Cross Country Start

On the eve of the first Poplar Place Farm Horse Trial of the year, I’m looking at the volunteer sign ups and see, yet again, we are lacking in XC start and finish judges. Since becoming [assistant] volunteer coordinator, I’ve noticed a few jobs are always the last to be signed up for. And that’s usually after quite a bit of begging on our part. Even then either I or Stacy usually end up covering them. The most difficult (and baffling that ya’ll don’t fight over) to fill is dressage scribes. You can read my article Dressage Scribe – Less intimidating than you think if you want to know why you’re all nuts.  One of the only-slightly-less-impossible-to-fill-than-scribe is Cross country start. The excuses I get include, but are not limited to, “What if I forget to count down a horse”, “what if a horse is crazy”, and “What if I write down the incorrect time”.

These excuses are crazy. To knock the excuse of “what if I forget to count down a horse” out of your mind: you won’t. There’s a horse circling directly in front of you. There’s a buzz of energy coming off the rider and his/her mount. They’re going in and out of the start box and there’s a clock, with a second timer, right in front of you. Personally, I tend to give riders a 1 min warning, a 30 second warning, then countdown from 10. Forget the 1 min warning? OK, tell them 45 seconds, or 32 seconds. In my experience, as long as they get SOME warning before you go with 10, 9, 8, 7… I’ve never had a complaint. Ever. Also, per the USEA rule-book (2016 ed): “Each competitor should be given reasonable warning before the time he is due to start, but it is the competitor’s responsibility to ensure that he starts at the correct time” Meaning the whole countdown is a [much appreciated] courtesy. You do whatever you feel comfortable with. You literally can’t screw it up.

“Crazy” horses at start are a real, though rare, thing.  These horses may opt to stay in warm up, especially if it’s close to XC start, in order to have room to keep the horse moving forward in a more demanding gait. These riders and their team (horses like this are almost always followed by a team) KNOW this horse is like this. Nothing changes except you probably won’t get to ask the rider how wintering in Florida /Aiken is treating them. And you count down louder. Just when you think the horse is going to miss his time, the rider trots in one side of the box and out the other just as you reach “have a great ride”. Horses may also be led in and held in the start box, though after a horse is released NO MORE assistance is permitted. Again, these riders KNOW their horses are like this. Stay out of the way, be loud so they can hear you, plan for their departure, and write down the time they leave the box.

Writing down the incorrect time is hard to do. Horses go out at intervals, and ALL the ride times are on a sheet in front of you. There is also some leeway in when the horse HAS to leave the box. As stated above, ultimately this is the rider’s responsibility. And, as long as the event is running ahead, just write the time that the horse left. For example: Ride time is set for 11:52. The event is running early & the rider elects to go  when there’s an opening at 11:46. You get talking about the WF-P clinic in FL, glance at the clock and it’s 11:45:58. Tell the rider “10 seconds”, count them down and write “11:46:08” on the timesheet when they leave the box.

See there? Easy! And, start is REALLY fun. You get to see and talk to every single rider running that day. It may be for literally a minute, but how many people get to wish Olympic riders good luck at arguably the most influential, and unquestionably the most dangerous, part of the competition. You get to see kids and adults at their first horse trials and wish them the same. As someone who has gotten into and out of and gone back to eventing a few times, a start person saying, “Have a great ride” really puts me at ease. It’s one of the few things in eventing that’s been the same for 15 years and it makes my heart happy as I leave the start box.

For those of you who like to read the rules(and my comments on them), they are below:

The following notes are from the 2016 USEA rule-book EV 138-1:. My notes on the rules are in italics.  c. If a competitor starts early, his time will be recorded from the moment he crossed the start line.  Easy enough. d. Under exceptional circumstances, the Ground Jury may permit a competitor to start at other than his posted start time. This tends to be when a rider has multiple horses. Someone will always let you know if this is what’s going If a competitor is not ready to start at his correct time(original or revised) he/she may be allowed, at the digression of the starter, to start when he is ready, subject to the following conditions 1. A late competitor will not be permitted to start if there is any risk of interfering with the subsequent competitor 2.His starting time will be recorded as if he has started at the correct time. SO no matter what, when he crosses the start, record THAT time.




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