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Cross-Country Spectating: The Rules of the Ropes
Badminton, Glos., England
by Amber Heintzberger
With record numbers of spectators turning out for the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials CCI**** this year, the cross-country course was a sea of spectators.  The galloping were are roped off, but that left the rest of Badminton Park free for roaming and the space filled up rapidly. But spectators don't come alone and walk neatly in single file: generally they come with friends and family, especially the family dog, and including young children, grandparents, disabled persons in wheelchairs, and adventurous types on bicycles who are determined to see every jump on course.

Crossing points are designated along the galloping lanes and crossing guards assist spectators in crossing at the right point in time so that the lanes are open for horses and riders. Outriders, mounted policemen, first aid and jump judges are also positioned and ready for action.

Eventing in England is not quite the mob scene as English football (that's soccer for you American readers), but a few rules of etiquette keep things running smoothly,

  • Stay outside the galloping lanes! Not only would it be rather unflattering to have hoofprints across your chest from a 1200-pound animal, you'd never live it down if you were the cause of a rider's downfall.
  • Listen to the course stewards. They're not just there to show off their tweed suits and bowler hats, and they spend a lot of hours on their feet to make sure you don't end up standing in front of a galloping horse.
  • Turn the flash off when you take photographs. There is little room for error on a course as big as Badminton, and no doubt cameras can cause distraction for horse and rider. a horse spooking at a flash burst as it gallops up to a solid wall or yawning chasm of a ditch could distract him long enough to cause a problem.
  • By all means bring the family dog - especially if you can coordinate his outfit with yours. But bring the pooper-scooper, too. Walking around with doggie doodie on your Wellies isn't going to get you a pint at the bar any quicker.
  • Keep dogs and kids on a leash. Your little Pony Clubber might enjoy dreaming that she too will gallop around and jump that course one day, but make sure she does it from the sidelines. Dogs should be kept close to their owners, and if on a retractable leash, only allowed a long line if you are in an open space. Remember, Badminton, for instance, is sponsored by Mitsubishi; there are vehicles on course, and if your leash is 16' long the driver might not realize that your dog is attached to you.
  • Put your trash in the bins. This goes without saying.
  • Play it cool. We all know that men in breeches are the hottest thing since chili peppers, but running after them for their autographs as they are talking to their trainer or groom is distracting them from their job at hand. Often riders' sponsors organize formal autograph signings, so check to see if your favorite eventing stars will be available. Otherwise make sure you approach them during their 'down time'.
  • Turn off your mobile phone! You're there to watch the action, and the ringing of a phone may distract a horse or rider. If you must take a call, set the phone to vibrate. But remember that other people paid for their tickets and don't want to listen to you tell your friends about how much fun you're having - show them your pictures later and tell them all about it with as many loud exclamations as you like.

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