Elisabeth Williams’ Role as FEI Chief Steward

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Elisabeth Williams sits and watches the warm-up as well as the competition as the FEI Chief Steward Photo: Dressage Headlines

Elisabeth Williams has been the FEI Chief Dressage Steward at every Adequan® Global Dressage Festival CDI for the past five years. Sitting between the warm-up and international competition stadium arena, she proficiently oversees that every aspect relating to a show is fair and consistent from the time a rider and horse practice in the warm-up arena to the time they compete, and through each CDI division awards ceremony. Concerned, thoughtful and a kind person, she focuses on participants competing under the best possible and most fair conditions available.

Climbing the Dressage Official Ladder

Elisabeth’s Chief Steward role began at the 1995 World Cup Finals in Los Angeles. Soon afterwards, she officiated at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and at almost every North American Junior/Young Rider’s Championship, at every National Dressage Championships starting from 1997, the 2005 and 2007 World Cup Finals and London’s 2012 Olympics. And she will be the Chief Steward at the upcoming 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Since 2011 she has also been an FEI Course Director. In 2014 she was appointed to the Board of Directors of the International Dressage Officials Committee (IDOC), became the FEI Deputy Steward General for Dressage, and elected Chair of the United States Equestrian High Performance Dressage Committee in 2015. Earlier this year, Elisabeth was appointed a Vice President of the IDOC.

Elisabeth’s CDI Tasks and Duties

Mindful of the safety and well-being of the riders and their horses at the Festival, Elisabeth’s Chief Steward job starts at 6:30 a.m. every Tuesday through Sunday and continues until each CDI is fully completed by coordinating, handling or overseeing the following:

1. Making sure everyone has the same schooling opportunity, under both natural daylight and the showground’s lights
2. Organizing and ensuring that the horse inspection (Jog) is safe and fair for all athletes
3. Making sure the judges are promptly where they are supposed to be
4. Informing the athletes of the time they will be entering the ring and when it is their turn
5. Communicating with the announcer about anything that may not be visible on the stadium’s ground level and answering any questions
6. Assisting the winning athletes
- Helping to secure the ribbons onto the horses’ bridles
- Indicating the winners’ path in the ring
- Directing the top three riders to sponsor photos
7. Communicating with the announcer after each sponsor photoElisabeth Williams walks in riders Photo: Dressage Headlines

Elisabeth spoke about the growth of the sport in Florida, “There’s been an enormous increase in rides since I started here. During week #10 alone, we are up to 145 horses. It’s become wonderfully international with more European and foreign riders than just American riders. I’ve seen the AGDF grow into world-class competitions with the qualities of the horses and riding skyrocketing. Even the scores are increasing. In 2012, we saw only a few 70 percent scores and now we’re having the top 8 Grand Prix riders scoring marks higher than 70 percent.”

She also addressed the rules, “Riders have definitely learned to do well in a CDI setting and generally complying with the rules. We’re into education here, and rules are rules. I won’t simply say ‘you’re out’ to someone, but will explain in a quiet manner the rule an athlete may have run up against. We have to be fair.” She continued, “It’s important to me that I explain in a quiet, non-threatening manner what an athlete may have done so they can follow the rule from then on. I never act as a policeman. I prefer solving problems.”

“If something to do with the welfare of the horse does get a little out of hand, we’ll talk about correcting it and moving on. But, I have a hard time dealing with the kicking, spurring and yanking. I don’t deal well with any of that. I’ll pick a time to discreetly talk with the rider without sitting on the sidelines and bellowing. Or, if I know that a rider will be schooling in the morning and I know their ride is in the afternoon, I’ll talk to them then. Usually, though, all I have to do is stand up and they know.”

On Horsemanship

“The sport is evolving and going in a much better direction than it has been. The horsemanship, though, is something that surprises me from just a few riders. I don’t like to see a rider jump off a horse right after the test and take it back to the barn without cooling it out first, and I don’t like it taken back to the barn without the reins over the head and the stirrups put up. That’s just the Pony Club mother in me.”Elisabeth Williams keeping a CDI-Am awards ceremony safe Photo: Dressage Headlines

About the Judges

Addressing rider disappointments with their range in given percentage scores, Elisabeth explained, “The judges have a hard job to do. 99.9 percent of them do a phenomenal job and I think riders at the international level need to recognize that they’re looking at 3 to 5 different opinions. One may give a lower score that the others which, of course, will bring a total down. But, riders need to read the judges’ comments before complaining about that score. A rider can always ask to speak with a judge and ask that judge why a low score was given and what they can do to fix it. The judges really do care, all of them.”

Elisabeth’s Interesting Background

Elisabeth grew up in Sweden and speaks Swedish, English, German, French and a little Spanish. Before studying at the University of Stockholm, she attended a local college and majored in languages that included English, German, French and Latin. At University, she majored in Advanced Secretarial School and Hotel Administration and Tourism, and went on to work at the Royal Swedish Embassy in Washington, D.C. for more than ten years. She then worked in Washington’s World Bank concentrating on the Swedish Delegation and Swedish National Bank, and then transferred to the East Asian and Pacific Departments supervising a World Bank mission to Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Her final World Bank project led her to the China Country Programs Division for the Department.

While in Washington D.C., her dressage interest included serving on the Potomac Valley Dressage Association’s Board of Directors and as Treasurer, moving up to Chairman of the Board and Director. She worked as a show manager at the Potomac Horse Center before computers were used and also assisted the Potomac Pony Club, eventually becoming the Organizing Regions District Commissioner. For ten years beginning in the early 1980s, Elisabeth helped the United States Pony Club on the national level by organizing its annual National Championships.

Elisabeth and her husband, Thomas, live near Philadelphia where she began her climb up the international dressage ranks to become FEI Chief Steward. As a member of the USEF High Performance Committee, she has developed the written tests for the USEF Dressage Technical Delegates and is a member of the USEF International Disciplines Council. She is also a member of the USDF Regional Championships Selection Committee and has facilitated the USDF Learner Technical Delegates Forums.

Elisabeth works hard and appreciates the team at the AGDF which includes the competition steward, the show office staff and organizer, the announcer, the awards coordinator and more, “It truly does become a family here, especially as the 12 week season and weeks come together.”

 Elisabeth Williams walks in Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven, Mikala Munter Gundersen and Lars Petersen to the awards ceremony Photo: Dressage Headlines