Dressage Today Podcast Transcript: Interview with Michelle King

Season 2, Episode 11

In this episode, sponsored by ADM, co-hosts Stephanie Ruff and Aviva Nebesky talk about their latest dressage adventures. Aviva answers a great question about where riders throw away the most points during a test in her “Ask the L” segment.

Together they interview Michelle King who is a “r” USEF Technical Delegate to learn about the role of a TD in dressage and how to become one. Michelle, better known as “Shelli,” is an Adult Amateur rider who has competed through 2nd level. She finds her legal training and mediation experience most useful for her role as a TD. In that capacity, she has travelled from Massachusetts to Florida and loves the opportunity to meet and interact with fellow horse enthusiasts.


Stephanie Ruff: [00:00:00] Hello, I’m Stephanie Ruff. And I’m Aviva Nebesky. We’re the hosts of the Dressage Today Podcast, where you can find us talking about anything and everything for dressage related. Our conversations span the world of dressage from leading riders to local level dressage heroes. We’re talking training advice, showing tips and sharing stories to inspire your own dressage journey. So tune in then tack up.

Hello, and welcome to the dressage today podcast sponsored by ADM. In today’s episode, we will learn all about being a technical delegate from small “r” TD, Michelle King. Full disclosure, Aviva and I both know Michelle, who goes by Shelly, from our respective times with VADA/Nova, which is actually the Northern Virginia chapter of the Virginia dressage association.

We are really happy she agreed to talk with us, and we think it’ll be great to see a side of horse shows that you may not actually know much. But before that, in case you haven’t heard, just a few days after recording our last podcast, Aviva had quite a dramatic accident on her horse, Leo that resulted in five broken ribs, a punctured lung and a fractured radius and ulna that required surgery. So, the important question is Aviva, how are you feeling?

Aviva Nebesky: [00:01:32] Surprisingly, really good. Yeah. It was a true accident in every sense of the word. I was on the buckle. I’m not sure, but I think Leo was stung. In the six years that I’ve owned him, he’s never bolted, and he’s never spooked like this. So, I think something happened, and when you’re on the buckle and you try to grab the reins, you’re not always really effective.

And I didn’t have very much time. And we went out the door to my indoor, and in my attempt to redirect him back into the indoor, I threw him off balance. So instead, I hit the door, and I think I scared him worse than I was scared. And as I was flying through the air, I actually said out loud, oh, this is going to be bad. But I had the wonderful opportunity to ride in an ambulance and we had to meet up in the parking lot of McDonald’s with the medic unit, because I started to crash, and they needed to start an IV and give me oxygen. And I got to go to the new hospital here in prince George’s county, the new university of Maryland shock trauma unit.

It was exciting and lots of fun. And I was very fortunate that, honestly, most of my injuries were pretty minor and the surgery went smoothly and I’m recovering quickly. And hopefully we’ll be riding again on July 29th. Didn’t even need a chest tube. My lungs repaired themselves. The fractured ribs are repairing themselves and I have figured out how to do absolutely everything around the farm.

Quote, non-weight bearing except for riding, leading horses and picking feet.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:03:20] Okay. And you broke your left arm, correct?

Aviva Nebesky: [00:03:24] Yes. And I’m right-handed so I was lucky the last time I got hurt, I broke my right shoulder and that was bad.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:03:29] So at least you still have your dominant hand.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:03:33] I do. I do. And my helmet was on. And I’m not sure if I had been wearing a vest, if I might’ve been in better shape or worse shape. I have a feeling that the sound of the explosion, when it opened, might’ve scared Leo even worse. When I managed to do inventory and stand up, cause of course, I was alone and not expecting anybody for hours. Poor Leo was standing halfway down the driveway. And I called him, and the sweet thing was so scared. He came trotting up to me and I grabbed the rein with my right hand and got him into the barn and put him in his stall and went to take off his bridle. And I don’t know if anybody has ever tried to take off a bridle one handed, but honestly you can’t undo those buckles.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:04:21] No, I guess you can’t. Now that you mentioned that no, I bet you can’t undo that.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:04:26] But you know what, my horse, for everything in the world, I talk about how difficult he is and everything else. But when the things get tough, he really steps up. He stood there while I used my teeth and just stood there like a statue and let me rattle off what a good boy.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:04:45] Oh man.

And as a true horse person, you’re suffering from major injuries, but you’re taking care of your horse.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:04:51] Yeah, I couldn’t leave him in the stall with his bridle on, could i?

Stephanie Ruff: [00:04:54] No, of course not.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:04:54] That’s dangerous.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:04:55] Of course. No, that’s what we horse people do.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:04:59] I will admit that’s right. I will admit I did leave his saddle on, but I called my husband and said he needed to come down and he took the saddle off and then called nine one one.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:05:11] And then called nine one one.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:05:12] Absolutely. And again, I was very fortunate in the general scheme of things. I didn’t lose consciousness. My helmet protected my head. Didn’t break my back. Horrible things could have happened. If I had the door open just a little bit more instead of hitting the door, which had a little bit of give to it.

I would have hit the four-by-four posts that pulled up my indoor that stumped into concrete. And I don’t think I would be recording right now if that had happened. I’m going to be incapacitated for about six weeks, which when you’re 63 years old, six weeks really isn’t that much of a period of time in your life.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:05:50] It goes fast.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:05:52] It does. So, let’s move along from that because that’s not interesting.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:05:58] We are very glad that you’re okay. I think I can speak for everyone.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:06:03] I just wanted to let all of the listeners know, I do want to let all the listeners know that this was not Leo’s fault and that I’m not holding a grudge and that yes, I’m planning on getting back on him.And I’m not even afraid because I know what an anomaly, this is so it just put that out there.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:06:21] Okay, good to know. Very good to know.

But yes, I actually, then, I have nothing nearly as dramatic to talk about. Fortunately, I’m okay with that. But circling back to our last conversation in the last podcast that kind of was about saddle pads and then started to drift a little bit into sun shirts. I have a follow-up story for that and.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:06:45] Oh, cool.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:06:46] Yeah. It’s not an addiction, but it is definitely a thing I had to go and do because I bought two new pairs of full seat tights that were on clearance because I’m on a budget and they were on clearance because they were discontinued colors and I’m not so sure that they were particularly popular colors to begin with.

Well, either that, they’re not colors I would have normally. One is a plum and one is a pretty bright, Royal blue, which is a little brighter than I would like on the bottom half of my body, but, whatever, but I liked the price and I liked everything else about them. So, I bought them. But because these are

Aviva Nebesky: [00:07:31] Good for you.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:07:31] Yes. Yeah. I really needed them. Anyway. Since these were colors that I had, nothing of course I didn’t have any shirts to go with them. And while I am not strictly a matchy-matchy person, I don’t want to be all clashy clashy. So, I was like, oh, I’ve got to go find something I can wear with these breeches.

But of course, luckily here in Florida, we have, like our entire wardrobes are quick, dry clothing and sun shirts because of you know, that’s what it is here. So, I can just go to the local store and shop the fishing section. And there are a gazillion different kinds of shirts. So, I went to, a store here, shopped their clearance racks, and found some really great deals in colors that match my now plum and Royal blue full seat tights.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:08:23] Good for you. Now Stephanie you need to get saddle pads and wraps.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:08:32] Right. Yeah. Okay. We’ll work on that. We’ll work on. I don’t know you should, I should send you what I can do. I can send you pictures of my tights, and you can see if you have saddle pads in your collection that are that color.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:08:45] Okay. That’ll work well, slide in with that, how we had the whole discussion about I bought the yellow saddle pad.

Yes. So, after I got hurt a group of women that I teach monthly in, in clinics in Virginia, they got together, and they sent me a get-well gift. And it’s a sun shirt in yellow with galloping horses on it. And it’s a get well present and it matches my saddle pad.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:09:12] There you go. There you go. So now we have new sun shirts to wear.

We have new outfits that, and you’ll have to, you’ll have to. When you get back on and start riding again, you’ll have to get a picture of you riding with your saddle pad and your matching sun shirt, but no galloping horses for a while.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:09:32] Yeah, no galloping horses. I will also tell you back to the whole addiction of saddle pads and all the rest of it. nSo when I was in shock trauma, I, the broken ribs were really very painful. And I was wearing one of my favorite sun shirts, actually a golf shirt. And a pair of really old, but very loved breeches. And I looked at them and they looked at me and I said, cut them off. That’s how much pain I was in. I said, cut them off. And I tried to replace the sun shirt and they don’t make it anymore. So, you know what I did? I bought three other ones instead to make up for it.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:10:14] You got a little retail therapy to make you feel better.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:10:19] Exactly.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:10:21] We are expanding our sun shirt collections.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:10:23] And now we’re not, I’m no more saddle pads and no more sun shirts. And if I do, I’m not telling, oh,

Stephanie Ruff: [00:10:29] okay. Okay. You’re going to go back and you’re going to go back in and hide from that and not let anybody know.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:10:35] No. And anybody who sees me with anything and says, Ooh, is that new? I’m going to say no.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:10:40] I just dug it out of the closet. It was in the bottom of the closet.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:10:43] The irony is that the day before I got hurt, I had a lesson and I decided to do the matchy matchy thing and I have a beautiful Sage green. I think it’s an equestrian Stockholm, but I can’t really remember which one it is, but it’s a beautiful saddle pad with matching.

Boots for the horse. And I wore that for my lesson, with a contrasting green pair of britches and a black shirt. And my trainer who is not particularly into bling or matchy-matchy was so incredibly impressed with how gorgeous we were. Oh, that was my last lesson before I got hurt. We went out with a bang.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:11:26] That’s right.

in this, week’s ask the L question. I am very excited to hear your answer to this one, because this is one area where I know everyone can improve upon. And the question comes from Kate, and it is where do you see people throw away points the most? And then as a follow-up question, what should they do to try and prevent that unnecessary loss of points?

Aviva Nebesky: [00:12:10] You know what? I have continued to judge, even while I got hurt. And I keep saying this to my scribes, the thing that I see people throw points away the most is lack of accuracy. People who just don’t know their tests. And so they approximate or guess. So, if you are riding a training level test, let’s take training level tests three and you canter and you make your 20 meter circle.

And then the transition back to the trot is at A, it’s not a K it’s not 20 feet before A. It’s not six feet after A. It’s at a, and if you’re late with that transition, then when you’re supposed to make the transition to your Medium walk between A and K guess what? Your transition to the walk is going to be late.

So I am consistently saying in my comments, things like balanced transition, but late, or even, sometimes, the thing that’s so hard about riding in a show setting is that you have to not only ride your test, but you have to ride your horse. So you have to be able to multitask. You have to be able to ride your horse within the movement that you’re you are in, but you need to be thinking ahead and preparing for the next movement. So I see so many people. Who ride a movement and then suddenly go, oh crap, I need to do something. And then they pull on the reins and they do this really abrupt, hollow, horrible, downward transition.

So, the horse is completely out of balance and then they struggle to get the horse back into balance, and then they don’t have enough time to get the horse really back on the aids to do the next movement. And so every single test movement, they’re a little bit behind the eight ball. So riding an accurate test, being aware is so many people learn tests and they learn I’m going to go down to center line and then I’m going to track, right, and then I’m going to make a 20 meter circle at B. And then I’m going to go around the short side and across the diagonal and canter. But they’re not really learning the test and what I recommend, and that riders do are, and Jane Savoie used to talk about this a lot, our bodies don’t know the difference between actually performing an activity and the imagery of performing an activity.

So, I tell my riders, before you go to bed at night, ride your test, close your eyes, lie down pictures. The arena that you’re going to be competing in, or if you’ve never been to that venue, picture an arena and ride your test. And it’s not okay, I’m going down the center line and I’m tracking, right. It’s I’m heading down the line.

I feel my horse underneath me. My legs are evenly soft against his sides. My hands are reaching forward. I’m planning on doing a little collection. I’m lifting up my rib cage, a little close of the hand sink into the saddle. I’m halting. I’m putting both reins into my left hand and dropping my right hand. I’m nodding at the judge.

I’m watching to make sure that the judge acknowledges me as I’m picking up the rein. And then I slide my leg back just a little bit, push my hips forward and ask my horse to move off straight. So for me, imagining riding the test generally takes at least twice as long as the test actually takes. But by the end of that, I’ve ridden the test once.

And if you do that Every night, three weeks before you go to a show, you’ve now ridden your test 21 times, and you’ve hard wired in a lot of stuff for your body, so that when your nerves kick in your body still remembers things and you are a lot more prepared for things. Yeah. Especially at the lower levels, accuracy is the single biggest thing that I see people throw points away on.

The second biggest thing that I see is a lack of forward energy. And, we all joke about the little 12 hand pony that is, is riding intro A in the big arena. And, you can go out to the drive-through and get something to eat and come back. And the pony is still walking across the full diagonal in free walk.

And, we laugh about it, honestly, a lot of those ponies are moving forward a lot more than the adult amateurs are moving forward. And I recognize that. Forward is an intimidating feel. And that we feel that if we hold our horses a little bit tighter we have better control, but honestly, the more forward your horse goes, the less chance there is of your horse doing something naughty, the more concentrated on you the horse is, and the more engaged the horse is.

And again, talking about forward, isn’t talking about tempo or speed. It’s talking about engagement of the hind legs. It’s talking about power of pushing, and we want to see that at all the levels, even starting at Intro. Horses need to, the first thing of the training pyramid is rhythm and relaxation.

And that’s a horse that is moving freely forward through the back. So Kate, in answer to your question, learn to ride an accurate test, practice your test as much as you can. Not only literally sitting on your horse and riding it, we all say, oh, I don’t want to do that because my horse is going to memorize the test.

Most horses don’t memorize the test. And sometimes the horses that memorize the test really bail you out because you’re not doing what you need to be doing. Ride the test in your head, ride the test on your horse and think about trusting your horse to go forward with the energy that you need so that every movement flows.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:18:09] Yeah. Visualization is a powerful tool. I, when I was showing a lot, I definitely did that. I did exactly what you said, like how you put your aids on what you do, where you’re, where are you looking? What’s your horse feeling oh, this is something my horse usually struggles with.

So I have to do that. Yeah. And you’re right. It takes a lot longer to ride it in your mind, but it does make a difference. It really does.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:18:34] And then, there’s a lot of debates. Some people say, practice riding perfectly because perfect practice makes perfect performance. And other people say, if you are fearful about certain things fix them. And I don’t know that I recommend doing that when you’re practicing test riding. But if there are things that you’re fearful about with your horse I know that when I used to ride my horse, Freddy, when he was first broke, he was a bucker.

And I started riding as an adult. And so when he started bucking, I tried to sit back and wait for him to stop bucking. And I was talking to a friend who was an event rider and she said what do you do when he bucks? And I said I grabbed my bucking strap and I sit back and I wait for him to stop.

And she looked at me and she said why don’t you yank his head up and kick him and make him stop bucking. And I looked at her and in all honesty, I said, you can do that? I started as an adult and it never occurred to me that I could have that much influence on my horse. So I started practicing riding bucks before I went to bed at night because my instinct was to go basically into fetal position.

I was starting to teach myself how to come out of fetal position and at least lean back. But I started imagining my horse bucking and leaning back and grabbing one rein or the other and kicking him. And I did that over and over and over again. And eventually it became a more natural reaction to me.

Now, when I sit on a bucking horse, of course, my first instinct is always to go into fetal position. My second reaction is get out of that fetal position. Sit back, yanked the rein and kick your horse. And it has really stood me in good stead. So for those of you who start thinking about, oh, maybe I should practice riding through all the mistakes my horse makes. Don’t do that when practicing your test. Do that separately.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:20:32] Very good advice once again. So if you have a question about showing or judging, feel free to email me at or reach out to us on DT social media.

When we return, we’ll have our conversation with Michelle King.

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Michelle King, who received her dressage RTD license in 2014, is an adult amateur rider who has competed through second level. She has been on VADA Nova’s board of directors since 2004, including a three-year stint as president, is currently vice president of the Virginia dressage association, and serves on the USDF TD committees, is vice chair of the USDF rules advisory working group, and a member of the U S E F rules advisory working group. She has been a U S D F P M delegate on and off for a number of years.

Michelle retired in 2010 after working for the federal government for over 30 years. For most of her career, she worked at a federal law enforcement agency serving as an HR program manager and the associate chief counsel for administration.

She finds her legal training and mediation experience most useful for her role as a TD. In that capacity, she has traveled from Massachusetts to Florida and loves the opportunity to meet and interact with fellow horse enthusiasts.

Michelle, I want to thank you so much for joining us today. I can’t wait to learn about all things TD oriented.

But before, before we get into the nitty-gritty of that, could you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in horses and then more specifically in dressage?

Michelle King: [00:23:33] Sure. I grew up as an animal loving and in particular horse loving kid in a family that did not like animals very much. And so all horse, crazy kids, we do what we can to ride and what my parents thought going to summer camp would be a good thing.

I said only if there are horses. And so after I think one year at summer camp, I stopped doing everything but hanging around the horses and became a barn brat. We rode Western and played Cowboys and had a great time. And I did that till I was 15, old enough to have to get a paid summer job. Stopped riding always loved horses.

And when I was getting ready to go to college, I looked at the school’s requirements and there was a PE requirement and I’m not the world’s most physical person. And I studied further and I discovered horseback riding met that criteria. So I signed up with enthusiasm and I actually decided to take some lessons the summer before.

Cause I had never ridden. So I did it and I loved it. And I then stopped for the rest of my college years and went to law school and moved to DC and ran into friends who were trail riding in rock Creek park. So they invited me along and the owner said, You haven’t been on a horse in a while. You better take lessons.

So I did, and I did the hunter jumper stuff, then I evented a little, and then the fences got big and scary. I said, let’s keep all the horse’s legs on the ground. So welcome to dressage.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:25:28] That happens to a lot of us,

Michelle King: [00:25:31] especially as we get older.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:25:33] Exactly. So then can you tell us exactly what is a technical delegate and why is it an important part of a horse show?

Michelle King: [00:25:48] So a technical delegate is a U S E F U S equestrian Federation, licensed official. And I explain it to people by saying we’re the referee or the umpire. I’m not quite right, but a general sense, but basically our job is to protect the welfare of the horse to ensure that there is a level playing field for all competitors and help show management and judges apply the rules fairly to all competitors.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:26:35] What made you decide to go into being a technical delegate? I know there’s so many rules. What? That, it just feels overwhelming to me.

Michelle King: [00:26:44] I knew I was heading towards retirement. I had worked for the federal government, ultimately for 32 years. I’m a lawyer by training and also did a lot of HR work. So I did mediation, which I really enjoy. And I knew I was showing, but not enough to ever think that being a judge was my future retirement career paths.

But when I thought about my skillsets and my legal background, coupled with some of the mediation other things I had done I thought that might be a good fit. And so I just started pursuing the prerequisites and then it seemed like it was a good fit.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:27:34] So what does a TD do before, during and after a show? I know that there’s more than just being on the show grounds. What else is involved?

Michelle King: [00:27:42] We review prize lists ahead of time to help show management. We’re a resource for show management for judges and for competitors and actually probably less so with judges, but competitors and show management we’re there before the show, as well as during the show. Sometimes show management gets questions about equipment and they’ll have the competitor contact the TD. We reviewed the prize list to make sure that the schedule is within the rules and that there’s the assigned judges are at the level to judge the classes they’ve been assigned and all the way up to classes that are qualifiers for national championships and the festival.

Do you have the right judges? Are they running the right tests? So all that’s the pre-show work a lot of calls from management on, can we do this? And what about that at the show, we train the ring stewards and we’re there as a resource to them when they do their equipment checks. We, if not measure the rings, we eyeball all the rings to make sure they’re the size they need to be and not cattywampus.

And sometimes the letters are lo and behold are loose. Yeah. It happens a lot after a lunchtime drag break. When you think everything was fine. And then it’s oh dear. We walk the competition grounds. As Aviva knows we are a resource for judges. If they have any questions about something they see in their ring they call us.

So management uses us to problem solve. There’s been a thunderstorm. The show has to get put on hold. We work with show management about that. And then how do we reschedule? And what do we do if there’s no lighting and it was a three hour hold and now we’re looking dark. No lights. Okay. Maybe we better run the classes that are qualifiers first. It’s that kind of collaborative effort to make sure what we’re doing within the rules is within the rules, but best serves the competitors, the horses and show management. And then after the show reports we’re required to do a very comprehensive report on the competition and that’s actually available once it gets reviewed and it gets posted on the U S equestrian Federation’s website, and anybody can read, research a show by competition number and see how it did in terms of complying with all the rules.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:30:48] Oh, wow. So what’s the most common kind of question you get from a competitor?

Michelle King: [00:30:55] Tack and dress.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:30:59] I was going to say jacket colors nowadays, right?

Michelle King: [00:31:02] But that’s going to change. That’s going to change. Yes, it is. Yes. There’s new dress rules coming out december 1st, I believe breeches can now be dark as well.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:31:18] Really?

Michelle King: [00:31:19] Really. For those slobs, like who don’t do well in white breeches, I’m thinking. Yeah. Like grey, medium gray. So lots of changes and that’s the key is keeping current and all the rules. There are certain things. Competitors remember that haven’t been in effect forever bits of mixed metals sticks in people’s minds.

And that has not been a rule since I’ve been a TD. So it’s pretty funny. The things you still hear.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:31:53] I thought that was still a rule. Okay.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:31:58] Now, even you’ve learned something Aviva.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:32:00] Absolutely.

Michelle King: [00:32:02] That’s what we’re here for. That’s right. I think I view the job is one of education and sometimes you’ve got toeliminate, well, the show has to eliminate a competitor. Sometimes you just can’t avoid it. The rule is that clear, but wherever we can educate that’s the goal.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:32:24] Yeah. Yeah. Things like boots on and blood

Michelle King: [00:32:29] blood. And when you, and isn’t there, there’s an opportunity to educate because sometimes the blood is, the horse kicked themselves and just interfered. But when you explain to a competitor, the public perception, and the fact that the horses can’t speak for themselves.

And where do you draw the line about, some gushing wound versus something that, so there are certain things that have to be black and white. And if you can, I always find that if you can explain to people the why and the rationale and use it to educate they’re much more. They’re not happy if they’re eliminated, but at least they’re understanding.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:33:19] Now are you able to actually eliminate riders or do judges do it, or do you both have your own different ways of elimination?

Michelle King: [00:33:26] So it’s a great question. We TDS never get to eliminate. We are advisors only. So inside the sandbox, it’s the judge. And only the judge and outside the sandbox, it is competition management. So if a judge misses something during a test, but a ring steward during the normal equipment checks, sees blood, sees an upside down spur, a whip measures too long.

Then at that point they need. They would call me over and I would call competition management, brief them on the rule. And all I can do is advise if the rule is very clear that it should be an elimination. And if competition management doesn’t want to do it. The sometimes not so pleasant tasks, then my responsibility would be to note that in my report.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:34:35] Okay.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:34:37] And so can you then, can you, as the TD approach riders directly and can riders approach you directly or does it have to go through management?

Michelle King: [00:34:49] So the easiest. I think the answer is yes, on both ends and certainly every TD I’ve worked with. And it’s my way of operating as well. We want competitors to approach us.

And in fact, one of the things I’m on the U S D F T D committee. And one of the things that we came up with was a little sign that we post a little flyer that we post at shows where the scoreboard and other signs are, where we say hi, the TD for this show is you fill in your name and number and explain what we’re there for.

Protect the welfare of the horse, Advise competitors and show management, enforce rules and encourage people to call us with any questions. I, we routinely walk through the barns, it’s a good way to see what the equipment looks like, but it’s also just. To get a pulse of the show. Are the competitors happy?

I’ll say how’s your day going? Everything good? Any concerns? So yeah, I think being proactive and being out there and a friendly face that people know they can approach me. Yes.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:36:09] I was going to say, I bet that probably makes a big difference that you are a visible presence just wandering around and yeah, like you said, taking that proactive stance and making yourself available that probably makes a big difference and is, makes it not quite so intimidating then, especially maybe to a new rider or someone new to showingat that level.

Michelle King: [00:36:31] Absolutely. I think we wrote a few years ago, the TD committee wrote an article for the USDF magazine on the job of a TD. And I don’t remember if we ended up doing this, but there was a line that said, Oh, no, watch out here comes the police, you don’t want people to start like, uh oh. What did I do wrong?

Stephanie Ruff: [00:36:55] Right, exactly.

Michelle King: [00:36:56] Coming up through the ranks. I think making yourself accessible and friendly and interested hopefully we take away some of that perception and put forward the view that we’re there to help everybody.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:37:10] Most of my experiences with TDS have been very pleasant and, the kind of thing is that you said, wandering through the barn and saying, good morning, and how’s your show going?

And I’ve found most TDS to be very approachable with things like, I know that coats were waived. Am I really allowed to wear a black shirt with my white britches? Yeah.

Michelle King: [00:37:31] Another hold over. Yeah. Shirts can be any color. Yes, that’s one of the other ones absolutely

Aviva Nebesky: [00:37:41] ended the whole thing with what you can have on a saddle pad and what you can have on your shirt in terms of advertising and who can advertise, just getting that confirmation, the confirmation that my spur is an acceptable spur, not too long, not in the wrong direction, not something that’s not allowed.

I think that finding somebody that just can confirm that just takes the pressure off a little bit. And, it’s and for people like you, who are just so friendly and open, it’s just so easy to ask that question. So thank you.

Michelle King: [00:38:14] That’s what we hope, it brings up a good point. When you ask about approaching competitors, I always have to think twice about well when.

So logos are really tricky matter. And I’m like, somebody in the middle of warmup. Is now a good time to talk to them? But on the other hand, you could have a judge that might be concerned about a logo. So it’s always assessing the situation and trying to make some judgment calls. Yeah.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:38:53] What’s the strangest or most unusual question you’ve ever been asked?

Michelle King: [00:38:57] I don’t know about. I’ve had crazy situation,

Stephanie Ruff: [00:39:04] Okay, what crazy situations have you had that you can share?

Michelle King: [00:39:08] I had an owner that almost assaulted a judge who rang the horse out for being lame. And I, she came up to me with her finger in my face saying we have a problem and you have to fix it.

And after a while, she was I’m a doctor. I know what lame is, and I’m going to show you all and I on and on. At one point I followed the protocol and asked her if she wanted to have a meeting with the judge and I would be there and we walked through the rules and how it’s the judge’s final and ultimate and non reviewable decision on soundness in the ring . She’s on and on that’s stupid.

And why isn’t there a vet. And at some point she finally says that horse isn’t lame. He just was born with one leg shorter than the other. At that point we went, okay. That might be a problem pursuing dressage.

When we Closed our mouths. We thought at that point, we just needed to end the conversation. That was one of my more interesting moments. I had a show manager who became incredibly belligerent with me. One of the things we do is measure ponies. We’re certified to do that. And we have to do to keep our license.

And she had a students pony that had recently been imported and obviously was not inexpensive. And the pony wasn’t a pony and she was just belligerent that I ruined the value of that animals price for the rest of its life. And it got so intense that I wrote that up in detail and she got fined by. USEF.

Yeah. So I’ve had some, but then I helped someone and problem solve. So you’ve got the good and the bad.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:41:26] No, of course like, like everything.

Michelle King: [00:41:31] No two shows and no two days are alike. So it keeps it interesting.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:41:36] Sure. What’s the process of becoming a TD? How difficult is it? How much education and training is required?

Michelle King: [00:41:44] It’s pretty extensive. There’s a long list of prerequisites that basically are in place to make sure people have a solid background in the sport. So you have to be, and they change. I think they just got revised recently. So I’m not gonna give any exact requirements here that I can refer you to where you would find the most current, but you’ve got to be involved in show management, either as a manager or a secretary or an assistant.

You have to have been a ring steward, I think a couple of times, and score and do numerous volunteer assignments. And that’s the prerequisite. That’s to get accepted into the training programs. Once you’re accepted in the training program, then it’s primarily a matter of apprenticing. Okay. And that’s just on-site training.

And once you complete that and assuming do the right number of shows and the right level, and some have to be out of your state and some have to be out of your region. And then you get evaluated by everybody you apprenticed with and all the show managers of the shows. If all of that is okay, you then get to take an exam, an extensive written exam, then you pass that and then you get to be a TD.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:43:19] And is there continuing education for you as well? Things that you’re required to do to keep the license?

Michelle King: [00:43:24] Yeah, there’s a clinic requirement every three years, as well as a recertification of your pony measurements. And that’s a hands-on practical exam where we go out. And they line up a barn for us to go to.

And the last time I did it, it was in the snowy freezing temperatures of salt lake, outside Salt Lake City where we couldn’t find the markings on the ponies because their coats were so thick, dressage horses don’t look like this. And then if you’re crazy enough, you start out and you’re a small “r” t D and then if you’re crazy enough, like I’m in the middle of doing now, you decide what the heck might as well put in for promotion?

So you start the process all over again.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:44:17] Oh my goodness. Becoming a lawyer was probably easier.

Michelle King: [00:44:21] I don’t know about the bar exam, although I was pretty panicked about taking my test. I kept saying I haven’t taken a test in 30 years or so.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:44:35] Having terrified us, why would anybody want to do this?

Michelle King: [00:44:46] If you like being involved in horse shows, getting to meet people? We have to get hired by the shows. So you have to get known and as you get more known. The universe that you get to work expands. One of my most exciting things I think I was I was the TD for what I think was the first dressage show that started up after the pandemic freeze. There were other shows that weekend, but this one started on Friday, so we’re pretty convinced we were the first show back. That was in Minnesota. I think they couldn’t find anybody else stupid enough or not afraid to work. And I knew the show manager from working with her in Florida. So she called me up and I flew to Minnesota.

And so I feel like that was a contribution to the sport. That was important for me to make. And I think that’s why I TD. I love dressage. I love horses. I think what we do is important. And I think there needs to be people who make sure we do it right.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:46:02] And obviously you are one of those people.

Michelle King: [00:46:05] I try.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:46:07] And we’re grateful to have you in our region up here. Thank you, Shelly.

Michelle King: [00:46:12] You’re welcome.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:46:15] Well, and this has been very educational for me. I’ve learned something. Aviva I think you’ve learned something.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:46:22] Yeah.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:46:24] And hopefully our listeners have learned something and Shelly if people do want to find out more about it or how to get started and stuff, what websites, where should they go?

Michelle King: [00:46:39] So right now, the function of licensing rests always has and still does rest with USEF, the equestrian Federation. But the education piece is now in the hands of USDF. So there’s actually information on both websites, but to find the prerequisites, there’s a document on the USEF site. I believe if you click where the rule book is, there’s a tile for it. But I know if you Google, it’s called the policies and procedures manual, and that contains the path of becoming a licensed official for every discipline from course designer to Western dressage judge, to. Dressage judges and technical delegates, and that lists the prerequisites and the requirements once you’re in the training programs.

So that’s the best starting point, but there’s a lot of great education for technical delegate resources on the U S DF website, the policies and procedures manual would be on USEF, but USDF has a lot of good education material on the role of a T D.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:48:03] Okay, great. We certainly appreciate you coming on with us today and sharing your wealth of knowledge and we really appreciate you taking your time.

Michelle King: [00:48:15] It was great. It was fun.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:48:16] Thanks you, Shelley.

Michelle King: [00:48:17] Yeah, it was fun.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:48:19] Great. Thank you so much.

Michelle King: [00:48:22] Okay. Have a great evening.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:48:25] Thanks again to Michelle King for talking with us today and thanks also to ADM our sponsor for this episode.

Thanks for listening to the Dressage Today Podcast. If you’ve missed any episodes or to subscribe, go to apple podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, please rate and review the show. Learn more and read in-depth training articles at, or you can visit our subscription video site Be sure to give us a follow on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Happy riding and we’ll see you at X. The Dressage Today Podcast is a production of the Equine Podcast Network and entity of Equine Network, LLC.






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