Sunday, Apr. 14, 2024

Veronica Holt Focuses On Fair Play


This USDF Volunteer of the Year has been involved in every level of the sport.


She’s the woman to call in the dressage world when you want things done and done right.

Named the U.S. Dressage Federation’s Volunteer of the Year in 2006, Veronica Holt has been involved
behind the scenes on every level from Young Riders to Grand Prix and local horse shows to the Fédération Equestre Internationale.
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This USDF Volunteer of the Year has been involved in every level of the sport.

She’s the woman to call in the dressage world when you want things done and done right.

Named the U.S. Dressage Federation’s Volunteer of the Year in 2006, Veronica Holt has been involved
behind the scenes on every level from Young Riders to Grand Prix and local horse shows to the Fédération Equestre Internationale.

A technical delegate, an FEI steward, a dressage show manager, a member of more committees than seems humanly possible, there aren’t many hats that Holt hasn’t worn at one point or another. And that doesn’t begin to cover her accomplishments outside the equestrian world.

“I didn’t let a lot of grass grow under my feet,” said Holt with a smile. Born near Inver-ness, Scotland, in 1943, she got her introduction to horses through the local Pony Club.
 
“I did Pony Club and hunting and point-to-points, which were quite similar to steeplechases. You all crash bang into the same fence at the same time,” she said. “I got very hurt in a fall, so riding was put on the backburner for a while.”

For years Holt left horses behind her while she explored different careers. “I worked in London in the media for several years. I was a cover reporter for the London Daily Mirror,” said Holt. “Then I got involved in starting Nova, which was the first  U.K. magazine for women, but not a women’s magazine. It was along the lines of what Gloria Steinem did, but not nearly as good.”

Next she was off to Montreal, Quebec, to explore television. Holt worked in news and public affairs for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Radio Canada.

But when love and marriage landed her in Colorado, Holt found her way back to horses.

“I was so horrified by television in this country that I didn’t even give it a thought as something I wanted to pursue,” said Holt. “I couldn’t imagine doing a story on poverty in 30 seconds that would be interrupted by a hemorrhoid commercial. I didn’t have a green card, and I didn’t have citizenship, so I ended up volunteering with the Pony Club.”

Dressage caught her fancy, and, like everything else in her life, she jumped in with both feet. Soon she was managing competitions and had applied to become a U.S. Equestrian Federation technical delegate.

“I was always a good organizer and never daunted by not having done it before,” said Holt. “I was a bit of an entrepreneur. In 1988 I managed my first international competition.”

A Sense Of Fair Play

Whether she’s managing a show, working as the technical delegate or as an FEI steward, fairness is always one of Holt’s priorities.

“I’m a stickler for getting it right and making sure the playing field is level,”she said. “It’s fair for everybody. Exceptions aren’t made because somebody is particularly needy, ignorant, wealthy or famous.”

She recalled one incident where she was the technical delegate at a dressage show and had her eye on a particular competitor. The rider came over to her and said, “My husband is a lawyer, what does yours do?”

“I said, ‘He fixes phone lines,’ and continued to watch her,” recalled Holt. “You need to be clear that when you step forward, you’re stepping forward within the parameters. It could bite you. You need to remove personalities and keep to the rules.”

Applying the law evenly to everyone can be more difficult than just knowing the rules. “You can’t have someone stand at the gate and allow one person extra time around the arena and not the next. The break isn’t for you—the break is for the judge. That’s making it unfair,” explained Holt. “The legal equipment is much easier than the mechanics of making the spirit of sportsmanship work. People frequently do things out of ignorance—they just don’t think.”

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She’s A Mover And A Shaker

When Veronica Holt notices a problem, she’s the first to step up and offer a solution.  As a show manager living in Colorado, she realized that the geographic regions recognized by the U.S. Dressage Federation didn’t work very well for competitors.

“As a Regional Director for USDF, I was involved with redrawing the boundaries of the regions, with much help from the [USDF] board, to make it more realistic,” said Holt.  “At that point our region stretched down from Utah south to Texas and Louisiana!  It was impossible to meet the needs of such a huge area, so I like to think that I gave birth to Region 9.”

As a show manager, Holt has made a practice of taking over competitions that are struggling and training new people to run them.

“Heather Peterson and I formed a company called Two White Feet and will have managed five competitions this year,” said Holt.  “We like helping out small local clubs.  Often, there are a few folks that have managed a small show for years and, understandably, don’t want to do it anymore.  This leaves the local club in a pickle because they didn’t know what to do, and nobody else knew how, or wanted to run it.”

Holt also participated on the committee to reorganize the U.S. Equestrian Federation rulebook and researched the issue of liability insurance to cover dressage show officials.  She’s also served and continues to serve on various committees for the USDF and U.S. Equestrian Federation.

“She’s very much a go-getter,” said fellow technical delegate Elisabeth Williams.  “Nothing is difficult.  If this needs to get done, [she’ll] just deal with it.”

Holt’s philosophy is widely known. “I use [Holt] regularly because she’s going to pay attention and do things right,” said Janine Malone, who is a show manager as well as a technical delegate and judge. “I don’t like people who are sloppy. Veronica deals with details and keeps track of everything. She doesn’t drop the ball.”

Because Holt believes that ignorance is often the culprit behind ringside violations, she’s put a lot of effort into education.
 
“If everybody is on the same page, that’s the way things work the best. It helps them get it right,” she said. “I don’t see the technical delegate as a policeman, I see the technical delegate as a facilitator.”

One of the ways Holt helps with education is by leading the apprentice technical delegate sessions.

“People understand from that clinic alone that this is not something you do to earn extra money or pay the mortgage,” said Elisabeth Williams, a good friend of Holt’s and a fellow technical delegate. “It’s not a glamorous job. It’s not a competition to be the most popular person. If you’re not strong enough to go out there, then you shouldn’t be a technical delegate.”

Holt’s also helped set up a training program for local technical delegates who officiate at Rocky Mountain Dressage Society recognized shows.

“We set up an RMDS technical delegate training program, and we educate them, test them and work with them,” she explained. “The [USEF technical delegates], myself in particular and a couple of others that are in the area, act as a resource for them.

“These shows have substantial awards attached to them and should have consistent application of their rules,” Holt noted. “We can be quite helpful to the management sometimes, especially when things are going south! We can take the heat off them and work the problem so that everybody gets to feel like they were given the proper attention and fair treatment.”

Holt’s also the chairman of the USDF Technical Delegate Council. “She’s working really hard to get us all on the same page,” said Williams. “She’s put a lot of work into it and stayed in touch with her regional representatives. She’s very much up on it, and if she sees something that doesn’t quite tally with the rules, then she looks into how to deal with it. She’s very good about it.”

Communication Is Key

In Holt’s most recent résumé, she described herself as a “communicator.” Facilitating discussion between people, whether it’s the judge, management and the FEI steward at a show or on a national level as she worked to redraw the USDF regional boundaries, is one of her strongest talents.

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“I did a lot of conflict resolution in my corporate work here in Colorado when I got legal and back to corporate society,” she said. “The government hired us to help the [Environmental Protection Agency] to communicate better with a community that had discovered that there were toxins in their area. I helped them with what to say and how to say it so it wasn’t inflammatory or avoiding the truth.”

Those skills of communication, combined with diplomacy, are invaluable when it comes to helping a dressage show run smoothly.

“If the scores are late going up on the board, there are any number of reasons why that’s the case,” said Holt. “It could be that the judge is having trouble with the scribe, it could be that the judge is writing
too long a comment, or it could be that the runners are not running or even walking. You’ve got to be able to
troubleshoot that and help management fix it. And you’ve got to be tactful about making them fix it if they don’t want to. You have to empower them to do the right thing.”

Holt said that she isn’t afraid to pick up her cell phone and make some calls when she runs into a situation where she’s unsure of how to proceed. “Someone can come up with a wrinkle in a rule that you had never thought of,” she said. “There are some very creative applications of the rules.”

Williams agreed, “We always bounce things off each other. She can be at a show and call me, or I can be at a show and call her. We always call each other, and you don’t have to feel stupid when you call with a question.”

One of the hot topics of dressage lately is whether or not a separate judge should be present in the warm-up at shows to monitor the riders. Holt explained that with good communication, that shouldn’t be necessary.

“The warm-up is part of the management’s parameter. The judge needs to be paying attention to what’s in the ring,” she said. “But I always welcome judges that tell me to take a look at this or keep an eye on that. The judge and technical delegate are team members. They need to be comfortable enough with each other that they can help each other out or take each other to task.”

And if someone came to Holt with a concern about the treatment of a horse, she’d be the first one to listen.

“The horse is paramount. Nothing is more important than the horse in competition,” said Holt. “Sometimes they get ignored because the competitor is competing, the judge is judging, and the manager is counting the number of rides up center-line for revenue purposes. I like to think that the technical delegates and stewards are there to keep an eye on the horse and remind people that the horse’s welfare is vital.”

Calling All Volunteers

Although it can be tough for Holt to find time to volunteer, she’s adamant about the important role volunteers play in equestrian competition.

“It’s the third sector, volunteers in this country,” she said. “They make things happen. If we didn’t have volunteers, we’d be sunk. Volunteering at a small show is really important because they have the most trouble getting people.”

Holt’s volunteer experience has ranged the gamut. She’s worked at local shows, served as the president of the RMDS, acted as the chef d’equipe for USDF Region 5 at the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships and volunteered for multiple USDF and USEF committees.

“The most rewarding thing as a volunteer is to be able to make something happen and help somebody be successful,” said Holt. “Even if it’s volunteering to groom a horse for a friend, because you’re friends and you want to be there. I did that for a friend in Arizona who was working toward her [USDF] gold medal. I went to shows as her groom, and I got to help her compete.”

Holt said with a laugh that she’ll do any volunteer job, but she’s better off not doing scoring, because “I don’t do numbers very well!”

Holt’s experience as a volunteer has also led her to appreciate volunteers, something that doesn’t always happen.

“Anytime I’m at a show, I go to the volunteers and make sure they are thanked,” said Holt. “They need to be acknowledged. Sometimes I help them figure out how to do a bit check properly. I help management understand why we do need a volunteer in this spot. Some shows are very good about giving them T-shirts or feeding them. The role of volunteer coordinator is by far the most difficult to do of the competition. We’re only destroying the sport if we don’t treat people with respect.”

Sara Lieser

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