It’s not often that the FEI stewards are put in the spotlight, but this entirely voluntary, unpaid role is crucial to the safe, efficient running of any international event. At the Bicton International Horse Trials, supported by Chedington, the trio of Nicky Salmon, Jan Cottam and Ro Audley will be working 14-hour days, monitoring the stables, the arenas and the cross-country. They have to pass an exam every year and be fully conversant with intricate FEI rules – and rule changes: there has already been a change since they were published in March.
Nicky Salmon has been a British Eventing (BE) steward for some 40 years and an FEI one for around 20, officiating at European and world championships and Badminton, as well as an owner of five-star horses ridden by Andrew Nicholson. With Fiona Muirhead, she is the only British steward qualified to officiate at championships. “We wouldn’t do this unless we were absolutely passionate about the sport, but it is very exacting – if you don’t get 80% plus in the annual exams, you’re out,” she points out.
“It’s a long day – we are patrolling the stables at around 6am, and I particularly like to see that the grooms are OK – but we do this because we love being part of a team and the wonderful cameraderie that is part of this sport.”
Jan Cottam, who is also an organiser and BE official, officiated at the London Olympic Games. “I love the big events, of course, but I enjoy all levels from the grass roots up because I love the horses, the people and, above all, the sport. We have become a close-knit group of friends and all support each other, especially on the inevitable occasions when things go wrong. During lockdown we formed a WhatsApp group and had a Zoom meeting every 10 days, talking about everything from our gardens to our failed attempts at cooking!”
Ro Audley, who was an assistant district commissioner of the Puckeridge branch of the Pony Club, was recruited by Nicky, whom she bumped into at the ballet in London. She became a BE steward and was then put on the FEI’s Global Education Programme, which involved attending overseas events. This is her first visit to Bicton: “Helen West and her team have done an amazing job. She is so smiley and helpful and so well-organised,” she said.
All three reiterated that more – and younger – recruits are needed. Jan says: “We need to encourage more people to get involved. They can be assured that we will nurture them – and we’ll have a laugh.”
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