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FEI Insight: The Ground Jury

AveburyIf you’re gearing up to do your first FEI event this year, then it’s vital that you understand how the Ground Jury work and what their role is at an event. To give you the inside track, e-Venting has an exclusive interview with Annabel Scrimgeour.

Annabel rode up to advanced level first in eventing and then dressage and trained up to Olympic and World Championship level. She has been lucky enough to work with some top international riders over the years from several different countries and currently spends her mornings helping Andrew Nicholson and then freelance teaching in the afternoons. The basis of her knowledge was developed working with some of the most highly regarded trainers in the world, both dressage and jumping. She has been doing ground jury duties for approximately 30 years, officiating in Europe, America, Canada, Australia and Ireland as well as Great Britain. Events you may have spotted her at include Badminton, Adelaide, Bromont, Blenheim, Bramham, Barbury, Blair, Punchestown, Tattersalls, Saumur – really, any of the major FEI events.

She tells us that over the years of being a Ground Jury member,  there have been many causes for amusement, several of which were in Ireland and many can’t be repeated!

Can you tell us exactly what the role of the Ground Jury is?

The day before the competition starts we inspect the course and pass it fit for the level and safe. We don’t have to like the fences so any tweaks we may make are for safety or to keep it within the correct level. If we make any changes, I like to check when they have been done so I see the fence as a horse is going to jump it. Anyway I like to look at the course again if at all possible, but there is not always time if it is a big class.

At some events we might judge more than one level in which case it is good to clarify the routes/fences when not having to think about everything else we should check on during our inspection. It might be that the rider rep has requests which could mean going onto the course to come up with an answer.

We officiate at the horse inspections (trot up) and judge the dressage. On XC day we oversee the competition. Normally the president is in the control centre and the other members are out watching key places on the course. At the 3 and 4* events there is CCTV which makes it much easier to follow and watch for tired horses, dangerous riding, abuse of horse and all the other things we must adjudicate on. After the XC is finished we deal with any queries from competitors about their scores and disciplinary actions and, if the course is ready, inspect the showjumping  to check it is safe and at the correct level. Otherwise this has to be done the following morning, probably before the trot up.

We then judge the show jumping. Unless there is a jury of appeal (which is only at the high level events) we also have to deal with any passport issues that the vets find and possibly make suggestions to the organisers for improvements the following year.

What’s the most common reason for people losing marks in the dressage, and what can they do to combat that?

ToddyA hard one to answer really. The judges should be looking at the way of going so shortcomings can be expensive. Ride forward in a good clear rhythm, in balance and prepare for the movements. Know what causes your horse to lose balance so you can do something about it before it happens and be aware of the slopes in the arena. Riding the correct shapes helps to keep the horse between leg and hand. When you learn the test, knowing where the movement starts and finishes can save marks if things go wrong.

What’s the one thing you think all FEI first timers should know?

Don’t be afraid to ask. We would far rather clarify something before you stray rather than have to eliminate you or discipline you. Make sure you check the rules as they may differ slightly. Not knowing is not often an acceptable excuse. This is the one bit of advice I’d most often like to give amateurs at FEI events!

How often (roughly) do you give warnings/yellow cards and do the reasons differ between pros and amateurs?

I am very happy to go home without any disciplinary issues. Unfortunately it is more often than not that we have to do something. For the amateurs, it is dangerous riding like going on after 3 refusals or jumping from a standstill that are probably as common as anything. With pros, I can honestly say that I haven’t had too many problems but it is normally someone trying to push a boundary somewhere and most get back in their box quite quickly! What I don’t tolerate are those that blame their groom, mother, trainer or horse for their mistake or saying a steward had said…. when they haven’t. It is the rider’s responsibility to know what they can or can’t do whether they are young, old, pro or amateur. Read the rules and, if you don’t understand, ask someone like the chief steward, rider rep, TD or ground jury member.

How can you best present your horse at the trot-up? Any tips for amateurs at their first trot-up?

Screen shot 2014-11-09 at 19.58.33First of all wear practical tidy clothes that you can run in properly and handle your horse safely in if he gets excited. Ballet pumps and high heels don’t come into this category as far as I am concerned. Practise trotting up so you know what is the best speed for your horse. Some are better quiet and steady (but not asleep) while others are better a bit quicker. Learn how to stand them up in front of the ground jury so they are to attention. When the president says to go, walk a few metres then go into a balanced trot. Walk the correct way round the flower pot, get straight then trot back and past the jury. The horse should be clean, plaited and feet oiled and with a bridle on. Plaiting is not necessary for a CIC if the showjumping is last. If the horse comes out a bit stiff, walk him purposefully so he is loosened up and give him a practise trot. Also remember that just because your horse doesn’t kick, others might, so stay awake and don’t put others in danger by upsetting someone else’s sharper horse.

Do you agree with the dressage co-efficient at FEI?

I think so. The showjumping is influential enough and the scores are close enough I think. It will be interesting to see what happens with the half marks. It should benefit some but not others. Some may even be worse off!

If you could change any rule at FEI what would it be and why?

At this precise moment, it would be the 21 penalties for breaking a pin. There are too Screen shot 2014-08-11 at 14.23.00many variables to make it fair and a horse shouldn’t be punished for being a good XC horse. A rider can do nothing about a horse dropping his hind legs on a rail into a coffin/water/drop so then it becomes luck. [Editor’s Note: If we’d known Annabel had such a hotline to the FEI, we’d have asked for some rule changes of our own! This rule is currently under discussion following heavy lobbying from rider’s groups.]

Has the proliferation of CIC* events been a positive addition to the calendar given that we already had levels such as Intermediate Novice? Do you feel they add value?

I think the biggest problem is that many of the CICs in this country are very much on the softer side for the level so people are getting qualifications when perhaps they are barely ready. They then get caught out when they go to a decent CCI or up a level at CIC. The up to level course gets blamed for being too strong when, in fact, the rider and/or horse is too far out of their comfort zone. A soft novice is not a 1* and so on up the grades. Having said that, proper level CICs are a good thing. It gives experience, a goal and it standardises horses getting to the CCIs.

What’s the best thing about being on the ground jury? And the worst?

The best things about being on a ground jury include being involved with a great sport, meeting and working with some really nice people from all over the world, picking out up and coming horses and following their careers and seeing some amazing places. Amongst the worst things are dealing with accidents. In a way it can be a thankless task as we are responsible for making all the decisions that riders don’t like. If things go wrong we are blamed, either because we took the wrong option (we are human) or as scapegoats because the TD or course designer took the wrong option but the buck stops with us. If things go right, it is nothing to do with us! That’s fine but it would be nice if riders remember that we are still volunteers and we hopefully do our best with any information we have.

And finally, any amusing tales you can disclose?!

At one event in the days before safety was an issue the roads and tracks crossed a small river. It was very wet and it was getting very full. This didn’t really bother anyone until a junior rider was hacking on a dressage day and ended up being washed 100 meters down stream! We had to find a different route!

Some riders come out with some brilliant statements when they are trying to get you to change a fence or get out of a tricky situation. One rider at a 4* had an ear bonnet with felt on the inside. When told it wasn’t allowed, he said it was only there to keep the ears straight!

A senior British rider didn’t like a straight route at a 3* fence and wanted it changed. When she came out with all sorts of nonsense about how a horse could go into the ditch ( which was all of 6 inches deep), I pointed out that we had added a black flag route to make it easier. She said oh but that will take such a long time!

About the author

Tilly