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sporthorse  enthusiasts

How to Become a Dressage TD

How & Why You Might Enjoy the Job

Kaye Phaneuf

What is a TD?

Many disciplines have Stewards. Dressage and a few others have Technical Delegates (TDs). By either name, we're licensed by the U.S. Equestrian Federation to ensure that the shows they recognize comply with their rules, and that competitors enjoy fair and equal opportunity to succeed in their chosen sport.

In our area, there are just six dressage TDs: four in Washington, and one each in Idaho and Oregon. If you think that you might enjoy being a TD, read on!

Could I be a TD?

Judges need to have lots of riding experience, but you could become a TD without riding at all-USEF is looking for dressage competition management experience, supplemented by a wide range of experience volunteering at/putting on competitions of any breed or discipline.

The application process...

The first official step in becoming a TD is to file an application with USEF and pay $140 in application and insurance fees. The application will ask you to document your activities within the previous eight years in these areas:

Competition Management. You must have served as an active member of the organization committee of five or more USEF-licensed Dressage competitions. For at least two of them, you must have served as the on-site manager, assistant manager, or secretary.

Competition Staff. In addition to the above, prove that you have served at least five full days in two or more of the following positions: assistant secretary, scribe, scorer, stable manager, grounds manager, personnel manager, or similar position of responsibility. At least one day must be spent doing secretary's work and one scoring, including freestyles. These five days must be spread out over a minimum of three different USEF-recognized Dressage or Regular Member (i.e., Arabian, Morgan) competitions, run by at least three different managers and three different Competition Management organizations.

Other Involvement. You must also have fulfilled at least three of the following four requirements:

1. Ridden/handled, trained or coached at three different USEF Dressage competitions. Dressage Breeding classes at open Dressage shows would count; Arabian or other breed division shows would not.

2. Participated as management or a competitor at five separate USDF Jr/YR or Adult Team competitions, schooling or Pony Club dressage competitions, or US Eventing Association competitions.

3. Participated for at least three years in council sessions at USDF annual meetings, particularly the Technical Delegate and Competition Management Councils.

4. Attended one or more USEF Dressage TD clinics. These are held in conjunction with the USDF annual meeting and cost $150. One TD clinic must have been attended within the year prior to acceptance into the program.

References. As you work on your qualifications, also be thinking of who can speak to your suitability to become a dressage TD. Let officials know that you are working toward becoming a DTD, and ask if you can list them as references. At least 15 completed evaluations must be received from current USEF members, 12 of them from current Dressage Judges, Technical Delegates, and/or members of the USEF Dressage Committee.

When your application form, fees, and supporting documentation have been filed, and references solicited and received, the USEF Licensed Officials Committee will review your petition at their next regular meeting.

The apprentice program...

Once you are accepted into the TD apprentice program, you will have two years to fulfill the following requirements:

Classroom training. You will complete a USEF/USDF TD training session and a USEF TD clinic. Each is a one-day session held in conjunction with the USDF annual meeting. This classroom training must be done within one year of acceptance, and before you can do anything else.

Field apprenticing. After you have completed your classroom training, you will do “on the job” training at four different USEF-licensed Dressage division (not breed-restricted) competitions under at least three different USEF-licensed Technical Delegates. There are requirements for length of competition, classes offered, and the licensing of the supervising TDs. One competition must be outside your home state and another outside your region. All of this is intended to expose you to a broad range of competitions, officials and competition management.

Written exam. After the classroom training and field apprenticing, you will take a written test, 60% closed book and 40% open book, administered by someone from the Licensed Officials Department.

LOC review.
If you score 80% or better on the written exam, the Licensed Officials Committee (LOC) will review the evaluations sent in by the TDs with whom you did your field apprenticing and decide if you are worthy to be a USEF-licensed Dressage Technical Delegate (r)!

And what do you get after all this?

First and foremost, you will get the satisfaction of giving back to the dressage community. A Recorded (r) Dressage Technical Delegate may officiate as the assistant to the Registered Technical Delegate(s) at Level 4 and Level 5 Dressage Competitions, and may officiate alone at Level 1-3 Dressage Competitions.

Certainly, you won't get rich off officiating, any more than judges do. Current rates for small (r) TDs run $200-$225/day, plus meals, lodging and travel. I have averaged about 14 officiating days per year over the past few years. Against that, factor the costs of getting your license and keeping it. Once you become a TD, you must maintain a Senior Active membership in USEF and a Participating membership in USDF, and annually renew your TD license and insurance ($50). Every three years, you must attend another TD clinic and pass another written exam.

Is it worth it?

I think so! I like being a TD because I like detail and having something in writing to back up my judgment. There's a rule book. Read it. Look at the bits, measure the whips, check the spurs. The requirements are pretty much all spelled out. As TD, I have no power to eliminate riders, nor to run the show. My job is to point out to management rules that need enforcement, to recommend that a competitor be eliminated if cause is found, and to report to USEF if management chooses not to take my advice. To me, it's a lot like being a good show secretary. My focus is to educate, rather than to eliminate. I recognize that the rule book is daunting, and I believe that the vast majority of exhibitors are honest. So I try to help exhibitors, management and volunteers understand the rules and the 'whys' behind them.

You will get to watch a lot of dressage, some good and some not so much. You usually will have at least one meal with the judges, which is always interesting. You will get paid for walking around chatting with folks! The TD often trains the equipment checkers, and sometimes the scorers, secretary and/or manager, as well; hence all that volunteer time needed for your license. You will make sure the EMT is on the grounds and properly certified. You will verify the judges are happy with their scribes, schedules, and working conditions, and help management resolve any complaints. If there are pony classes, you may be called on to measure entries. If , in your opinion, weather or footing make conditions unsafe, you will work with management to delay the show or fix the problem. A judge may send you after a competitor to warn him about whip use that she thought was excessive, but not bad enough to eliminate. A competitor may ask you to do something about someone else's behavior in the warm-up ring-too aggressive, too intrusive, too much. You are there to make sure that all competitors enjoy a level playing field, both literally and figuratively, and that their horses are treated humanely. That may mean patrolling out behind the barns for excessive schooling, and in the barns looking for filthy stalls, empty water buckets, hobbled horses.

If you don't know how to drive a golf cart, that will be part of your apprenticeship. And golf cart or not, you will get lots of exercise! Sunscreen, lip balm and a poncho will be a permanent part of your kit.

After each show, you will file written reports with USEF, and share with competition management your comments and suggestions for improvement.


I recommend that if you are even remotely interested in becoming a TD, start now to document all of your volunteer experience. Keep a log of shows, dates and tasks, and ask the volunteer coordinator or show manager to sign it. If your name is listed in a prize list or show program, put a copy in your “Maybe someday TD” file.

Periodically, check the TD program requirements to make sure you are working in the right direction. You'll find them here:

Finally, seek out the TDs at the dressage shows you attend, and let them know of your interest. We'd love to share our role in this sport with you!

Kaye Phaneuf, Canby, Oregon, has been a Dressage Technical Delegate (r) since 2004. She represents the Pacific Northwest on the USDF Technical Delegates Committee and chairs the Arabian Horse Association's Dressage Committee.

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