It’s the first time a New Zealander has had the honour of judging at equestrian sport’s pinnacle event, the Olympics, and Andrew Bennie is thrilled to have been asked.
“Obviously only three people get to do this every four years, so it really is a huge privilege,” he says.
The judges, known as the Ground Jury, preside over the whole eventing competition. They are the ones that make the decision on who gets through the horse inspections (of which there are two, one before the competition and one before the show jumping phase). The Ground Jury also judge the dressage, have final approval as to the fairness and safety of the cross-country course, and have an oversight of the jumping phases, making final calls on any appeals or overriding decisions that may have been made on the day by fence judges, time-keepers and technical delegates.
American Marilyn Payne will be the President of the Ground Jury at Rio, and the third member is Sandy Phillips (former wife of Captain Mark Phillips), an American who is based in England.
Andrew, originally from Kaitaia, represented New Zealand in eventing on many occasions, notably at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics riding Jade and also at the 1988 Seoul Olympics riding Grayshott, where he was part of the bronze-medal-winning team. He has been based in England for many years now, but still makes regular trips home to coach, especially in the Northland region.
Andrew has had a busy year with his eventing judging, presiding at the prestigious 2015 CCI4* at Luhmühlen, and has had the Olympics in the back of his mind.
“2015 has been my year! I also went to the European Eventing Championships at Blair Castle, and Burghley.
“I had to turn down Adelaide because we are only allowed to do five CCI competitions per year.”
Andrew also has recently been upgraded to a List 1 Judge for British Dressage, which means he can now judge at Grand Prix level. “I got a good report when I did my last exam two years ago, so I thought I might as well carry on and try to do the next one,” he says.
But as prestigious and grand as it sounds, it’s not going to make Andrew his fortune. He says despite what most people think, the pay is nothing to write home about.
“In Europe we get 100 euros a day. In England most events will give you one pound per horse that you judge. It doesn’t take a lot of adding up to realise you can be away for a whole week and you don’t earn a lot of money. But I enjoy doing it and it is a great honour to be involved in some of these big events, so you make those sacrifices and you try to make up the money when you are at home.”
Andrew is based at the Ingestre Stables in Stafford, where he makes a living out of coaching, predominantly at the lower levels.
“I don’t do a lot of coaching for advanced riders. The Brits have their team coaches, and the Kiwis have their team coaches, and they work with them. There are not a lot of opportunities for others to coach at that high level.”
And will his being on the judging panel help New Zealand’s chances during the event? Andrew laughs and is quick to point out that it won’t.
“I have to be totally unbiased. I have signed a declaration about conflict of interest. Obviously, I am not allowed to have any team selection influence for any country or do any training for riders or horses that could be competing in the nine months leading up to the Olympics. Nor can I be an owner or a part owner of any horse!”
There’s another article from US Eventing on Andrew that you might like to read on this link.