The USEA Classic Three-Day Event has remained relevant and popular in the United States, the last country in the world still running the long format. These events have become increasingly well-received over recent years, particularly with lower-level riders.
The educational aspect of the Classic remains hugely important to ensure a safe and positive experience for participants. Organizers usually add clinics and hands-on sessions during the day(s) before the actual competition begins. In the spirit of education and encouragement, Event Officials are often involved in these sessions. It is a rewarding opportunity to be involved in the excitement and collaborative nature of these events. Patience, kindness and a sense of humor are required for the job. Due to the lengthy schedule, often a minimum of four days are required for the event.
Required reading for Classic Three-Day Events is the USEA Classic Series Guidelines, which can be found on the USEA website menu in the Events and Competitions, under the Classic Series heading.
This team (typically two or three members, headed up by the President) has the rare opportunity to interact with competitors prior to the competition in a friendly and supportive manner, the ultimate goal being the competitors’ and their horses’ successful and safe completion. While a lead clinician is usually put in place by the organizers to help riders prepare for jogging their horses, practicing steeplechase, walking courses and reviewing standard practices for the vet box, the Ground Jury (GJ) should be counted on to help riders with the dressage tests. This is usually done by having a non-competitor test ride the Classic tests for analysis and critique by the GJ while the riders have the opportunity to watch, ask questions and improve their “ring craft/accuracy” and familiarity with the tests. Many lower-level riders have limited experience in the large arena and these sessions are invaluable for them.
The GJ is responsible for approving the cross-country courses (usually only the President of the GJ in regular horse trials). The Technical Delegate (TD) will have completed their inspection of the courses/maps prior to GJ arrival, when it’s expected, a tour will be taken to inspect all the tracks. This occurs before the courses become official and open to the competitors, typically the day before first horse inspection. As in regular horse trials, the TD measures jumps and distances, including the roads and tracks and steeplechase, reporting back to the GJ.
The GJ, assisted by the Veterinary Delegate (VD), officiate at the first Horse Inspection. While a working knowledge of jogging for soundness is expected of these officials, the opinion of the Vet is crucial for making fair decisions regarding the fitness/soundness of a horse to start the competition. While an unsound horse is never allowed to start, leniency toward serviceably sound at the lower levels is encouraged.
The GJ collaborates as a panel judging the dressage and there is a “test ride” to help familiarize the judges with the flow of the test, provide for brief discussion on differences of scoring based on their location and get the judges and scribes “on the same page”. Once the dressage rides begin, the judges truly want their riders to succeed and have a great weekend!
Official duties on cross-country include a presence in the vet box and on course, usually split between GJ members. On occasion, the VD in the vet box will consider a horse to be unfit to go out on cross-country and this decision must be delivered to the competitor by the GJ member. It can be an emotional scene and difficult to witness disappointment and concern for equine partners, but part of the job to be encouraging. Bring your sense of empathy with you.
After the Final Horse Inspection, the GJ officiates the show jumping. Ask the organizer if there is a turnout award, and have your “short list” ranked and ready, with notes from the first trot-up. Don’t be surprised to find yourself rooting for the riders who worked long and hard all weekend and for some of special and unexpectedly delightful horses that show their heart in the event. It’s very rewarding!
The TD’s work at a Classic Three-Day Event is similar to the efforts needed in a horse trial, including inspecting dressage rings, cross-country and showjumping courses, with the addition of measuring and checking the roads and tracks (Phases A and C) and steeplechase (Phase B). Classic Three-Day Specifications for Beginner Novice and Novice levels may be found in Table 1 of the USEA Classic Series Guidelines. Specifications for Training, Modified and Preliminary Three-Days can be found in Appendix 8 of the USEF Rules for Eventing. Additionally, the TD will work with the organizer in assuring the maps of all phases are correct (math!) and that the “ten-minute box” is in an acceptable location and spacious enough for the horses to be cared for without crowding. A jogging lane will need to be clearly marked, using cones or other obvious landmarks, for horses being checked prior to leaving on Phase D. Again, the USEA Classic Series Guidelines has a useful outline for vet box set-up.
Important notes for three-day vets can be found on the USEA website under Events & Competitions, Classic Series: Veterinary Guidelines for Classic Series Events. The role of the primary veterinarian is significant in the long-format event. The vet is the first official to actually examine horses, upon arrival (also referred to as “in barn exams/inspections”). The vet will record vital signs and check for pre-existing conditions prior to the First Horse Inspection and will confer with the GJ at the First Horse Inspection regarding his/her opinion on questionably sound horses. It is the vet’s job, or a second vet specifically assigned to the holding area, to further scrutinize a horse that may be “sent to the hold”, an area where the vet can more thoroughly examine lameness and report their findings back to the GJ. Only the GJ can rule a horse unfit to start the competition, but that ruling is heavily dependent on the vet’s recommendations. This process is repeated at the Third Horse Inspection, where the GJ will determine if, after completing the cross-country the previous day, the horses are considered safe to continue to show jumping.
On cross-country day, the vet will closely monitor horses in the 10-minute box between Phases C and D, typically with Veterinary Assistants. Vital signs are recorded immediately upon completion of Phase C and again after 6 minutes. At 8 minutes, the horses are jogged for soundness. The vet, usually accompanied by a member of the GJ, will determine if the horse should be allowed to continue on to Phase D and confers with the GJ member in the 10-minute box. Only the GJ member can disallow a horse to continue. The GJ member in the box is also responsible for communicating with the start box for permission to slot in a late rider, without disrupting the schedule for others. This may be a rider arriving late from phase C, one that needs a shoe replaced, tack repaired, or a myriad of other reasons.
Horses completing cross-country will return to an area near the 10-minute box, called the D Recovery Box. Each horse is allowed the necessary care from their team to cool down. Their recovery is monitored and additional vet assistance to those horses is available, if needed. These D Recovery vets will determine when a horse has recovered enough to return to his stall. The VD and GJ member will be close to the 10-minute box if a situation arises where they are needed.
The official positions and their responsibilities briefly outlined above are vital to the success of both a Classic Three-Day Event and the horses/riders participating. With a nurturing and educational attitude, the officials can help broaden and enhance the competitors’ experience while being watchful of the welfare of the horses. Most riders find these competitions to be tremendously challenging and satisfying! Engaging with these riders on this journey is tremendously gratifying.
Updated September 1, 2023