Everything Else Getting Started

Balloting myths explained – making sense of the seemingly nonsensical

One of the most frustrating things about eventing is being balloted from an event, and this year is certainly no exception with early season cancellations adding demand to already popular fixtures.

Everyone ‘should’ have read the rule book and therefore should understand how balloting works, but the number of questions across social media suggests many riders don’t understand the underlying reason and often think there are matters not short of dark arts involved when deciding who gets balloted. With the increased use of social media it has though actually allowed organisers to publicly explain decisions that are made which has led to some interesting discussions between riders and organisers.

This article takes a deeper look from both rider’s and organiser’s perspectives of why certain decisions are made and why even if on first glance those decisions may seem unfair are ultimately done for the good of the sport.

The message every rider dreads to see on an event's page

The message every rider dreads to see on an event’s page

Firstly lets look at the facts namely the rules and why they are as they are:

  1. The Ballot Date, usually 18-21 days before the Event or 25-28 days if the Event balloted the previous year, and the Ballot Period. See Rule 4.4.

This is the first rule that riders are probably not aware of and explains why some events ballot so close and others so far away (up to 4 weeks) before the event. The reasoning is the most popular events that are almost certain to ballot do so as early as possible so riders know if they are in or out. If they are out they then have chance to enter another event which is less likely to ballot for the same weekend which isn’t set to ballot until a later point. If all events balloted say 3 weeks before the rider would have little or no choice in the event of being balloted.  Riders regularly complain that such early ballots do not work in their favour but in reality they do as it gives them more options. The rule actually works more for riders than organisers as they can be left without an accurate view on entries with less than three weeks before an event although within the guidelines organisers do choose their own ballot date.

  1. 4.3  Competitor limits
    • The maximum number of entries which may be accepted by Events from the point of sectioning onwards is 258 per day for Events running before the start of BST and after 30th September and 300 per day for those running after the start of BST until 30th September.
    • Unless the Regional Coordinator permits otherwise, the maximum permitted number of Competitors per section is 42.

So next we look at how many riders are allowed to compete. Although there is a maximum allowed of 300 per day (258 outside BST) this doesn’t mean an event can actually run that number. There are several factors including but not limited to course changes (both SJ and XC), the levels being run, running times, safety gaps (likelihood of holds) and site access limitations that can affect competitor numbers. When entering if there are already 300 entered you can guarantee a ballot but if there are 3 levels running on a day the 300 could drastically drop due to the time taken for course changes. The construction of the sections will also limit options as the section limit means 7 large sections of 42 is 294 so to hit the 300 you would need at least two smaller sections or a combination of 8 sections at 37 or 38 competitors. Then start adding in factors like times between riders which increases as courses increase in level and the likeliness of holds due to fence repair etc. So although an event may want to run 300 riders it often isn’t practical and safe and the event will take a lot of factors into consideration when deciding how many riders they can run. What should also be remembered is that day before dressage does not increase the number that can run as the max number applies to the number that can run XC on a given day. What it does allow is for the jumping phases to start earlier so if there are multiple levels running in a day which would otherwise reduce the total number that could run to below 300 the day before dressage can allow it to be brought back up to 300 if other factors allow.

  1. 4.4.3  Over-subscribed Events; ‘Balloting’. If an Event is oversubscribed at the Ballot Date, at 12 noon on the Ballot Date the Entries Secretary will close all over- subscribed classes to further entries and will wait-list or ballot out surplus entries. Balloted entries which are not wait-listed will receive full refunds.

This rule can often lead to confusion. Some classes can be left open but others on the same day are balloted which leaves a bad taste in the mouth of those balloted if someone enters after the ballot date and gets a run but they don’t. The reason? Given the sectioning number issues if an event had say 250 BE100 entries and 75 Novice entries, the Novice would have to take preference (see below) and it would make sense to allow additional entries to round up to two full sections of 40 each and then have 220 BE100 entries spread across 6 sections. Another factor is although one day may be oversubscribed the other day may not and therefore stays open. An organiser may try and move classes across days to prevent balloting but riders will have entered a day for a reason and therefore it won’t be presumed that they can automatically run on the other day.

  1. 4.4.3.2  Priority of Classes on Balloting
    • Organisers are to accept as many Advanced and Intermediate class entries as possible. If numbers in these classes nonetheless have to be limited, this should be done first in consultation with the National Selectors and then by rejecting entries from multiple Competitors in those classes e.g. rejecting their 5th entries, then 4th etc. from all Competitors in the class, then following normal balloting rules as below.
    • International class entries take precedence over National class entries at the same level.
    • Organisers must give priority to higher classes, if necessary by rejecting whole lower level classes. This rule should however be implemented in consultation with the BE Regional Coordinator so as to take practical account of entry numbers in the various classes in the region.

This rule simply states in the event of balloting the highest level will always take priority on the given day although there may be some flexibility at BE80 through Novice dependant on other events in the area and scheduling practicalties. The reason for this is simply the higher the class the less fixtures at that level so if they don’t take priority it could leave riders struggling ever to get a run for their horse. Looking at the 2016 season if every event ran every scheduled class 22 would run with an Advanced XC (including 3* & 4*), 62 Intermediate (including 2* & AI), 139 Novice (including IN & 1*), 156 at BE100 (including BE105 & BE100+), 136 at BE90 and 82 at BE80. Realistically though lots of events will run 2 days at BE90 and BE100 so there are far more days and chances to compete at these two levels especially in terms of number of sections that run.

  1. 4.4.3.3  Priority of Entries on Balloting

This section of the rules essentially tells us what we already know, namely if you haven’t paid at time of ballot you’re out. If you use a super sticker and your class remains you get priority, then up to two horses per day for riders with standard stickers, then special people the organisers want (namely volunteers and this includes if on a ticket!), then more ballot stickers up to max 3 per rider per day, then members without stickers and lastly day tickets. So if you are wondering why that person on a ticket got in ahead of you they probably volunteered to help….

 

So that takes care of the rules but what about some of the other decisions that often don’t seem to make sense at first look.

Sometimes due to scheduling considerations if there are only sufficient entries to run one section at a level it may prove more sensible to run two at a lower level than one at each, as the additional course changes for only 40 riders max at each could prove problematic and actually result in far less running as timings simply wouldn’t allow the max. This is where flexibility on the higher level taking preference at BE80 to Novice could be applied. In the same way this is where IN, BE100+, open and similar classes can become the first classes to be balloted especially if under supported.

Chatsworth were criticised by some riders earlier in the year as on the second XC day (the 3* day) they ran substantially less than 300 horses. Many asked why additional novice sections couldn’t run that day especially as they had been denied running an additional novice day having balloted hundreds of riders. The organisers responded, clearing up that on the most part it was a safety decision. At 3* level horses are often run at 4 minute intervals whereas at Novice it is more commonly 2, this automatically halves the number of horses that can run. Add in time to allow for holds as a frangible or two will likely break and require repair plus other considerations and it was simply not practical to run any more horses that day no matter how much they wanted to.

Farley Hall are balloting for the first time this year having received nearly 1000 entries for their two days of competition. The organiser Natalie Galbani has publicly explained some of the decisions that they have needed to take in order to run as many horses as possible over those two days and has kindly allowed us to share the reasoning with you. They very seriously considered running a third day but without the guarantee sufficient riders could swap to either the Friday or Monday never mind the practicalities of finding volunteers etc for a weekday it was almost certainly going to prove unviable for the event.

Although the 263 entries at intermediate level have to take priority it is done within the limitations of section numbers so a few may well find themselves on waitlists especially the Open Intermediate as there are not enough riders to fill two sections. The AI will most likely be a larger than normal section (as permitted with permission) as some of the horses are Olympics-bound and need the run. The Intermediates will fill about 210 spaces leaving 90 for the Novice classes. With 250 entered that is a very large ballot! Because of earlier cancellations and being asked to fill gaps to allow for qualifying they have to run the U18 but they will most likely not run a full section and they will give local riders preference. The IN not even reaching 30 entries will be first to be balloted so there is a strong likelihood that the ballot will result in 3 sections of approx 30 riders each, one U18N and the others normal Novice sections, all supported by waitlists.

On the Sunday the Novice as per rules again takes priority and given the number balloted from the Saturday it is particularly justifiable. Three full sections will total 120 so essentially after inevitable withdrawals all will get in and some balloted from Saturday can become the waitlist. This leaves 334 BE100 riders battling for 180 spaces. The BE100+ as per the IN is under supported and the course change in the showjumping would reduce overall numbers that could run so it’s sensible for it to be dropped entirely. They will therefore run full sections of BE100/Open/U18 to get up to 300 total competitors for the day. Waitlists will of course be kept as well with BE100+ riders having the option to join other waitlists if they had used a sticker. These decisions are currently provisional as the regional co-ordinator will need to confirm they are fair and within the rules and take into account events running at the respective levels locally that may still be open etc.

 

Lastly it’s worth looking at what you can do to improve your chances of not being balloted. Look at schedules carefully, does the event normally ballot? Is the event gaining in popularity each year? Is your class running on more than one day? Can you or a family member volunteer on a different day of the event? What is the ballot date compared to other events in the area on the same weekend? Do you have a sticker for that month still? All the answers to these questions should be considered carefully when entering. It is common knowledge that events like Chatsworth or Barbury you will be unlikely to get in without a Super Sticker so you shouldn’t be surprised if balloted with a standard sticker. If you are looking to run at BE90 which is running on both days of a popular event, one day shared with BE100 the other BE80, then you are wiser to enter the day shared with the BE80 as you will take preference over that level rather than the BE100 taking preference over you. Entering early won’t necessarily do you any favours but the organisers would seriously prefer it as it gives them more time to look at putting on an extra day if entries are high and BE allows. If you do enter early, consider carefully regarding sticker use as you don’t want to waste a sticker but if likely to ballot if you don’t you could find yourself not running at all.  Volunteering is a big winner to secure your space especially for those on tickets, but you have to mark on your entry form that you are so the entries secretary knows to give you preference, although don’t try and be clever as they will check that you are! Oh and the height of importance make sure your entry is marked as paid because even if you used a super sticker if you are not marked as paid at ballot you are automatically out of there no questions asked.

Ultimately with good knowledge of the rules, some strategic entering, volunteering and ticket use, and a good dose of luck (mainly that your class is not balloted out in full) it is perfectly possible never to suffer the annoyance of balloting. So next time you are balloted instead of complaining maybe take a closer look at why you are in the situation and what you can do differently when entering your next event.

About the author

Katie