Sep 14, 2018

Backstage at the WEG: Volunteers Make the World (Equestrian Games) Go ‘Round

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Kathryn McMahon, Volunteer Coordinator for the FEI World Equestrian Games. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.

The FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) in Mill Spring, North Carolina have brought together over 800 equestrian athletes and 860 horses from 71 different countries to compete in eight different disciplines in the only event of its kind in the world. The volunteers it requires to stage an event like the WEG are numbered in the thousands, with hundreds of different roles that many equestrians don’t typically think of when they think of horse show volunteers.

Director of Community Engagement for TIEC, Kathryn McMahon is also the Volunteer Coordinator for the World Equestrian Games and she is in charge of organizing the 1,700 volunteers that will be working the event over the next two weeks. McMahon shared that the average volunteer will work seven six-hour shifts, adding up to over 71,000 man-hours over the course of the 12-day event. There are volunteers working different roles for each of the eight disciplines plus an additional 15 operational committees, including disabled services, information services, ushers, and shuttles to name a few.

The first thing McMahon did after TIEC was awarded the contract to host the WEG was form an advisory committee made up of three advisory volunteers – Fred Bayley, Mary Pat Monteith, and Craig Hilton - who have met with McMahon on a weekly basis for the last year. “In the weeks leading up to the event we would meet every day,” she shared. There are 16 managing leads that report back to the advisory committee, each of whom is in charge of an operational committee. Those managing leads then oversee another 55 leads who have been meeting every two weeks for the last four months, and those leads supervise the 1,700 volunteers with boots on the ground working in the myriad different roles at WEG. Given the complex structure and organization of the WEG volunteers, McMahon said that, “We always keep our knees bent, and we are constantly pivoting and being highly flexible.”

A group of volunteers being briefed before heading out to start their shifts. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.

Eventing volunteers who signed up to work at WEG might have noticed some similarities between the TIEC Volunteer Portal and the Eventing Volunteers app (EventingVolunteers.com), and that’s because they’re run on the same software platform. TIEC purchased the software from designer Nicolas Hinze and crafted their own unique volunteer portal to suit the specific needs of WEG, adding different roles for the eight disciplines and 15 committees, altering the lengths of the shifts, and creating the ability to double-book volunteers. “I’d had the opportunity to use [the software] through the USEA for the American Eventing Championships for two years as well as The Fork,” McMahon said. “That’s why I chose that program. It’s a fantastic program. We wouldn’t have the [TIEC Volunteer Portal] without the USEA and without my experiencing using [the Eventing Volunteers app]."

McMahon revealed that 50 percent of the volunteers at WEG live within a 40-minute radius of TIEC. Another 25 percent have come from other locations all across the country to volunteer their time. The final 25 percent? Those are international volunteers who have traveled from all over the world to be a part of the World Equestrian Games. “Just this morning I escorted a volunteer from Switzerland and a volunteer from Japan down to our commissary kitchen to work on paperwork.”

For the volunteers that live within driving distance of the games, McMahon observed that majority of those are retirees who chose this area because of their love for equestrian sport. “They love the Tryon International Equestrian Center and they want to see it be successful. We have community leaders from 12 counties in this area who have pitched in and really stepped up to ensure the success of the World Equestrian Games.”


One of the fabulous shuttle drivers at TIEC. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.

Fred Bayley, one of the advisory committee members, got into volunteering at equestrian events years ago while McMahon was working with Tryon Riding & Hunt Club and jumped at the chance to volunteer for the WEG. As a part of the advisory committee, Bayley’s role at WEG is a bit like working in triage; he’s there to help solve whatever problem may arise. “We have a pool of volunteers on call, so if there’s an issue we’re able to send those volunteers out anywhere on property to help out as needed. If someone has too many volunteers or the work ends early they come back to us and are reassigned.”

Bayley’s wife, Nancy, is also here volunteering, and he said that she’s the ying to his yang. “You have someone to decompress with every night and you’ve got someone to share the amazing successes with, the volunteers we have, and the incredible things they do for people. She knows what she’s doing with her strengths and I know what I’m doing with my strengths and at the end of the day we get everything done.”

Bayley’s favorite role to fill as a volunteer is any role where he gets to help people. “That’s why I volunteer, because anybody I come in contact with, my hope is when they walk away that their day is better. Every day I’m trying to make someone’s day, so what little thing can I do that will make a significant difference.”

Fence judges being briefed on cross-country. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Carolyn Talley, who has volunteer at TIEC’s Saturday Night Lights on several previous occasions and been an on-course crossing guard at the last six Kentucky Three-Day Events, is one of three lead volunteers for “Kathryn’s Paddock,” a group of volunteers that have no set assignment and are used to fill holes in the various other volunteer divisions. “If we need extra ushers, if we need FEI Tent Marshalls, we pull from that crowd,” Talley explained. It’s the perfect role for Talley, who says she most enjoys roles where she gets to troubleshoot and help get people where they need to go. “The whole goal is to get it taken care of so that it works smoothly and the guests who come have a good experience.”

Judy Barr, who is a friend of Mary Pat Monteith, came down from Canada for her first equestrian volunteering role. She’ll be spending her time at WEG working as a floater in the volunteer ushering department, doing everything and anything that needs doing from emptying garbage cans and running radios to distributing programs and scoresheets. “I am honored to be a part of this fabulous experience, for me and everyone else,” Barr said. “Rubbing elbows with the crème-de-la-crème and seeing the quality of horse and rider, I’m just thrilled to be here.”

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