, as policy, don’t normally hire officials that are required to offer subjective opinions (hunter judges particularly) over and over again to the same venue. Competitors want and pay for the opinions and certainly don’t want to see the same judges multiple times in a short period of time.

Horse show organizers want to have an even playing field with knowledgeable officials (the vast majority) cognizant of the current rules and policies to correct and educate as well as using the array of sanctions and reporting methods they have available to remedy situations as they come up. If someone is breaking the rules, officials must do whatever action the overall rules of our sport provide for.

I feel it critical that officials need to play a much larger role in developing these rules. They enforce the rules and know better than anyone which ones are unclear, outdated, or impractical and which new rules are needed to improve the sport and welfare of the horses. I know that over the past few years the rules committee has tried to eliminate the use of the word “may” in our rule books. This should continue; we don’t want officials at the event trying to interpret what was really meant or what the rule actually states. This happens much too often.

While the author goes to great efforts to correctly identify the low numbers of officials available for competitions, he completely ignores some important facts that actually contribute to the issue.

Most officials do not make their sole income from performing the duties of EC officials. Most, in fact, have structured their careers and lives to permit them to perform these duties. Most do it because they enjoy our sport, love horses, are glad to contribute back to sport and industry and are happy to be compensated for their efforts. Under the author’s suggestions, the number of officials will be reduced. Most officials balance their other lives around performing official duties at shows. So by example does it not make sense for the average official to work in their own region? This allows them to stay at home, attend to family or other business matters, and saves the competitions (and competitors) travel and accommodation expenses.

Many officials certainly would find it much more challenging and unattractive to be dispatched from Halifax to Vancouver for a two-day show when four days (only two compensated for) of their life was occupied travelling. It is very likely that on the same summer weekend there is a competition they could be contracted for within a short distance of their home.

I totally support having officials participate at venues beyond their home zone. Organizers often have officials from other countries and provinces attend their events. This helps provide a well-rounded experience and helps them gain valuable experience working alongside veterans and other knowledgeable colleagues.

I think a hybrid possibility should be explored. What if the organizers were part of the solution and between the NSO and organizers came to agreement on using out-of-province officials part of the time. This would be great experience for the officials and perhaps those that are not well-known or early in their career will get the exposure they desire.

All officials want to work for top competitions. There are several reasons for this. The largest percentage (not necessarily the most serious) of issues take place where there is little or no knowledgeable management at our smaller competitions. At this level often there is a higher percentage of competitors/coaches/trainers that are new and not all that familiar with the rules. In some cases officials are relied upon to go beyond their actual duties as prescribed by the EC rules. Organizing committees, wrongfully in my opinion, often think the hunter judge, the jumper jury, or steward knows when to water and drag the ring or provide the proper terminology for the announcer, as examples! This adds to an already difficult job. Most reluctantly do it out of a desire to have a good, safe experience for the competitors.

Finally, the author veers off to a discussion about submitting results and being on horse show websites before EC has them. Officials sign the card … at that point their duties are complete. They have no responsibility for what happens to the results after that. In the real world (instant access) the equestrian community demands to know who won! Everything from qualifying for major championships down to current standings at the provincial level or the champion of the lead line class are vital information for the competitors and sport. All federations or regional organizations have policies on when the results must be submitted. Organizers are subject to fines and sanctioning should they miss these timelines. When the governing bodies process them is way beyond the responsibility of the officials or the competition.

As a co-owner of a “sophisticated software,” thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars are required on an ongoing basis to keep it functional and relevant. Then, of course, you must train the users … many more hours and dollars. I am not convinced that the expertise, funding, or capability exists today at the national federation.

National officials development is the responsibility of the NSO. Where I agree with the author is that it needs a major shot of adrenalin. Hopefully, with the assistance of the members of the sport, this discussion might prompt a logical solution on what needs to be done. The simple question is how to attract more good people that have the desire, personality, and abilities to perform the incredibly important functions required.