This past weekend, I volunteered at a 2nd level dressage show.
I’ve done this before. Last year a TD (technical delegate, a person officially designated by the USDF and USEF, to know and enforce all the rules and regulations at official shows.) trained and supervised me on bit checking. So I went in on Saturday feeling comfortable that I knew what I was doing. I also had a copy of the regulations, and there was (supposedly) a TD on the grounds.
“Bit checking”, at a sanctioned show, entails several things: checking the bridle and cavesson to see if there is two fingers worth of looseness, feeling or opening the horse’s mouth to feel the bit in order to insure that the bits are regulation (i.e. no sharp edged or cornered bits, no Dr. Bristols, no twisted wire, etc), check the rider’s spurs, run a hand down the side of the horse to check for blood from non-regulation spurs, check the length of the whip.
One wears disposable latex gloves and changes them out with every horse. That’s to prevent transmitting ugly diseases such as stomatitis.
Finally, USEF/USDF regulations call for a third of the class be checked. The classes at this show, at least in the afternoon, were very small. In some cases, there only four horses in a class.
The farm where this particular show was held is a professional barn. The owners (two of them) buy or import European Warmbloods as well as breed their own. They train them to FEI levels, and sell them. The prices they ask for a horse would buy me a very comfortable house, so you can understand that these folks have money in very large amounts.
I met the Technical Delegate (not the same one who trained me last year) in the morning. I helped her check the ring’s fences. That is the last time I saw her as anything more than a retreating back.
I took over bit checking in the afternoon (I swapped jobs with another volunteer. I’d been doing in gate work in the morning).
The afternoon’s classes were all higher level stuff-specifically, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th level dressage.
The last class of the day had ONE horse in it,owned and ridden by one of the farm owners. I’ll call her Professional Rider. PR had ridden not only several of their own horses, but horses owned by several other people not connected to her barn. This means that sometimes she rode three horses in the same class.
The woman (another volunteer), who’d done bit checking in the morning’s lower level classes (which were more heavily populated) told me that Professional Rider had complained to HER (not the TD) that she’d been checked “8 times”. I said, ‘she’s a pro. She knows that, in a class of four horses, she’s probably going to get checked.”
Now mind you, the entire time I was working gate or bit checking, I saw the TD perhaps twice. She spent the day, I believe, sitting in the shade of a large canopy, next to the announcer. (it was bloody hot, in the high 80’s (30 C) and bit check/in gate had NO SHADE). Of course not. One can’t have a canopy inside the ring.
Therefore, I and my co-volunteer got a really good roasting. We spent the entire day out in the sun.
Professional Rider rode several horses in the afternoon. In the 3rd level class, I stopped her to bit check her horse, and she said, “You already checked me.”
I said, “Yes, but that was in the last class, right?”
She said “Yes” in a tone of voice that clearly meant “You effing turd, how dare you.”
The last class of the day was 4th Level. Professional Rider was riding her horse, the only horse in the 4th level class. She has competed on this horse, by the way, at FEI level shows for at least two years.
She finishes her class. The in gate lady, the judge and her scribe all leave the ring.
Instead of exiting the ring, Professional Rider continues to ride her horse in circles in the ring.
She spends, oh, five minutes riding in circles. Perhaps it’s to cool down her sweaty horse?
At a trot??
NOW I know why. She was waiting for me to leave, without conducting a bit check.
I may not be the brightest spark, I may not own a horse, I certainly do not have the money to afford a 100K horse on a $500K farm.
I’m just a volunteer, but damn it, I’m a good one.
I go by the rules. Always have, always will.
Simple math tells me, one horse in the class means that one horse gets bit checked. To me, it doesn’t matter that the show is over for the day and all the officials have left. I do bit checking until my task is done.
Finally she stops her horse and I approach her, saying, “Excuse me, but I need to bit check your horse.”
I should have looked at her face, but I didn’t. It would have told me what was going to happen.
No, I make eye contact with the horse and say, gently hey big horse as I approached him. This horse is FEI level. He’s had bit checks done hundreds of times.
I begin my regimen of bit checking.
I tried to run two fingers under the cavesson.
They wouldn’t fit. The cavesson was so tightly cranked down on his face that I couldn’t even get a finger tip under it. I said, “Wow, this cavesson is too….”
That’s as far as I got.
The horse knocked me sideways with his head. He began head tossing, and dancing, avoiding my touch. I’m not afraid of horses, and I know they can be testy, so I let him toss his head, waiting for him to rest. The moment he did, I again tried the cavesson and he began the head tossing again. Again, I let him come to a stop and thought, OK, I’ll check the bits before I try the cavesson.
The flash noseband was on so tightly that I could only just barely fit a finger into his mouth. I ran it up the curb, but try as I might, I couldn’t get to the back of the mouth to feel for the snaffle. And again, the horse was violently resisting, pushing, tossing, pulling away. Maybe (I know now) it’s because that bit was pulled back..HARD. Professional rider had tightened on the reins.
OK. I’ll try the other side.
I run my hand down his right side, behind the riders leg.
The horse cowkicked at me. As athletic as he was, he almost hit me. I yelled at the horse and the rider said, “He’s hot and tired”.
Well, damn it, so am I, and you are not making this job any easier I wanted to say, but I didn’t.
I walked behind the horse to get to the left side…and the horse backed up so quickly I almost got run over.
Still, I tried. I checked his left side, and then was heading for the cavesson, when Professional Rider rode away. I hadn’t ‘released her’ by saying, Thank you very much, as I did with her and every other rider. She rode away, dismounted about fifty feet from me and led her now calm and quiet horse away.
She KNEW she had the cavesson cranked down too tightly. She KNEW the flash noseband was so tight the horse couldn’t have opened his mouth.
She’d purposefully held back from exiting the ring, knowing the judge had left, knowing that the TD had made no attempt to help at the gate, allowing the volunteers to do all the work. Professional Rider had counted on me leaving, too. She’d seen me roasting in the sun like a rotisserie chicken, and figured I’d leave, too. She’d get away with cheating.
But I hadn’t left. There I was, patiently waiting for her.
She’d tried intimidating me earlier, and learned that I won’t be intimidated by anyone (unless they have a gun aimed at me.)
So she made her horse act up, figuring I was enough of a horseman to know that it’s not worth getting hurt.
Which means, she succeeded in making me back off, she succeeded in getting away with blatant abuse of her horse.
She was cheating. She probably got high scores on her 4th level test because her horse was forced into obedience. That’s not the spirit of dressage, when a horse is supposed to be willingly obedient.
She was pissed at me because I’m a nobody who insisted on playing by the rules, and if she had, too, she would have gotten lower scores on her test..which, ultimately, means her standing in the Dressage lists would be lower.
Damn the comfort of the horse. A couple of numbers on a list, is what matters to her, and if a horse has to suffer to get those numbers, so be it.
Damn that woman. I won’t name her, because people who can afford several hundred thousand dollars of horse can also afford several hundred thousands of dollars of lawyer.
The saddest part of all is, all the rest of the riders, all of them, were amateurs. They weren’t riding Very Expensive Horses. They were riding ten dollar ponies. (well,not really, but you know what I mean).
Not a one of those folks cheated.
Not a one.
They played the game by the rules. They were beaten by Professional Rider, who cheated. A professional rider who, I believe now, has reached the nosebleed heights of dressage riding, by cheating. For YEARS.
I’m absolutely certain this isn’t the first time she’s cheated. She was too practised for it to be the first time, oops, I did tighten it too much, didn’t I.
It’s just the first time someone caught her.
And is unable to do anything about it.