Sep 06, 2017

Cricket Killen: USEA's Volunteer of the Month Presented by Athletux

By Mikaela Kantorowski - Athletux Equine
Killen (left) with Cobblestone Farms Horse Trials Organizer Jennifer Merrick-Brooks (right). The pair have worked together for ten years on many Horse Trials in Michigan. Photo courtesy of Cricket Killen.

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].

When it comes to volunteering, there is no one more dedicated than Cricket Killen. She has filled about every role a volunteer possibly could, and she does it all with a smile. Her passion for the sport is evident but she hasn’t always ridden. When she was little she would be sure her summer camps offered riding lessons so she could be around the horses. She had two ponies for most of her youth, but when she turned 14 she moved on to other things before coming back to horses years later. As it would happen, her now 29-year-old daughter was bitten by the horse bug at the age of five, so both mother and daughter began to ride. The first family horse was a 20-year-old Quarter Horse named Frosty, with a heart of gold who taught Killen, her daughters, and her husband the ropes. Now, they not only have two retired eventers but also two homebred babies which Killen admits keeps her very busy as they slowly but surely try to mold them into eventers.

Killen keeps her retired horses at Cobblestone Farm in Dexter, Michigan, which is predominantly an eventing barn. She has been there for quite some time and when they began to have small shows and derbies, she stepped in to help wherever she could. Eventually as Cobblestone’s shows grew bigger, so did Killen’s role in their success. She wore many different hats, but the most important was the hat of volunteer coordinator. It was important to the entire Cobblestone family that these events run smoothly. Killen could often be found preparing for the shows weeks before the event, and after would immediately begin preparing for the next.

Eventually, Killen expanded her volunteering efforts and decided to join the TEAM (The Eventing Association of Michigan) Board to further try to help the sport which she loves so much. While on the Board, the sport grew tremendously in the state and Killen was thrilled to see so many new faces become involved and so many new events added to the calendar. During and after her time on the Board, Killen continued to volunteer at Cobblestone Farm. About two years ago, Killen decided to step down from the volunteer coordinator position after holding it for 10 years, but that hasnt’t stopped her from staying involved.

Now, she does a little bit of everything from setting up the volunteer equipment to office work and hospitality. Just recently, Cobblestone not only celebrated its 10th anniversary of hosting their big USEA recognized event, but also celebrated its eighth year of hosting their Jump for The Cure at Cobblestone Farms, which raises money for the American Cancer Society. Killen was perhaps the proudest person there. She had personally witnessed the event grow but those around her would be the first to point out that without her, the event would not be where it is today. Those same people also weren’t kidding when they also said she has helped with basically every aspect of the event. From selling logo wear from the farm to running the hospitality and even filling in as a cross-country jump judge when needed, there isn’t a job she wouldn’t do to help.

Killen with her dwarf miniature horse, June Bug, her spokespony for recruiting volunteers at shows! Photo courtesy of Cricket Killen.

While those around her are quick to credit her with aiding in the event’s success, Killen is quick to credit organizer, Jennifer Merrick-Brooks, as one of the most influential people in her time volunteering. They worked together at both unrecognized events and USEA recognized events and are possibly the best organizer and volunteer coordinator pair out there. As long as those two were at the helm, everyone knew the event would run smoothly. In addition to Merrick-Brooks, Killen also takes a lot of inspiration from Seema Sonnad, who she knew for many years. Killen added, “She was truly an inspiration to us all and I miss her so much.” Both these mentors have been special to Killen and now Killen has taken on this role for others.

When asked what her favorite part of the sport is, Killen quickly answered with, “The people and horses for sure.” You can hear the passion and excitement in her voice when she talks about her time spent at the farm and her time spent volunteering. She added, “I just love doing what I do. The best part is all the people who I get to work with and be around. It is an amazing family and I feel so blessed and am truly fortunate to be a part of it.” She fondly remembers long days spent at the farm and fun times at different events with her barn family. In fact, one of Killen’s friends, who is 73 year old, still rides and Killen hopes to follow in her footsteps.

In addition to her love for the sport, Killen also loves to give back. She explained, “My feeling about volunteers is that they are gifts. They are giving their time, energy, enthusiasm, smiles, and dedication when they could be doing something else, but they chose to volunteer, to contribute, to help, and make a difference. I love being a volunteer.” She also added that she truly learned from the best as, “my mom was a volunteer in so many different capacities. She was my role model, my hero, and taught me, among so many things, the importance of giving back and giving from your heart with all of your heart.” Killen truly embodies those words in all that she does.

If you were to talk to the Cobblestone family and ask them how Killen has impacted their lives, you would no doubt only hear wonderful things. They describe her as being “dedicated and compassionate.” Killen is the type of person who continuously goes out of her way to help others and will always show up when you need an extra hand. Not only has she made a difference at Cobblestone, but also in the Michigan eventing community and she shows no signs of slowing down. Killen declared, “I will ride and volunteer for as long as I can,” and boy is the eventing community lucky. There aren’t many events at Cobblestone that she misses so make sure you keep an eye out for her – and when you see her, give her a huge thank you, because the eventing community would not be the same without her.

About the USEA Volunteer Incentive Program

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 (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.

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