Monday, October 19, 2015

Volunteering: Why everyone needs to do it.

Decorations for XC jumps.
Last weekend, Course Brook Farm hosted it's annual USEA Recognized Horse Trials. We had over 70 volunteers to enable 137 competitors and the day reminded me how important it is to support the sports we love.

Most kids participate in some form of sport. If your kids play soccer, no doubt you've coached at some point. If your kids swim, you've probably acted as a timer on occasion. But in general, team sports don't require one volunteer per participant the way a horse trials can.

Of all the horse sports, eventing requires the most volunteers. The need to have a fence judge at each cross country fence in addition to ring stewards, scribes, parking help, etc., means that running a horse trials is a monumental task. Without volunteers, we simply would not have any competitions. Did you hear what I just said? If you like to compete, then you or a friend or family member really must volunteer at some point each year!

Course Brook boarders painting poles for the stadium ring.
Prior to the show, volunteers spend weeks painting jumps and poles, setting up dressage arenas and
decorating jumps. A volunteer area is set up, the secretary booth is arranged and everything needs to be made clean and tidy.

On show day, there are a few key, paid officials at a horse trials. We have a TD (technical delegate), a show secretary and scorer, a controller who is also our announcer, a course designer, dressage judges and a show jumping judge. Our show organizers work on all the shows at Course Brook, including the schooling shows. Our volunteer coordinator spends months recruiting volunteers to be sure we have all bases covered.

Beyond the paid roles, we have numerous skilled volunteer roles.  Seasoned volunteers are called upon to be the point person for each phase. We welcome new volunteers, training them for the future! There really is something for everyone. We put all our non-horsey husbands in the parking areas directing traffic!

A view of the busy warm up areas.
With three dressage rings, warm-up can get chaotic. We have 3 ring stewards, 3 dressage scribes to assist our 3 dressage judges and at least one person to run scores from the judges to the scorer. Dressage stewards need to check that horses are wearing legal bits and carrying legal length whips.

Stadium requires warm-up stewards, timers, a scribe and someone at the in and out gates as well as a jump crew to run out and quickly replace and dropped rails. Timers, scribes and stewards are people who have done this before. The jump crew is a great place to start learning if it's your first time volunteering.

Cross country is like a volunteer vortex. At a minimum, you need a warm-up steward, a starter,
Fence judging with a friend is a great way to pass a beautiful day!
Members of the Norfolk Hunt Pony Club volunteer as fence judges!
someone at the finish and one judge at each fence. Realistically, you need two people at the start, two at the finish, a steward and a second steward to control the flow to the start, and two judges at most fences. If you have 20 fences, that means about 46 volunteers just for cross country!!!! This is another great place to learn. People new to volunteering can be paired with people who have done it before. It isn't difficult but there are some things you need to know. There is always a briefing and just about anyone can be trained to be a fence judge. It is also super fun since you get to watch horses galloping and jumping big fences!

In addition to all those volunteers making sure the show runs well, we had 7 people working in our parking areas, two people driving around with food and beverages for our volunteers, a volunteer assisting the show secretary and more.

For schooling shows we make do with much less. We don't have the fancy TD, controller or show secretary and we manage with very few volunteers which is quite difficult. So please do not read this and think that because you or your child are only doing schooling shows, it is less important to volunteer! Anyone who competes at any level can and should volunteer. Kids who compete regularly make excellent volunteers since they know the rules and pay close attention when working as jump judges.

At Course Brook we are fortunate that many of our boarders have played key roles in our shows for several years and they really know what they are doing. Our local Pony Club members (several of whom are also boarders) are another great resource. We drag our husbands and non-horsey children into action. Volunteering is so fun that most people come back to do it again!

How much should you volunteer? Realistically, we all have limited time. If you participate in 2 shows a season, volunteering once is probably fine. If you do 4 - 6 shows a season, you really should volunteer 2 - 3 times. If you like to go to all the recognized shows, volunteer for the schooling shows. Or, train another member of your family or a friend who likes horses to do your volunteering for you on days you show. I like to volunteer at King Oak Horse Trials which is a two day show near us. My daughter usually rides one day and I volunteer on the other.

Through volunteering I've gotten to feel like a bigger part of the eventing community and a great community it is! Don't be afraid! These people will love you and shower you with praise for helping them create something you are already enjoying!

With my boys who run the scores on foot, their cross country running work out for the day.  They run about 10 miles total. I love that my entire family participates!  My daughter volunteered all week and fence judged for the show.  My husband helped with parking from dawn until noon.