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Posted by Christine Armishaw on 14/05/2020.
Ground Jury Course walk at Houghton Hall
Photos Courtesy Des Hughes

Fond Farewell to True-Blue TD Des Hughes

Des Hughes has been a familiar face at Australian and International events for the past thirty years. Getting into the game as a horse girl's dad; staying in the game and growing into the position of a highly-respected Eventing Technical Delegate (TD). But all good things must come to end, so it is with fondness we wish Des well at the end of his illustrious time as an Eventing TD.

We asked Des about his time as a TD over the years, including why he got involved, the reasons he stayed and the highlights of his TD journey.

Des Hughes has been involved with Eventing as a Technical Delegate for '30-odd years'

EA. What got you into horses and the sport of eventing in the first place?

DH. My daughter Melissa began riding in the late 80s and I shortly realised that, with only one horse, there was a lot of downtime at competitions. It was obvious that the organising committees (OCs) needed help, and so it began.

EA. What saw you become a Technical Delegate (TD)? 

DH. After being a National and FEI Steward for some years, the late Harry le Bherz noticed my presence at events. Together with my good friend Ron McCarthy, who was also reasonably new on the scene, Harry convinced both of us to train as TDs.

EA. What kept you there for 30 years? 

DH. I got to really love the sport and the people, and I realised that there were so many opportunities both at home and overseas. In 2003 was promoted to FEI Candidate TD. After taking part in the Global Education Program and meeting so many super people overseas, I began to receive invitations from abroad.

In 2005 I was promoted to FEI International TD, so the invitations kept coming from home and abroad.

Des back in the "very early days" stewarding at Taupo in NZ

EA. What were some of the highlights from your time as TD? 

DH. During the past 30 odd years, I have held many positions in the sport, including Chairman of QLD Eventing, Chairman of the QLD Disciplinary Committee, on the Board of Equestrian QLD and a 2.5-year stint on the EA Board.

I have been fortunate to be a TD in many places around the world, including Indonesia when they were emerging, the US - California, the UK of course, South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil and Ireland to name a few.

In 2014 I was appointed by the FEI to TD the South American Championships in Brazil, which was trying (including a 32-hour non-stop flight both ways). I think I am the only Australian to have done that.

In 2015 I was also appointed by the FEI to TD the Senior European Championship at the beautiful Blair Castle in Scotland (I believe only the second Antipodean to do so); an amazing experience.

I have made so many friends in OCs who have provided me with these opportunities, in particular Alec Lochore from Musketeer Event Management in the UK (who will be TD at Tokyo next year), Gillian Kyle from Ireland, and Patricia Clifton also from the UK. There are so many more that, as Officials in our sport, have also shown me tremendous support.

Des looking sharp and ready to go at Blair

EA. What were some of the challenges you faced? - How did you overcome these? 

DH. I think the most challenging thing for me to overcome was the fact that I had never been a competition rider. Yes, I rode horses on our farm many years ago, but in competition, there are so many things that you need to learn about riding, in particular how a horse's striding varies in different situations and at different obstacles.

I only learnt this from walking hundreds of cross country courses with a lot of senior riders (Heath Ryan and Guy Wallace in particular, as [my daughter] Melissa worked for these riders) and asking appropriate questions.

EA. What were some of the most interesting changes you saw during your time? 

DH. When I began as a TD, we never had such things as two-way radios, let alone one for each jump judge, so for me, safety in our sport has improved dramatically over the years and particularly in the last 10 years.

Obviously, the introduction of two-way radios has gone a long way, BUT so has the introduction of Cross Country Central Control and the use of Sector Controllers.

Just as importantly, there has been a vast improvement on cross country course design. The recent introduction of frangible devices has really made the safety of horses and athletes the top priority for all officials in our sport.

EA. Are there more or less people coming through as TDs now, compared to when you first got involved - and either way, why do you think this is? 

DH. There are definitely less people coming forward in the sport today – it is not an inexpensive exercise to train as a TD or Course Designer (CD). Very often, even back when I started, officials were not getting paid, Travelling many kilometres to events, using your own families finances, makes it very tough.

Then, of course, officials are required to maintain their status by attending seminars, which in itself can also be a costly exercise, particularly if you need to fly somewhere, pay for your accommodation and meals and of course the seminar fees.

Des pictured with fellow TDs Matthew Bates (left) and James Leva (middle) at Sydney 3DE

EA. What words of advice would you offer to someone thinking of becoming a TD? 

DH. Absolutely go for it. You meet so many wonderful people, get to travel and have so many amazing experiences.

EA. Finally, anything else you would like to share? 

DH. I just want to thank everyone in our sport from athletes, officials, organising committees and our wonderful volunteers for giving what they do to our sport – you are all amazing.

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