World of Showjumping sat down with Nigel King, a pediatric dentist living in Hong Kong who also has had a long career as a FEI steward, to get an insight in to the life of a steward and to discuss the future of showjumping.
But what actually is a steward? "A steward is someone who is looking after the horses and the welfare of the horses," Nigel explains. "The judges keep an eye on what goes on in the competition arena, where as the stewards keep an eye on everything that happens at the rest of the showground."
Stewards make sure that international shows are run according to the rules laid by the FEI. "As a governing body of the equestrian sports, the FEI has to show that they are the guardian of the horse. When it comes to showjumping, there is a jumping committee within the FEI and this committee is responsible for the making of the rules. Just like people from different cultures have different ways of dealing with each other, their views on horse welfare are also varying. This is where the rules come in; as an international sport we need international standards. Our job as stewards is first of all to make sure everyone is aware of the rules, and second of all playing by them."
A normal day for Nigel at a competition starts when the stables open and ends after the last competition is finished. "The days are long and you get tired, but I think that is the same for everyone involved. A huge part of a steward's job is to focus on safety and prevent accidents from happening; the best feeling is to leave a showground when no horses were injured and no people were upset. Sometimes we even get a 'thank you'," Nigel tells about the pros and cons of being a steward. "Usually I start the day by walking around the stables. We keep an eye on the overall safety, chat to grooms to find out if they are having any sort of trouble with the facilities or if they have questions about new equipment. I think it is extremely important to create good relationships with the grooms and to discuss whatever issues there are. This way we can all educate each other; the grooms have an insight in the sport that no one else has," Nigel tells about the important role that the grooms are playing. "When the competition begins I can be found at the warm-up, either making sure that the fences are used in a correct way or checking the boots before entering the ring and after the performance."
The minimum amount of stewards at an international show is usually four; all of the showground should be kept under control during competition. "With huge facilities the minimum and the practical amount of stewards are not always the same," Nigel tells about the challenges he sometimes faces. Stewards also monitor the treatment of the horses at the showground. "When it comes to treatment, there is the question of what kind of treatment we are talking about - illegal or approved. Some treatments are approved by the veterinarian who then may issue a form to which the steward can refer and confirm that the treatment has been approved. Any injuries found on the horse have to be divided in two groups: There are accidents and then there is abuse."
If a steward notices anything clashing with the rules, they notify the chief steward who then informs the ground jury. The ground jury, which normally consist of a president, a foreign judge and one to three members – makes all the decisions. "As a steward I always need to inform the rider and the groom first if there is anything I see that isn't correct. These situations are not always easy, and sometimes it feels like we are getting our heads chewed off when we are only trying to be helpful," Nigel continues. "As stewards we are not there to cause problems, we are there to try and prevent them," Nigel points out.
In his 18 years of working as a steward Nigel has witnessed the changes the equestrian sport has gone through. "The growing amount of prize money has been fantastic for the sport, but money has also put new kind of pressure on everyone. With a lot of money in the game, it is even more important to make sure there isn't any unfair advantage at anyone's part," Nigel says.
"Everyone involved in the sport should be aware of the rules we have and make sure to educate themselves. Depending on hear-say or thinking that your boss makes the rules doesn't bring the sport forward. All the information needed can be found very easily on the FEI homepage (www.fei.org) and FEI apps," Nigel says highlighting the importance of staying updated.
"To secure the future of our sport, it is vital that the industry as a whole works together. At the end of the day, we are all in the same boat," Nigel says when we discuss the future of showjumping. "Communication is the key. My best memory as a steward I have from the first time the Global Champions Tour was organized in Shanghai, China. We were in there together, trying to make everything run as smooth as possible and everyone worked very hard; the grooms, the veterinarian team, the stewards, riders, judges and the GCT team. In the end the event was a success, but it would not have been possible without teamwork and communication," Nigel tells about the event that was organized in 2015.
"We have to remember the power of the public, when we think about the future of the equestrian sports," Nigel says. "Teamwork is needed to ensure we have a clean, growing sport that is also attractive to the audience."
Text and pictures © World of Showjumping.
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