It was a gorgeous, amazing, perfect fall day in Ottawa and it was also the day of the season’s second Horse Trials (HT) held at the stable where I ride … and I got to jump judge.
It occurs to me that not everybody knows what it’s like to be a cross-country jump judge. Actually, it occurs to me that not everyone knows about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making an event run smoothly and safely, so I thought I’d give you a quick rundown.
Note: This is by no means intended as a comprehensive explanation – there may be safety measures / procedures I don’t mention. It’s just intended to tell you, from my perspective, what it’s like to spend a day volunteering on a cross-country course.
First of all, this season’s HTs are being held over two days, instead of one, to spread competitors out and allow for distancing and health and safety protocols.
Today’s levels were Preliminary, EV 105, Training, and Pre-Training. If you want to know more about eventing competition levels, you can learn more here.
As a jump judge, I get assigned an obstacle (sometimes a judge can be responsible for more than one obstacle if they’re in combination / really close to each other). Today I had jump 10 (Preliminary), jump 9 (EV 105 / Training), and jump 8 (Pre-Training).
The day starts with a temperature check and COVID screening at the front gate. When that’s all good it’s park up by the barn, put on a mask, and go pick up a radio (wiped down with a Lysol wipe).
Then out to the course, to pick a great spot to sit.
If you’ve ever jump judged before, you might be used to having a clipboard and scoring sheets. Not this season … all the jump judges at my stable have this nifty little app on our phones which does everything you could need it to. It’s simple and straightforward, and it uploads information in real time, and it means no handing pens, and clipboards, and paper from person to person.
There’s a radio check, to make sure all jump judges are in place, and that the starter and finisher are ready, and that the medics are on standby, and that the course is secured, and … eventually you hear, “Horse One on course,” and things have started!
It’s really fun to listen to the horse and riders’ progress around the course. You get to know the voices of the other judges, and their accents, and their particular way of reporting things. Sometimes the radio can get very busy when there’s more than one horse on course and updates are being constantly radioed in.
I hold my radio, and my phone, and as soon as the horse goes by I say, “Number One clear over jump 10,” then I mark “Clear” in the app, and I enter the next competitor’s number.
It’s surprisingly busy in little flurries and I have the ultimate respect for jump judges who also manage to capture video of refusals, run-outs, falls, etc. I have no idea how they do it. When something unusual happens at my fence it’s all I can do to keep calm, radio in, and explain what happened in a way other people can understand.
Fortunately, control is very helpful.
My brain: Aah! The horse is refusing! The rider is falling! Aah!
My voice: “Rider One has fallen at jump 10.”
- “Do we need to put a hold on the course?”
- “What is the status of the rider?”
- “Can you give us a few more details?”
- “Is the rider leaving the course?”
- “Please remind the rider to check in with the medic.”
And so on. Bringing order to my unordered thinking.
So, getting video during all that? I bow down to those who manage it.
The day goes in fits and starts as we work through a class, then have a break – breaks are always useful for visiting the port-a-potty and getting refreshments.
And just in case you can’t make it back to your car, or you forgot something, the golf cart comes by every now and then with water and food.
The best things about jump judging are:
- Watching horses thunder by all day
- Working with other people who like talking about horses all day
- Being outside
- Helping to make something fun happen – especially during this pandemic
- Being part of a safety net for horses and riders
- For me – bringing my son along with me to volunteer as jump crew in the stadium ring
If you’ve never jump judged before, I hope I’ve helped you understand a little more about it. If you have jump judged, tell me what you liked about it.