It always helps to see a warm and friendly face when heading to warm up for that all-important test or jump round. In this new series, the United States Evening Association (USEA) is partnering with Athletux, to feature those around us who help make these events happen, the volunteers. Without them horse shows could not succeed and these volunteers go above and beyond to make sure every rider feels comfortable and confident. Do you know a volunteer who should be nominated as Volunteer of the Month? We are looking for our January feature. Email your tips to [email protected]
Bill Watson has always volunteered in some form or another. When he lived in Texas, he coached little league baseball, football, swimming, and even taught scuba lessons. It wasn’t until his wife, Susan, bought a horse and started taking lessons that he got his first taste of the horse community. Now years later Bill lives in North Carolina and is one of the most loved cross-country starters on the East Coast. You can find him running the box at all events from starter level shows to the Fair Hill International. He has a knack for making even the most nervous rider feel calm and excited to head out on course, two words sometimes not used when describing those pre-cross-country jitters.
Though Bill is a significant player in his own right, he’s quick to point out that he and his wife work as a team. In some form or another, at all of the shows they attend, she is either timing or running control, and Bill has only done a few shows without Susan being involved in some way.
Bill has volunteered in all the areas of eventing, but the largest share of the time has been spent as a cross-country starter. “For some reason it just clicked for me. It is not my nature to be who I am at the start box, I tell my wife it is all an act,” Bill said jokingly. In fact, his friends assert that he is an entirely different person at the box. Bill explains, “Normally I am a bit of as recluse, but riders coming to the start box need to know it is a friendly place and that I am going to help them get started. I have a lot of fun doing it and my reward is a smile on a rider's face.”
For Bill, his favorite part of the sport is working with the other volunteers and getting to know all the people involved. Bill added, “Ninety-nine percent of the riders have always been great to work with and very appreciative.”
It wasn’t long before Bill and Susan’s talents became known, and started getting phone calls from different venues asking if he would come help them as well. Now they travel up and down the east coast going to events and wishing Beginner Novice through Advanced riders well as they leave the start box.
They already find themselves with a full calendar, but Bill rarely turns down an opportunity to help elsewhere. “This year we received a call to come and help with the Morven Park Horse Trials. They had overbooked themselves and needed to run training simultaneously with advanced,” recalled Bill. “The lady that called me said she had seen us work at Surefire and was impressed with how we worked and our professionalism.” Even when given only a few weeks notice, Bill and his wife were happy to help and do whatever they could to make the event run smoother for both the organizer and the competitors. They display a great deal of selflessness not always seen and are eager to help out even at a last minute’s notice.
Many competitors have fond memories of Bill. He had counted down riders at their first Beginner Novice, and then done the same years later at their first CCI. One rider commented, “You know when you are heading to the box and Bill is there, that you are in good hands. He knows exactly what you need and provides that nudge of encouragement or that funny joke to ease your nerves.”
When asked what the biggest or most special piece of advice he was given, Bill explained it came from Stephen McBroom. Bill described him as a great friend, one who the horse world sadly lost when Stephen sadly passed away a few weeks ago.
“He told me to always smile and call the rider by their first name. Make them feel welcome and let them know you will take care of them and be consistent. I have always made a point to follow his advice and greet every rider like I have known them forever,” said Bill.
Running the start box has blossomed into a true passion for Bill. If you were to ask someone about Bill you would no doubt only hear wonderful things. He has been described as a “true gem of the Eventing community” and someone who “always makes you feel comfortable and excited even when you feel like you’re the most nervous you have ever been in your life.” This truly shows how much of an impact Bill has made not only on each and every person he starts but also the sport and community. It is hard to find a more dedicated volunteer who will continuously go out of their way to make riders feel comfortable than Bill. Expect to continue to see Bill by the start box making riders feel at home and keeping cross-country running smoothly and stress-free. When you do, give him a huge thank you because cross-country day would not be the same without him.
Photos courtesy of Bill Watson. Do you know someone who should be recognized as Volunteer of the Month? We are looking for our December feature. Email your tips to [email protected]