In September of 2016 I made a trek across the country from North Carolina to California so that my husband and I could finally live together after almost a year apart. I was beyond excited, nervous and a little bit scared. I had opted to leave my wonderful horse at home on the East Coast for a few months while I settled in.
It had been years since I had left the start box with a wild grin on my face and an adrenaline rush coursing through my body. In college I had decided to take a break from competing to focus on school, and that had translated to barely riding at all. For five years my horse, Jerry, sat in a pasture and I was wracked with guilt about not seeing him nearly enough, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to sell him. Surprisingly to me, my husband told me that I should go ahead and spend the money to transport my aging pasture-puff across the country, and I began to hope again that perhaps I could find the passion I once had for eventing.
I was terrified and filled with “what ifs.” What if I couldn’t find the desire to ride again? What if I stressed my horse out with this trip for nothing? What if I couldn’t make it happen and wasted thousands of dollars? I squashed those fears with the impulsive decision to start cold calling barns in San Diego. It just so happened that the first woman I got in touch with was an eventer herself. I spoke with Jennifer Hawthorne for an hour and a half that night, pacing around my backyard as we talked about our experiences eventing. I hadn’t felt passion and enthusiasm like that in years. Jennifer, a stranger to me, listened without judgment as I poured out my overwhelming guilt over not being there for my horse, my struggle to find my place any more and my nervous longing to return back to eventing. I decided at that moment that bringing Jerry to the West Coast was the right decision.
I spent almost three months horseless in San Diego in a new job, a new house and feeling more lost than I ever had before. I had a hard time connecting with people in the area, and really couldn’t seem to find my place. My dear husband, who felt responsible for the move, had no clue what to do. He could tell I was miserable and adrift but had no idea how to anchor me.
Jerry came to San Diego and slowly things began to feel different, I went to the barn and started to find people who exuded the joy for riding I once had. They encouraged me to attend some of the local events and to volunteer while my horse wasn’t fit enough to compete. My experience with eventing had previously been almost exclusively as a competitor, except for one day I volunteered at Carolina Horse Park. Truthfully, I had never really considered being a volunteer, despite knowing that events could not be run without them.
The first event I volunteered at was Copper Meadows H.T.; I opted to throw myself into it and volunteered for all three days. I ended up scribing for dressage on Friday, and came to find out that the judge and I had a lot in common. We both had the same academic background, we had a similar career path, and we spent the breaks between divisions sharing photos of our horses and our rescued dogs. My next two days were spent cross-country jump judging, where I had roped my husband and a few non-horsey friends into helping out as well. I explained the history of the sport, the goals of cross-country, and talked about the exhilaration of galloping up to a fence. I fielded questions from them and ended the weekend thoroughly sunburned, with several new Facebook friends and completely content.
The next event was Galway Downs International Horse Trial. I once again volunteered all three days and the name of the judge I was scribing for immediately caught my attention. I mustered up my courage to ask if she happened to be from Area II, and indeed she was. As we began to speak of the horses we both knew, the people I had grown up surrounded by and the barn I used to board at, the dressage volunteer organizer joined the conversation. She and I realized we had lived in the same small town in North Carolina at one point, that she knew my very first riding instructor, knew the two places I had boarded and was deeply familiar with the local venues I showed at prior to immersing myself in eventing. It was at that moment that I felt for the first time that this new place could be my home, because my home had somehow found me 2,300 miles away.
As of right now, I hold the number one spot in the USEA’s Volunteer Incentive Program Leaderboard. It’s an incredible feeling being the top of a leaderboard for the first time in my life, and it’s beyond exciting that I may win some prizes at the end of the year. What’s more thrilling to me, however, is everything else I have gained. Through this experience I have been reminded that eventing is so much more than a competition, it is so much more than a sport – eventing is a community. Whether you are a competitor, a groom, a spectator or a volunteer, you help make up the family that is eventers. I have gained so much more from volunteering than I ever thought I would. Sure, I’ve received some nuggets of dressage wisdom from judges and seen different ways to ride some fences, but mostly I have gained a group of people who truly “get me”. I have a sense of camaraderie that had been absent in my life for years. I truly feel like I have been found, I’m not lost after all and that I belong.
Do you want to get involved in eventing by volunteering? Visit the USEA's Volunteer Page to learn more!