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 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 and programs 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 next feature. Email your tips to [email protected].
If you have ever competed anywhere in the state of Florida, you have probably seen Allison Thomas volunteering. That’s because volunteering is something that has always been in her blood and she has clocked more hours than most at venues across the state. It is something she is extremely passionate about and it was always Thomas’s goal to combine her passion for horses and her passion for volunteering. Even when her two daughters were born, she really tried to pass along her passion for giving back down to them. Thomas explained, “The first time we all volunteered together was at a therapeutic riding center in Orlando when the girls were about 10. The facility had these rules about what age you could volunteer at and even though the minimum age was 16 I begged and finally they allowed me to bring the girls along.” It was the beginning of a shared passion for both horses and volunteering between Thomas and her daughters and one that they still have today.
While she may be a recognized face on the eventing scene now, Thomas actually grew up riding in the hunter and equitation rings. It wasn’t until her daughters joined Pony Club that she learned more about the sport of eventing and decided to become more involved. They currently live in Ocala, Florida, making it easy to volunteer at multiple venues all throughout the year and there hasn’t been an event that she has missed in quite some time, especially at her home barn, Rocking Horse Stables. When Thomas and her daughters originally decided to call Rocking Horse home, Thomas was unaware that they put on some of the longest running events in the area but, as soon as she found out, she jumped at the chance to become more involved.
Allison Thomas's daughters both participated in Pony Club, which is how she learned about eventing. Photo courtesy of Allison Thomas.
It was at Rocking Horse that Thomas learned the ins-and-outs of volunteering at a three-day event. She has held about every position a volunteer could, having done everything from jump judging to ring stewarding and bit check, but she is quick to add, “working cross-country start is probably my favorite.” She added, “I just love getting to talk with everyone and interact with them. The moments before they head out on cross-country are so important and I really try to make it enjoyable. I like being able to see them off and wish them good luck.” Her passion for volunteering is evident and everyone at Rocking Horse could see it as well. They were quick to offer her the job of volunteer coordinator and she gladly accepted, ready for the challenge and willing to learn.
Now, not only does Thomas wear the hat of volunteer coordinator at Rocking Horse but she also volunteers at each local venue as much as she can. Thomas explained, “I really try to volunteer at every venue at least one time during the season for many reasons. Not only do I really enjoy it, but I also want my volunteers to see me out volunteering too. Since the area is small, often times our volunteers at Rocking Horse will do the same and I want them to know I really care about it as well.” She truly spends a majority of her weekends volunteering but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
While she is volunteering at other venues, Thomas also tries to watch and learn what other coordinators do in order to better her program. She credits many of the coordinators in the area with helping her build Rocking Horse’s program into what it is today. When she started coordinating, Thomas just tried to take it all in and now those same coordinators who helped her are looking to Thomas’s program for ideas and using them at their events. Now that she feels more comfortable in her coordinator role, Thomas’s next big goal is to fully utilize the new USEA VIP Program for volunteers. She hopes to one day soon have all her volunteers signed up and she is well on her way. Thomas really believes the program will help coordinators across the country and is excited to incorporate it into her own volunteer program at Rocking Horse.
She not only has a passion for her duties at Rocking Horse, but it is also so easy to hear the passion and excitement she has for the sport when you speak to her. When asked what her favorite part of the sport is, Thomas quickly pointed out, “It is the moments every morning when you get to the barn early and the fog is just settling and the sun is just rising. Those are so special and you can feel the anticipation of what is to come but everything is just so peaceful.” It is moments like these that make it all worth it for Thomas and that keep her coming back time and time again. She truly loves the sport of eventing and the sport is so lucky to have someone as dedicated and hard-working as Thomas.
Her Rocking Horse family couldn’t agree more. When you ask what she means to them, they can’t put it into words. She is one of those people who lights up a room and leaves a little something special wherever she goes. The crew at Rocking Horse feels so lucky to have Thomas in their corner and are so grateful for the times she has dropped everything to come help out at an event. She truly does whatever is needed and continuously goes out of her way to help others. If you need an extra hand, Thomas is there, not only at Rocking Horse, but also at events throughout the area. There aren’t many events she misses so be sure to keep an eye out for her and if you do see her, give her a huge thank you because these events wouldn’t be the same without her.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of our sport, the unsung heroes, and the people who make it possible to keep the sport alive. In efforts to recognize the dedication, commitment, and hard work that volunteers put into eventing, USEA formed the Volunteer Incentive Program (VIP) in 2015. In 2017, an online management portal was designed for volunteers, organizers, and volunteer coordinators at EventingVolunteers.com (available as an app for iOS and Android).
Volunteer incentives include national and area recognition, year-end awards with ribbons, cash prizes, and trophies, a top ten USEA Volunteer leaderboard, and a Volunteer of the Year award which is given to the volunteer who tops the leaderboard by accumulating the most volunteer hours over the USEA competition year. Click here to learn more about the USEA Volunteer Incentive Program.
The USEA would like to thank Sunsprite Warmbloods for sponsoring the Volunteer Incentive Program.
Having this historic competition close isn't the right result for the sport, and the United States Eventing Association (USEA) is working hard to find a solution. The organizer and landowners operate exceptional events on a beautiful piece of land. We are deeply sensitive to the history of the word "plantation" and its connection to slavery; however, this property has no known connections to slavery and was instead named after 'plantings' on the property.
After a quiet spring season due to COVID-19, the fall season is ramping up and this weekend we have the first of two West Coast CCI4*-S events taking place at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, California.
Dawn Robbins is a current USEA Board of Governors member, Area VI adult rider, and a contributor to the development of the Event Management System (EMS). Note that this article was written more than a year ago and serves as a guide for future USEA software development.
Discover a position so natural and a connection so sensitive your saddle all but disappears as your performance comes to life. This saddle celebrates the art of dressage – the sculpted performance conducted by horse and rider in choreographing every movement with emotion, power, and grace.