Monday 14 March 2011

The Men From The FEI & The Best Job In Eventing

Finalising The Course Design | A Team Effort
For me the job title Technical Delegate makes the job sound about as exciting as being a Chief Actuary in room full of accountants. It is however probably one of the best jobs in eventing other than that of "being Mark Todd".

Each year Badminton, along with every other horse trials running under FEI* rules has a TD assigned or approved to ensure the detail of an event from every aspect  is being taken care of, whether it's the height of fences or the level of medical support in attendance. Part of the role, checking the Cross Country Course, is an area that impacts the job of getting the course animations out onto the website, and quite often adds time pressure when changes are made.

Eric Winter | Has A Serious But Fun Job
Eric Winter is the Technical Delegate for this year's event, and he's ably assisted by Giuseppe Della Chiesa, who has previously acted as TD at Badminton himself. With more requests for 'behind the scenes' footage, this year I thought I'd tag along on the TD's pre-event visit and see for myself what the job involved.

A TD friend of mine sent me some crib notes and a sort of extended job description, which from first glance I expected the TD to be a clipboard toting pencil pusher with a tape measure, and a "oohh, you can't do that...."  attitude. I half thought the day would turn into a proverbial game of tennis with the course designer, Hugh Thomas, and might include a little point scoring along the way. Fortunately, for everyone concerned, nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, there is plenty of paperwork, measuring, checking, re-checking, and triple checking that needs to be undertaken in the name of safety and fair play, but as Hugh, Eric and Giuseppe were all quick to point out, this is all about using the collective knowledge of the team to make the event successful, including the final design of the cross country course to some extent, a sort of bounce board for design ideas.

An aspect that can so easily be overlooked is, the cross country course is set as a 'test', and as such every fence on the course has a purpose and goal in setting that test, but as Eric describes it, "...a cross country course should still flow like a river" to assist horses in coming out the other side fit and well. The subtleties of cross country course design are both fascinating and intriguing to most people interested in the sport, and as I watched the course designer and TDs stride out the fences or stand back and assess 'the question' being asked, I could see a whole check list of things being worked over in their minds from "does the fence have a good balance to it in it's own right" (height, spread, relationship to the lay of the land etc.) to thinking through the risk assessment.

Cross country fences come in many shapes and guises, and some designs it seems are just not suited for horses to jump, spheres being the least suitable design, as apparently horses find them a difficult shape to understand therefore struggle to jump them cleanly, and other curved fences to a lesser extent present challenges, but providing clear, straight ground lines will assist horses in jumping these obstacles cleanly.

The trends in course design and the progress in safety devices mean that every international course these days employs some form of deformable fence and frangible pinning method. Technical Delegates, Course Designers and Course Builders are all well versed in the use and implementation of these devices. Badminton has used these devices for many years, helping to some extent with their initial design & testing, and has several fences with frangible pins.

There is no doubt that a Technical Delegate needs to absorb and crunch a lot of factual data with regards to rules, acting as the fountain of knowledge both before and during the event, although handing over the baton of power to the Ground Jury once the event starts.

Whilst not what you might call one of the highest paid jobs in eventing, it does sound like one of the most interesting and satisfying roles that touches so many aspects of the sport, so I was little surprised to hear how few individuals there were doing the roles, which of course means plenty of opportunity to travel. Where do I sign up?!

Here's a short video of the Technical Delegates' pre-event visit:

We'll bring you more behind the scenes stories in the run up to the event.

*FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale) is the sport's international governing body

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