Learning All the Moving Parts: What Does A Steward Do?


  • January 23, 2018
  • By Allan Reznik

Learning All the Moving Parts: Stewards. 

*From the January 2018 Issue of ShowSight. Publishers note: Each month Allan Reznick examines a different component that helps make a dog show run smoothly. This is a wonderful monthly column for people looking to get more involved in their club, put on a show, or anyone who's new to the fancy and wants to learn more about the sport. 

Whether a club chooses to hire a stewards association or make use of its own members as volunteers, efficient and knowledgeable stewards play a huge role in the smooth running of any show. We assembled a panel of three longtime stewards to shed light on the skills needed to expertly perform this job. Sulie Greendale–Paveza of Hamden, Connecticut, in addition to being a multi–Group judge, has stewarded for 33 years, is a member of the Stewards Club of America, has been an officer of several all–breed and specialty clubs, and has served as chief ring steward many times. Jerome Elliott of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has stewarded for 25 years, is a member of the Eastern Stewards Club, a Board member of the York Kennel Club for the past five years, and has served as past show chairman of the Willamette Valley Saluki Club among other organizations. Cindy Knox of Aurora, Colorado, has stewarded for more than 30 years, been chief ring steward for national specialties and large (20–plus rings) all–breed shows for more than 20 years, and has served as president of an all–breed kennel club for a decade.

What do you consider the most important responsibilities of a ring steward?

For Greendale–Paveza, it’s keeping the ring moving so the judge stays on time; asking a judge’s preferences first thing (e.g. where do they want the dogs brought in, where would they like the table and ramp); distributing armbands correctly; asking the judge’s preferred beverage before judging starts so that when Hospitality comes around you already know and don’t have to interrupt the judge; assisting new exhibitors and having ribbons and trophies ready for the judge to 
hand out.

Elliott emphasizes that a good steward should be able to multi–task. You must distribute armbands, call the classes into the ring and pull ribbons to be handed out for all classes. 
You must accurately provide the numbers of absentees to your judge so that counts are correct, and at the same time you must be aware of late arrivals, handler changes, accidents requiring clean–up and other surprises. He adds that “In some cases, you must remind the judge to keep track of calling back second–place awards for Reserve Winners, make sure that Selects are given out and help keep the ring running on schedule when there are photos being taken or 
breaks needed.”

What qualities should a good ring steward possess?

“Patience, patience, patience!”, says Knox. “A steward needs the ability to easily multi–task, moving from one job to the next and back again, seamlessly.”

Elliott says, “An individual must be both organized and focused. There will be a million distractions all day long each day, and it is your duty to remain focused to keep your ring running smoothly, regardless of what may be happening around you.”

Greendale–Paveza emphasizes “A pleasant disposition, patience, an understanding of ring procedure and a voice loud enough to call in the exhibitors.”

What misconceptions do exhibitors have about ring stewards, and how could they make the stewards’ 
job easier?

“The ring steward cannot change your class, move your dog up to Best of Breed or change the order of your time in the ring,” says Greendale–Paveza. “Exhibitors could make the job easier by reporting absentees. The worst offenders in this regard are the professional handlers!”

For Knox, the biggest misconception is that a steward can somehow have some weight in the way a judge adjudicates the exhibits in the ring. Nothing could be further from the truth. The most important thing an exhibitor can do is come to the ring with your dog at least five minutes before you are scheduled to show and have the correct armband on for the dog you are showing. If you are showing multiple dogs, make arrangements beforehand to have someone standing ringside and ready to walk in the ring or switch dogs with you. Knox also wishes exhibitors would understand that the time to talk to a judge at length is not while the next class is waiting to come in the ring. Politely ask the steward if the judge is willing to speak with them and if so, when.

The biggest misconception exhibitors have, in Elliott’s experience, is that they think the steward should know what class they are supposed to be in. Over the course of handing out more than a hundred armbands, it is not typically possible to remember which person had what armband and many exhibitors fail to realize how much juggling the steward must do. It’s always a good idea to know what class you’re in, know the order of the classes and be there when you 
are needed.

Do judges have any misconceptions about the duties 
of stewards?

Over his 25 years of stewarding, Elliott has observed that within the judges’ ranks, it varies from complete familiarity to much less familiarity. “Experienced stewards can try to gauge the level of familiarity early in the day so that you’re aware of how much guidance will be required from you to keep the day moving along at the 
required pace.”

Elliott adds, “Many judges have a very set pattern of how and where they want a class called into the ring, which makes it much simpler for the steward. Some vary the pattern based on whether there is an entry of one (‘straight on the table’) or more than one (lining up here or there). Other judges seemingly change their procedure with each class which makes stewarding for them a greater challenge.”

Does your stewards association or kennel club allow stewards to exhibit on the same day(s) that they steward?

All our panelists responded that their stewards are permitted to do so as long as they are not stewarding for any of the judges to whom they will be showing, until they have finished showing for the day. Well–organized chief ring stewards are careful to make sure that those individuals have no contact with a judge beforehand.

Has stewarding become more complicated with the introduction of new awards like Best Owner–Handled?

“Stewarding has absolutely become more complicated as a result,” says Elliott. “The York Kennel Club has Owner–Handled and Bred–by–Exhibitor Groups at one of our shows, and Owner–Handled combined with Puppy Groups at the other. Additionally, we have a sponsor that offers different trophies on different days and those cards must be distributed by the judge with the ribbons for the ‘class of the day.’ It can be very complicated which is why a well–trained steward is so important.”

“Many exhibitors do their own entries, check the O–H box, then choose to have a non–family member show the dog,” says Greendale–Paveza. “It has improved over time but when the O–H groups were first initiated, it was a nightmare! The addition of the asterisks has been helpful but it is 
not foolproof.”

Knox notes that “Best Owner–Handled, Best Puppy, Best Veteran, etc., are very favorably received by clubs and exhibitors but it’s important to recognize that these also add length to the day of stewards, judges and 
exhibitors alike.”

How often do you work with two stewards assigned to each ring… almost always, most of the time, some of the time, or almost never?

“Sometimes we assign a trainee to an experienced steward or, if we have someone very new, or aging, we may pair them up with someone. It is decided on an individual basis; there is no rule,” says Greendale–Paveza. “However, except at shows like Orlando, I prefer to work alone.”

The answer is “almost always,” for Knox, “But sometimes there just aren’t enough volunteers to go around and so some of us will run a ring solo. When this happens it is even more critical that exhibitors and judges are polite and understand that you cannot give them their armband number while simultaneously calling in the next class.”

Elliott replies with a one–word answer: “Never!”

Have you come up with any “tricks” over the years (organization of armbands for multiple breeds, etc.) to make the job go more smoothly?

“Keep each breed separate with rubber bands and put the armbands in piles, separated by the ring times,” advises Greendale–Paveza. “Leave the after–lunch armbands in the steward’s bag until after the lunch break. Those who pick them up early tend to lose them, then you have to hunt through the absentees’ armbands to (hopefully) 
find the same number, or you have to make them a generic armband… all of which takes time away from 
your duties.”

Knox has a tool box that she takes with her when she stewards. It contains extra rubber bands, lint roller, scissors, extra pens, highlighter, paper clips, wipes, safety pins, hard candy, needle and thread… all the things that might be needed in the course of a day.

Elliott’s mantras are “Focus, focus, focus!” and “Call and pull. Call the armband numbers into the class, make sure they’re all present, pull the ribbons for the class and place them near the judge’s book. Never change this procedure and you’ll never worry about it not being done!”

He adds, “Before judging begins, make sure you understand your judge’s preference on how to handle the various situations that will present themselves, particularly with regard to placement of the class as it is called into the ring, handler changes and how to address them, clean–up and how to handle that, and timeliness and how your judge prefers that you keep the classes coming.”

What advice would you give exhibitors and kennel club members interested in learning to steward?

Many stewards clubs offer wonderful mentorship and apprentice programs. You can also ask your local kennel club to put on a stewards class; it is a great educational event and always useful. “Apprentice with an experienced steward and make sure you have a clear understanding of the entire procedure before you venture out alone,” advises Greendale–Paveza. 

For more than four decades, Allan Reznik has been immersed in the world of purebred dogs: as a breeder, exhibitor, award–winning journalist, editor, broadcaster and occasional judge. He has been the Editor–in–Chief of multiple show dog publications, all of which have won national magazine awards from the Dog Writers Association of America while under his stewardship. In 2011, he won the prestigious Arthur F. Jones Award for Best Editorial Column of the Year, given by the Alliance of Purebred Dog Writers. Allan appears regularly on national TV and radio discussing all aspects of responsible dog ownership and is quoted widely in newspapers and magazines. He has successfully bred and exhibited Afghan Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Tibetan Spaniels, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Afghan Hound Club of America and the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America. He is a member of the Morris & Essex Kennel Club, the Western Hound Association of Southern California, the Gateway Hound Club of St. Louis (charter member) and his two local all–breed 
kennel clubs.

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