Most eventers recognize a licensed official as their judge, technical delegate or cross-country course designer, but many haven’t considered how these officials found themselves in those roles. The path to becoming licensed is often long, undulating and expensive, and yet these individuals do it to keep the sport alive for years to come. In this series, we explore what exactly it takes to become a licensed official. Next up, Technical Delegate.
Tim Murray of Hamilton, Mass. has ridden horses since he was a child, and began eventing as a teenager. He competed through the Intermediate level, and as his participation in the sport began to slow down, he decided to become a licensed official as a way to stay involved and to give back to the sport. About six years ago Murray, who is a Trust and Estates Lawyer by trade, started the process to become a licensed Technical Delegate (TD) for eventing.
Achieving his registered or “r” license took Murray just under two years. The process involved apprenticeship with other TDs as well as attending a USEA Training Program for Event Officials (TPEO).
“There’s a two-day program for anyone wanting to become a judge or a TD," he said of the training program. “There’s classroom work as well as attending an event, watching what’s going on and meeting various officials and discussing their roles and what they were doing. When I did it there were maybe 10 of us: six judge candidates and four TD candidates.”
Tim Murray working at The Carolina Horse Park. Photo by Allie Conrad.
Additionally, he spent time shadowing TDs and other officials, including sitting with several show jumping judges to learn what they do. Though TD candidates are not required to sit in with a dressage judge, Murray encourages potential TDs to travel outside of your area and apprentice with as many different officials as possible.
While it’s fairly common for eventers to wait until the twilight years of their riding to consider becoming an official, Murray encourages others to begin the process much sooner. “To the extent that we can get people to become officials sooner rather than later, I’d strongly encourage them to get involved earlier,” he said. “There’s a real shortage of officials these days, particularly at the upper levels. I didn’t get into it until I was in my 50s and I wish I’d started 10 years before that. You’ll learn a lot too. I think you’re a much better competitor after you’ve officiated. You’re forced to know the rules, for one thing – I thought I knew them but it was eye-opening when I went to the training session!”
What is a Technical Delegate?
We all know that there’s a Technical Delegate at every event, and maybe you’ve gone to them when you wanted to ask a question or contest a cross-country penalty. But what exactly does a TD do?
A TD approves the technical and administrative arrangements for the conduct of the event, for the examinations and inspections of horses, for the accommodation of horses and athletes and for the stewarding of the event. And while the ultimate decision making lies with the President of the Ground Jury, but the TD also plays a big part. “The TD gets there the day before the competition, inspects the courses, walks the distances in the lines and combinations, measures the dimensions of the jumps and the distances of the courses. You also look at the logistics to make sure, for example, that horses can get from stabling to the dressage or the jumping phases without being dangerous to spectators. You review the schedule for apparent glitches. You really spend a full day making sure everything is ready to go before the competition starts. As soon as I get to the site I try to establish a good working relationship with the organizer, the secretary, the course designer and the course builders. I also want to make sure I am approachable to all competitors."
He continued, “Usually the President of the Ground Jury will get there in the middle of the day before the competition starts and, depending what they’d like to do, they’ll go around the courses with the TD or go separately and catch up afterwards. Hopefully the TD has already done all the measuring by that point. If the President of the Ground Jury thinks, for instance, that a jump looks too big or too small they might decide together what to suggest to the course designer.”
Murray taking a look at the cross-country course at the Carolina Horse Park with Marc Donovan and Hugh Lochore. Photo by Allie Conrad.
The TD is also responsible for making sure that everyone working and volunteering at the event is on the same page. “The TD briefs the bit check people, makes sure warm-up stewards for dressage are working efficiently and briefs the cross-country jump judges before they head out to their assigned fences. They’ll inspect the show jumping course with the President of the Ground Jury before it starts, but if it runs at the same time as cross-country they’ll leave it up to the show jumping judge to make sure that runs correctly.”
Being a TD involves a hefty amount of paperwork, and it must be filed in a timely manner. “We are responsible for making sure fall reports are filled out for any fall on cross-country,” said Murray. “What I do is go to the fence judge and ask what happened and make sure I have a full understanding of what happened, because we have to fill out forms within 48 hours and submit to the USEF after the event. If there are a lot of falls you have a lot of paperwork! If there’s a serious injury the papers have to be submitted within 24 hours. There is also a nine-page TD Report that must be completed within two weeks of the competition."
The TD also spends time fielding inquiries from competitors, mainly regarding cross-country faults where the rider doesn’t agree with the fence judge.” I’ll talk to both the competitor and the judge and report back to the President of the Ground Jury with what I’ve found and ultimately the decision is up to them,” said Murray.
From Competitor to Official
In 2017, Murray has a full schedule that includes Southern Pines Horse Trials, The Fork Horse Trials, The Event at Rebecca Farm, Plantation Field, Virginia Horse Trials and Millbrook Horse Trials. He was also fortunate to be asked to be an Assistant Technical Delegate at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.
“I’m very fortunate to be able to work at some great events. It’s a great mix of things to do,” he acknowledged. Besides traveling nationally for work, he also acts as TD near home in Area I. “I live in Area I, grew up in Area I and I want to do as much here and give back as much as I can.”
Having seen things from the other side, so to speak, Murray says that he has a much greater appreciation for everything that goes on behind the scenes. “You really don’t have any idea how much work goes into running an event unless you’re doing it,” he said. “The majority of organizers do it for the love of the sport; they’re not making money doing this. As an official, you do get paid, but if you depended on that for your livelihood it wouldn’t be a very cushy lifestyle. We all do it because we really enjoy the sport."
“It takes a little while to take off your competitor’s hat and put on your official’s hat. I’ve found it very satisfying when you get to a competition and you’ve got a good group of people that you’re working with. You all work as a team to pull of the event and it’s great at the end to look back and think, ‘Wow, this was a really successful competition,’” he continued.
Fortunately, Murray’s day job gives him enough flexibility to pursue his second career as a Technical Delegate. “Luckily the type of law I practice gives me the ability to manage my schedule so I can take time to do this. If it’s a three-day competition I’ve got to be there Thursday or Wednesday before the competition starts, so it’s more time away from the office. It somewhat limits the amount of competitions I can do, but I do enjoy it.” He continued, “The stuff I’ve been passionate are riding and eventing and I’m enjoying being involved on the other side of the sport.”
Every once in a while a TD will find himself in situations that aren’t ideal. Murray is pragmatic about this. “You have to figure out how you can do things differently next time to avoid whatever the problem was. And sometimes things just happen with horses, and you can’t avoid them. But when things go wrong, remember the officials are there as a team, and you have to present a united front on whatever the issue is that you’re dealing with.”
Words of Wisdom for a Potential Technical Delegate
“Obviously you have to be interested in giving back to the sport, first and foremost. Do you enjoy getting out there and working? TD’s and judges do different things. The thought of being cooped up in a car watching dressage for eight hours doesn’t sound exciting to me, so I would not be happy as a dressage judge. When questions come up you need to be a good listener, hear both sides, weigh what you hear and present it to the President of the Ground Jury in a way to make their job easier. Being a lawyer by trade has helped me in that regard.”
He continued, “My job is to help the organizer make the competition successful; I’m not there to be a pain or nitpick. I need to fix things so that the competition can start on time and be safe, fair and educational for all competitors, and I think that’s an attitude any official should bring.”
Eventing officials including judges, technical delegates (TD), course designers (CD) and jumping course designers are licensed by the USEF at the recorded (r), Registered (R), Senior (S) and FEI levels. The USEA sponsored Training Sessions, followed by a final exam, are required for the “r”, “R” and “S” licenses. The United States Equestrian Federation is responsible for licensing all eventing officials.
Individuals wishing to be an eventing “r” official should review the material outlined in the USEF Rule Book (GR140). In addition, they must meet the minimum criteria outlined to be accepted into the “r” Training Program for eventing Officials (TPEO), and subsequently pass the final exam in order to be considered for licensing by the USEF.
In addition to individuals seriously pursuing licensure through USEF, the “r” TPEO is also open to USEA members who are interested in learning more about eventing, but are not interested in pursuing a license as an official. Training session space is limited, however, with preference given to individuals working on their “r” license.