Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Show Entry Etiquette: The Life and Times of a Schooling Show Secretary...

Last spring I very happily took on the role of secretary for the schooling shows at Course Brook Farm. We have a reasonably busy show schedule, hosting 5 schooling shows per season ranging from spring two phases to our schooling horse trials. Most of the way through my second season in this role, I have some thoughts to share, especially for those who aren't 100% sure of what all the terminology means or the details of show entry etiquette.

I would like to preface the informative section of this post by declaring that we have the very best competitors and volunteers imaginable! People come to our schooling shows to have fun, educate their horses and themselves and to further their commitment to the sport of eventing. I love each and every one of them so the little pet peeves I will share with you are merely inconvenient and not the end of the world. I am sharing only because if no one ever tells you that this isn't the way to do things, how are you to know? Most of this carries over to recognized shows as well so take note and do your best to be thoughtful. You never know when you will need the show secretary in your corner and it is always wise to be on her good side if possible!

Opening Dates: Entries may be sent on or after the opening date. For shows that are especially popular, get your entry in the mail on the opening date, being sure you get it post marked on the day you drop it in the mail. Shows that fill will accept entries by postmark date. If you can enter online, the postmark is not an issue! If you mail an entry prior to the opening date, it is the prerogative of the show secretary to send it back to you. Don't send them early. It will only annoy the secretary and definitely will NOT get you to the front of the line.

Closing Dates, Late Entries and Late Fees: All shows have a closing date - the last date entries will be accepted. The date typically refers to the postmark date. Schooling shows tend to be more flexible and try to give people as much opportunity as possible but if a show has 40 riders the day before the closing date and then 40 people try to enter between the closing date (which is likely less than a week before the show) and the show, it creates numerous complications I will address in another section. So, often there will be a late fee. If a late fee is listed on an entry, pay it if you are mailing your entry late. Pay the late fee if you are hand delivering your entry the day after the closing date. Pay the late fee if you are in any way late. If you don't want to pay a late fee, then don't enter late. Seriously. We charge late fees because late entries increase the stress level. We want you to enter on time. We actually don't want that money. However, if you need to enter late, please do so. Just pay the late fee. And one more note on closing dates: we make our closing date as late as possible to encourage you to enter. However, if you think about it, if you mail your entry 5 days prior to a Saturday show, you are mailing it on Monday. The soonest I will receive it is probably Wednesday. For a Saturday show I will be trying to post times Tuesday or Wednesday. Do you see the problem?

Giant Pet Peeve #1: Don't enter a show late, and I mean very late, like 3 days before the show, via email, and then, in the same email, ask when times will be posted. Times will be posted as soon as people stop entering late and I have 5 minutes to sit and work on making times. If you entered on the opening date, you are allowed to ask when times will be posted.

Write Neatly: We communicate with competitors via email and even, occasionally, via snail mail. If either of your addresses is illegible, you may not receive important communication from us. If your mailing address is illegible, we won't be able to send a refund should we need to do so.

Incomplete Entries: Try very hard to complete your entries right from the start. Every entry form will say right on it what is required. If you keep an electronic copy of your coggins on your computer it will be very easy to access it and send it on in with your entry. Release forms may be a bit more challenging but more than half the competitors manage to figure it out so do try to print and sign one if requested. And payment. I generally don't "accept" or consider an entry real until I have money in hand. Too often I receive emails or phone calls at the last minute, give someone a time slot and then they never arrive on show day. Incomplete entries take up a great deal of a show secretary's time. If you receive an email telling you what is missing, reply right away with an electronic copy of the missing document. This goes back to having that show secretary on your side. You don't want to be the competitor she had to chase down three times for entry issues.

Send your entry to the right place!!!: Many entries are sent directly to a show secretary who frequently doesn't live anywhere near the farm where the show will be held. Be sure to look at the prize list, omnibus, entry or whatever other documentation the venue provides and read it carefully to find the mailing address for entries. If you send your entry to the wrong address, it very well may be lost or take weeks to make its way to the show secretary which is totally not her fault.

Communication: If you have a question or need a change, email the secretary as soon as possible. The more notice you are able to give us, the better able we are to accommodate your needs. We don't mind hearing from you at all. That is what we are here for. If entry status is posted, please check your status! You may find your entry is incomplete or, because we show secretaries are human too, you may find your name entered into the wrong division or we may have you riding the wrong horse. I love it when posting status can catch any issues well ahead of posting times.

Posting Times: For some shows, creating times is extremely complicated. With schooling shows we tend to have enormous Beginner Novice divisions and fairly small other divisions. We run one stadium ring and one XC course for all levels so we can only move everyone through them so quickly. If a show has more than 50 competitors, we try to have at least two dressage judges so we aren't there all night. Believe me, the show organizers and show secretary want to move you through your phases efficiently. We all want to go home for dinner! But some shows are very full and have complications such as needing to finish dressage before running XC. I spend as little as 3 hours and as much as 10 hours working out times. We know you need to plan and we post times as soon as humanly possible but if we put them up too soon, prior to being able to review them, think things through and catch errors, we cause more problems than we solve.

Social Media and Website Updates: Many of your questions leading up to a show can be answered via a website or social media page. I always post updates on our website and on FB so look there before reaching out. If your question hasn't been addressed, then definitely send an email or pick up the phone. I actually love talking to you guys!

Show Day!: Be sure to arrive well in advance of your ride times. Most shows have someone guiding you through where to park. Pick up your packet right away in case there are any issues. At our shows I leave packets for competitors with completed entries out on a table so they don't have to stand in line - just another incentive to get your entries completed prior to show day!

On show day the secretary is there to support you but, especially in the case of a schooling show, she is often wearing many hats. At our most recent show I was the secretary, Dressage scorer, show scorer and volunteer check-in person in addition to handing out awards. My life is chaotic on show day, especially in the morning when competitors are arriving to complete their entries and dressage and show jumping are running simultaneously. Once dressage wraps up and all the competitors are checked in, my life gets a bit easier.

Pinning a Division: Generally, a division will be pinned 30 minutes after scores are posted. Of course a schooling show doesn't need to be so precise but, again, we show secretaries are human and make mistakes. If we post scores and give out a couple of prizes immediately and a few of you go on your merry way, then ten minutes later we discover that a refusal had not been attributed somewhere or we missed something else on the score sheet, we don't usually have enough prizes to award to the rightful winners. I can't stand it when we keep you waiting for hours after competing but I will always mail ribbons to anyone who requests it. I totally understand the need to get on the road. But often the show secretary does not have control. Schooling shows are usually understaffed. If we are still running riders and don't have a volunteer to pick up scores, there isn't much I can do about tabulating and posting them. So please try to be patient with me. I'm not doing it on purpose. I am not out watching the dressage and the jumping. I have no idea what is going on out there. I am in my little office waiting for people to bring me things. I work as quickly as I can but then again, whenever I go super quickly, I make mistakes and then you guys really get frustrated and rightly so!

My Pledge to My Beginner Novice Division!: Next time, I absolutely promise, we will collect XC scores between BN divisions. There are so many of you! Which is awesome but it means it takes almost two hours to jump all of you around our XC course which means hours of waiting for the division to be pinned and that is my fault and not ok so I will do better in the future. I've made that mistake twice now.

What else does a show secretary do?: I suppose the answer to this question varies but in my case, I create flyers and entry forms, post information to our website and Facebook Page. I collect entries, enter rider information into our database, track entry documentation. I manage the budget for the show season, including our recognized show, and am responsible for providing a financial statement at the end of each show. I field emails and phone calls from people with a variety of questions, support our volunteer coordinator by helping to find volunteers. I maintain supplies of ribbons, dressage tests, rider numbers and prizes. I create the show program, print course maps, make up packets and, under the guidance of our show organizers, create ride times. I make up clipboards for our dressage judges, show jumping judge, XC fence judges and our ring stewards. I make sure we have at least 30 fully functioning walkie talkies, fully charged and ready to go on show day. I score tests. I create electronic score sheets which are very helpful and look nice when I post them throughout the day. I keep a supply of useful items on hand and lend support wherever it is needed. I also help set up dressage rings, stadium jumps and anything else that needs to be done because, though I get paid to be show secretary, I am also a volunteer.  I typically put in many many hours to get through a three phase show so I consider my job a hybrid between a paid job and a volunteer job.

While most of the above information holds true for recognized shows, there are a few differences.  Their closing dates are a bit earlier so that they can post times earlier. They have to follow rules about having times up a certain number of days prior to the event. They will be more strict regarding entry completion and closing dates. They require membership in the USEA for Beginner Novice up and in USEF for Preliminary and higher. Their fees are significantly higher because they have to pay for a TD (Technical Delegate), more judges, course design and other officials.

Thank you to all of you who come out to our shows, whether as riders, grooms, spectators or the all important volunteers without whom there would be no show. At the end of the day, we are all doing this for the love of an amazing sport and the thrill of sharing it with our wonderful eventing community!