By: Jennifer Wood
Cesar Hirsh grew up riding and competing in Venezuela. After years as a show jumping athlete, Cesar decided to join the ranks of officialdom.
He has served as President and Foreign Judge, Chief Steward and President of the Ground Jury at hundreds of events over the past 16 years. He has also enjoyed stints as chef d’equipe for Venezuela’s show jumping team, including at the Central American Games, where his team won the silver medal and individual gold. Cesar lives in Wellington, FL, with his wife and four children, all of whom are involved in the sport. At the FEI General Assembly in November he was elected a member of the Nominations Committee for FEI Group V.
How long have you been involved in the show jumping industry?
Cesar: I’ve been involved with horses all my life. My parents are both active riders. I’ve worked as a judge or steward since the mid ‘90s, when I judged national competitions. In 1996 I took my first FEI seminar for Judges. I was promoted to International Candidate Judge and in 1997 I took the FEI Chief Steward course. Since then I have been very active in both fields.
What does a steward’s job entail?
Cesar: The Chief Steward is responsible for the protection of the welfare of the horse, thereby ensuring fair play for all, and that the principles of good sportsmanship are respected. We ensure that the best possible conditions for running an event are provided by the Organizing Committees, so that infractions of FEI rules and regulations are avoided. We are there to prevent any irregular behavior of those involved and to protect horses against abuse, cruelty, and the administration of unauthorized medication and also to make certain correct stabling is provided.
The Chief Steward starts working before the event has started. The bigger the event, the more time ahead you need to start working. For example, for the Pan American Games I was appointed 18 months before the event. This gives you time to work closely with the OC and go over every detail of the venue, organize your stewarding team, coordinate courses to train the stewards, logistics of stabling, feed, training areas and have the test event. The more organized you are the less problems you will encounter.
Why did you decide to become a steward?
Cesar: Simply because of my passion for the horse and the sport. I think it is very important to do in life what you really enjoy and be the best. The steward needs to be very professional, organized, and ethical, so you need to really like what you are doing.
Stewarding for me is a lifelong process. It took me long days and a lot of work before the OC and riders were confident in my work. My biggest reward and my personal satisfaction is when the event is over and the horses who took part are safe and sound.
How much do you travel for work?
Cesar: I travel about 20 times during the year, for international events, stewarding courses and working meetings with the FEI. As a certified course director we meet regularly in Lausanne to discuss the course materials and contents for new stewards as well as refresher courses for existing stewards.
Why do you think the role of steward is important?
Cesar: I think it is very important because we ensure that horse welfare is protected in all its forms and that there is fair play for all the competitors. These two primary responsibilities are the basis of the sport. If they are achieved, I can assure the success of the event, the enjoyment of competitors, the OC, the sponsors and the public.
What should more competitors know about the role of stewards?
Cesar: The most important thing is to see the stewards as part of the team. We are all on the same team and we are there to help. We are not the police; we are not waiting to catch you off guard. We are there to answer questions, to solve arising problems; but YES we are officials and we are going to make sure that the rules are applied, fairly and consistently.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
Cesar: The steward is very much the first official that the riders, grooms, trainers, team vets, etc. have access to, and it is to the steward that they communicate their problems or issues. It is imperative for the steward to help solve the problem, but before trying to solve it, they need to understand the problem. It is impossible to solve a problem if you don’t really understand it. It is vital that the steward has the interpersonal communication skills with the riders, grooms, etc. since they are under the stress of the competition. The steward needs to be an excellent communicator.
In in order to preserve their objectivity, the suggestion has been made that stewards should be employed by the federation rather than the individual horse shows. Do you agree with this?
Cesar: I do not have all the necessary information for me to voice a formal opinion, but based on my experience, I can tell you that the independence of the stewards is a must. The steward should be able to perform his duties without any pressure from anyone. The position of steward is very well defined. If someone was to limit himself in reporting an action which is considered against the rules because of a conflict of interest, then that person should not work at that event.
What do you think are the main issues facing the sport of show jumping?
Cesar: There are two main issues I consider very important. The first is that the governing bodies, local and international, should undertake a long term plan to close the gap in the levels of the sport. There should be a plan to bring countries outside Europe and North America up to the top level. I think that for the future of the sport, it is important that we have more and more participants. The second issue is the difficulty of the movement of horses, specifically in Latin America. The lack of commercial live animal cargo flights, sanitary restrictions and the costs involved makes it an uphill battle for competitors to take part in international competitions and for the OCs to promote events.
Do you have any thoughts on how either of these issues could be resolved?
Cesar: This is a difficult question. Both issues are closely related and need to be approached in conjunction. With regard to the level of sport, I would apply a formula that has been successful in other sports, such as golf. In golf, the top level is the PGA, but in order to be able to compete at this level, you require a PGA Tour Card, which can only be achieved by succeeding in the lower level, like the Web.com Tour. There are other tours that operate by region, like the Sunshine Tour, Americas Tour, Asia Tour, to name a few. By applying this format, competitors would have to be successful at a certain level in order to continue to the next level. That way we could achieve a firm, step by step growth. Unfortunately, this will have no effect if we don’t solve the problem of cross-border movement of horses. Thanks to the cooperation between the FEI and the OIE there have been positive steps but more needs to be done. Local governments need to view our horses not just as animals, but as athletes and a common protocol for all the countries in the region has to be established.
How are you involved as a member of the FEI Nominations Committee?
Cesar: Each of the nine FEI regional groups are represented in the Nominations Committee, the main purpose of which is to verify that the candidates applying for open positions on various FEI committees meet the criteria required. The Committee provides a responsible and professional opinion of the candidates based on their resumes and experience.
What is the Committee currently concerned with?
Cesar: The main topic at this time is the upcoming election of the Athletes Representatives for every discipline on each FEI Technical Committee. They will be elected directly by FEI athletes, via an electronic online voting platform.
In the old days stewards were volunteers but I think that nowadays stewarding has become more of a profession? Can one make a living being a steward?
Cesar: You are totally right. Many years ago, the stewards were mainly volunteers, but the sport has evolved and so has the stewarding system. Nowadays, the majority of stewards are professional, meaning that not all of them make a living out of stewarding, but they get paid a fee for their work at events. There are standards, certifications and levels of stewarding that everyone needs to meet in order to be qualified to act at FEI events. Of course, some may act as a volunteer in order to gain experience or have the opportunity to work at bigger events. Since the sport is growing every year and there is a need of qualified stewards, there are some very experienced stewards that do make a living as full time stewards. All fees involved are covered by the OCs.
Do you combine being a judge and a steward or does it have to be one or the other?
Cesar: I consider that judging and stewarding complement each other and acting in both positions makes you a better official. I balance both positions. For example, next month I will act as Overall Chief Steward for the South American Games in Chile, then I will be the President of the Ground Jury at the CSI 2* Live Oak, then head to Brazil to start preparing the stewards for the Olympics, then I will act as Foreign Judge in the CSI 5* in New York, then Chief Steward in the CSIO 4* in Porto Alegre and then President of the Ground Jury for the Central American and Caribbean Games in Mexico.