#VolunteersWeek: 10 things you learn the first time you are a BE fence judge

  • Although British Eventing (BE) competitions remain abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 1-7 June marks Volunteers Week, and without volunteers, BE events simply could not run. In 2018 Jane Hutchison had her first ever BE cross-country fence judging experience at Hopetoun Horse Trials, near Edinburgh. Here she explains a few of the things she learnt from her day as a volunteer...

    1. There is nothing to fear at the briefing. The other jump judges are people like you who are interested and happy to be there. The gaggles of terrifyingly strident Pony Club DC types I had feared were in short supply. And setting the food theme for the day, the bacon rolls were excellent.

    2. Technical advisors (TA) and stewards take the event, its smooth running and safety extremely seriously. But they are friendly and approachable. There were plenty of laughs at the briefing.

    3. The person you are paired up with in order to fence judge will teach you loads. They want to help you to understand everything that is going on, enjoy yourself and most importantly, come back and do it again. I was lucky enough to be paired up with Ali MacRae, who is one half of Ali and Pat MacRae (pictured top at an earlier event) ; legends of BE volunteering in Scotland. Not only do they have 30 years’ experience, but in recognition of all their efforts north of the border, they fence judged at Badminton this year.

    4. The stopwatch is a piece of cake. This was probably the element of jump judging about which I was most anxious, but Ali explained it perfectly and I did the timings for our jump happily all day from the first horse onwards.

    5. And talking of cake — OMG, the cakes! As a jump judge you are very well looked-after. Twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon, the cake team came round offering tea, coffee and a basket brimming with irresistible brownies, cupcakes, traybakes and flapjacks.

    6. Time flies. A horse and rider appear every two minutes for most of the day. Some come on a perfect stride, some don’t, some are a bit spooky, some are definitely going to make the time, one came up to the double log pile I was at in trot in the BE90. If you like looking at horses jumping, it’s riveting. And the stopwatch, whistle, radio and score sheets keep you busy.

    7. You do not feel remotely isolated. It is definitely a team effort and feels like it, which I was relieved to discover. Everyone has a radio and most of the fence judges are reporting back to control every horse’s performance. If fence judges want to discuss anything that had happened at their jump, no sooner have they radioed in the request, than the TA’s Toyota is on its way.

    8. Fence judges are encouraged to provide details for the commentator on the radio. You soon get an idea of who will be giving just the facts — “number 34 clear at fence 12” — and who will share their impression of every combination. The radio chatter adds greatly to the interest and enjoyment of the day. We only had to be reminded once not to talk over each other.

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    9. Spectators and course walkers move when you blow the whistle. Of course they are supposed to heed your shrill warning to get out of the way when a horse is approaching, but learning from experience that they actually do was another source of relief.

    10. It is fun. You spend the day in a beautiful place that you might not normally have access to, with like-minded people being useful and involved. Event horses are gorgeous animals to spend the day looking at and if you have ever considered volunteering, I recommend that you do.

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