"Are you in Control" "Honestly no, but I'm trying"
Updated: Mar 22
Turns out, becoming a cross country controller is much easier than Tess thought. Having tried every other volunteering role to "work her way up the ladder", all it actually took was an open door and an email...
I've been volunteering at British Eventing (and Pony Club) events since I was 11. No, seriously. I started as a Dressage Steward and learned very quickly that nobody likes being told to go into their arena early by an 11 year old and they are prepared to die on that particular hill. There is a rule that you have to be ready 10 minutes before your time in case your steward needs you to be early. I know, I had to look it up for many an angry mother.
“In my time I have been: a groom, a competitor, a dressage steward, a dressage writer, a dressage judge, a showjumping score collator, a showjumping collecting ring steward, a pole picker, a cross country steward, a fence judge, a starter, a provisional scorer, an actual scorer, I've worked in the secretary's and I've done the tea run. Next on my list is Control.”
Eventually I got bored with being argued with by parents and competitors so I thought I would give some other things a go. In my time I have been: a groom, a competitor, a dressage steward, a dressage writer, a dressage judge, a showjumping score collator, a showjumping collecting ring steward, a pole picker, a cross country steward, a fence judge, a starter, a provisional scorer, an actual scorer, I've worked in the secretary's and I've done the tea run. Next on my list is Control.
The cross country controller controls what happens on a cross country course at an event. They are the coordinator for information coming from fence judges about how competitors are progressing around the course, the start team about what horses are starting and how fast the start intervals are, the emergency services, the Chief Steward and the Technical Advisor (who deal with the specifics of the course and keeping everyone to the rules among other things). If something goes wrong, the controller stops the course, directs the emergency services to the scene and coordinates everyone involved getting what they need. You're also one of the responsible parties for the emergency services and whatever governing body you're controlling for to work out exactly how what happened, happened. I think I'd be brilliant at it.
Opening the door to the Ivory Tower
Am I the only one who grew up having it DRILLED into me that control was hallowed ground? We used to have camp at Tweseldown where Cross Country Control is situated at the top of a very tall tower at the top of a very tall hill. Well quite a tall hill.
Going into the tower was attached to such vehement threats from our District Commissioner, I'm to this day a little bit concerned that entering it might actually cause me to burst into flame. Upon deciding I wanted to get in, I prepared myself for YEARS of training. BEGGING organisers to trust me to sit quietly and not touch anything. Building up a bank of experience and authority before being trusted through the door.
What actually happened was I asked the lovely Henry Symington to show me what control was like and ended up staying the whole day in his control box at the Pony Club National Championships with each ear plugged into a different radio network. Trying to listen to two things at once, and keep up with what I was seeing in front of me AND listen and reply to people speaking at my face. Total audio sensory overload. I was. Totally. Hooked.
Desperate to begin some form of training, I first tried the British Eventing website. Only to find they're revamping the training system so the information I found might or might not be accurate. Supposedly, you find a controller local to you, you contact them and see if they'll be your controller mentor and let you tag along and learn by osmosis for an undetermined period of time. Armed with my Schrödinger's email for the lovely Claire Prentice, a controller and commentator who's not too far from me, I duly politely asked (/begged) for a place as her mentee and or some more information.
Clare miraculously replied (the cat lives! - it's a physics joke - sorry) yay! She already had too many mentees (boo) BUT suggested I go to a Continued Professional Development session for all of the UK controllers to see what's involved and seek my perfect mentor....
Turning up to a training day full of people I've never met, who are older than me, more experienced than me, know more than me, might not be that happy at an over enthusiastic pretend controller trying to make friends AND all know each other? Well damn... sign me up!
For the terrifying experience of my first controller Continued Professional Development with no actual Professional Development to continue, check out our next blog instalment!