The 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games were held in Mill Spring, North Carolina from September 11-23rd. The World Equestrian Games showcase all 8 recognized FEI disciplines. Jean Kraus, longtime William Woods Professor of Equestrian Studies, served as an FEI Dressage Steward for the World Equestrian Games.
FEI stands for “Federation Equestre International” and is the international governing body for equestrian sports. The FEI World Games are unique because they are the largest scale international equestrian competition. In contrast to the Olympics, which only hosts three disciplines (dressage, eventing, and show jumping), the World Equestrian games host all eight FEI recognized sports – dressage, eventing, show jumping, reining, driving, endurance, vaulting and para-equestrian dressage. The FEI World Games are held every four years in the middle of the Olympic cycle.
The grand scale of the games is awesome. An average of 500,000 people attend the games over the two-week period, with daily spectator attendance being around 40,000 – 50,000 people. 54 countries were represented by approximately 800 human athletes and their horses.
“Just the number of horses that are flown in from all over the world, with the number of athletes and their support team people that come with them,” Kraus said, emphasizing the size of the event. “These horses and athletes are the top competitors from around the world. ”
At the FEI World Equestrian Games there were 106 stewards to oversee the competition. Overseeing dressage specifically were 12 stewards, with five being American and the rest representing Great Britain, Luxembourg, Brazil, Costa Rica, Austria, Norway, and Japan.
The Games have a chief steward whose job it is to ensure that all rules are being followed. Stewards serving under the chief steward also watch for rule infractions and report them to the chief steward, while making sure the competition runs smoothly.
Stewards were present as the horses arrived and were assigned different tasks while horses were in quarantine to ensure the health of all competing horses. Kraus’ group got assigned to organizing horse identification numbers which are the numbers the horses compete with, while observing to make sure rules are followed and keeping an eye on horse welfare.
“The caretakers are taking care of them, but we’re supervising and making sure that they are safe and that they are attended to,” Kraus said.
Stewards recorded every time a horse entered and left the barn, whether for training or just to stretch their legs. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) kept track of these records to ensure that no disease was spread from horse to horse. They also have to keep an eye on safety – for example, few ever think about fan cords, but the steward team had to make sure all fan cords were out of the horses’ reach so they could not endanger themselves.
In addition to horse welfare, keeping a close eye on the rules can be a challenge as they change every year and can be hard to interpret.
“That’s an awesome daily task because rules are changing as we speak – I was just looking at the revisions for this next year,” said Kraus, who is on several committees in charge of reviewing and changing rules. She has plenty of experience with keeping up to date on the rules and how much time and dedication it takes to stay on top of each one.
Stewards like Kraus have to make sure they are familiar with the current year’s rules as well as the previous year’s rules, in case a competitor is not as up-to-date and has missed a rule change. If a competitor does show up doing something that was allowed the year before, but not allowed in the current year, there is usually a grace period to try and educate them on the new rules.
“We try to educate them as to the rule that has changed, and that it is therefore not allowed anymore.” Kraus said. Conversely, there is also rule education in the opposite direction, when something that wasn’t allowed the previous year is now allowed in the current year; it is the steward’s job to also educate about those changes.
Kraus has a lot of experience as a steward. She is a level-three FEI steward, the highest level you can attain, and one of only four level-three stewards in America. Getting just to level-two takes quite a bit of experience as you have to have accumulated years of experience as a National Level Technical Delegate. Once level-two is reached, you can start serving as a chief steward at international competitions. Level-three is achieved based on how much experience you have stewarding international competitions.
“With more experience you can see some trends and patterns and kind of anticipate some things with competitors,” Kraus said. Years of stewarding experience have helped her get to know the competitors and learn which ones might try and push the envelope with rules and which ones tend to follow the rules closely.
What does this experience bring back to William Woods?
“The knowledge of how international competitions run and the experience at this level of competition augments what I teach in the classroom. The contacts you develop with the riders, and being able to use those relationships to get positions for our students there will continue to benefit William Woods,” Kraus said. “For example, I saw a William Woods alumnae working as a groom for an international competitor at the FEI World Equestrian Games, and something like that is possible for all William Woods students if they keep in touch with their professors and ask about job openings.”
Equestrian faculty develop both American and international contacts at these shows and can help their students land a job with world-class athletes and stables. If you want more information, just ask William Woods’ connection to this unique world, also known as Jean Kraus.