With 850 competitors on the roster, putting on this year’s USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds was no easy task. And like all other horse trials in the U.S., the AEC still relies heavily on the efforts of volunteers to bring its efforts to fruition. Over 750 volunteer shifts were filled over the course of the 7-day-long competition by an outstanding 300-plus volunteers. Those volunteers hailed from all over the country, with 30% of the final volunteer number driving in from out of state. Eventing enthusiasts flew in from each coast to help make this event a special one for the qualified competitors this year. While on grounds, the USEA caught up with a handful of these spectacular individuals to get the down low on why they opted to volunteer at this year’s national championships.
It was by mere accident that David Slagle stumbled upon the horse world and the sport of eventing. "I'm not a horse person," he said, "but I discovered the sport. Really, Elisa Wallace is responsible, as I just happened to be watching YouTube videos and came across her mustang training videos, which led me to her. She posts cross-country helmet cam videos, and I started watching those and thought, 'Man, that looks like fun.' I didn't know anything about the sport. I spent my first few years in Lexington, Kentucky, but I knew about racing, not eventing. And I saw these videos and said, I want to go to one of those events."
The sport of eventing wouldn’t be possible without the amazing volunteers that donate their time to support competitions across the country all year long. As of July 14, a total of 38,040 hours have already been recorded through EventingVolunteers.com for 2023, and there is still much of the season left ahead. The Volunteer Incentive Program, which was formed in 2015, was created to recognize the USEA’s dedicated volunteers through national and area leaderboards which award year-end awards and prizes. Here are the volunteers that are currently topping the leaderboard for 2023!
If something needs to be done at an event in Area IX, you can be sure Kayla Dehart’s thought of it. And when she’s not doing her usual job of cross-country control, the 24-year-old will step in to help with anything that needs to be done.
After working for nearly 30 years as a broadcast engineer and operations manager for the largest radio network in the country, Westwood One, Richard "Dick" Owen has acquired many of the skills needed to help a horse trial run smoothly. From presidential inaugurations to political conventions to the State of the Union address, Owen’s friendly and calm demeanor and experience with the logistics of covering major events have served him well in Area III, where he volunteers on dozens of weekends a year.
Growing up just a few miles from the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in Stamford, England, Sarah Airhart naturally gravitated toward eventing.
A member of the Burghley Pony Club, Airhart recalls riding across the Burghley Park Golf Club where her father worked, and walking through the public grounds with her mother, climbing on cross-country fences and imagining what it would be like to jump them.
Julie Murray has loved horses since she could breathe, so when her daughters showed an interest in Pony Club and then eventing, she was thrilled to go along for the ride.
Murray started volunteering at the Fallbrook Pony Club near her home in Fallbrook, California, serving as an intermediate district commissioner.
The United States Eventing Association (USEA) is proud to announce a new membership category, the “Digital Membership,” which will be available to qualified participants of the Volunteer Incentive Program in 2023. This new membership will serve as a thank you to the loyal volunteers in our sport for their dedication to supporting events around the country throughout the year.
If we’re lucky, we will all have that one “horse of a lifetime” that makes us the riders we are; collects blue ribbons left and right; launches our careers; and teaches us more than we could ever imagine. With Perseverance (aka Percy) was that horse for Lauren Nethery. Percy and Nethery ascended the levels together through the top of the sport in the early 2000s, and this success was critical to Nethery’s ability to hang her own shingle as a trainer and coach. When Percy retired from upper-level competition in 2010, not chasing the big events every season meant that Nethery had a lot more time to begin giving back to the sport that she loves so dearly. She returned to Kentucky as a volunteer, occupying a variety of roles in the myriad divisions that depend on volunteers to operate: decorations, awards, grooming, and shuttles to name a few. Nethery finally settled on the vet box as her primary area of focus.
For Katie Bystrom, becoming an equestrian was destiny. “A love of horses is in the DNA of the females in our family,” Bystrom shared. Her mom grew up riding with her grandmother on the family farm in Indiana and eventually, Bystrom would follow in the same path, pursuing her love of horses at a young age out on the trails with her mom.
Lisa Pragg is a busy woman, but between her normal day job and competing her own 19-year-old Thoroughbred Impeccable she still prioritizes time to volunteer - both at horse trials and as a volunteer firefighter. Pragg understands the importance that volunteers play in the eventing community and makes sure to give whatever time she can back as a fair gesture.