Apr 20, 2018

Inside the Life of a Volunteer: Backstage with Michael Smallwood

By Claire Kelley - USEA Staff
Michael Smallwood accepting the 2017 Volunteer of the Year Award from USEA President Carol Kozlowski. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

The man, the myth, the legend: Michael Smallwood was the United States Eventing Association’s (USEA) 2017 Volunteer of the Year. The first year this leaderboard and award has been offered Smallwood surpassed expectations with 221 recorded volunteer hours at USEA recognized events. A pioneer for the USEA Volunteer Incentive Program (VIP), Smallwood is a friendly face at events and a hero for organizers, competitors, and everyone involved in an event. ‘Make sure to thank a volunteer,’ and that you should when it comes to Smallwood’s unwavering commitment to the sport of eventing. The USEA checked in with Smallwood to see how he's been doing after his big win of the national title.

“No one bites,” is Smallwood’s top tip to new volunteers. “Ask questions if you are unsure. Have fun and enjoy it, everyone is there for the same thing, to give back in their own way and enjoy the event.” Rookie volunteers - make sure to pack your sunscreen! Another tip from Smallwood when asked if he had any advice for newcomers: “sunscreen”. After years of volunteering, Smallwood is a seasoned pro and sunscreen is something he always packs.

Jack of all trades: Smallwood enjoys babysitting as one of his volunteer roles. Photo courtesy of Michael Smallwood.

So, what does the 2017 Volunteer of the Year do outside of volunteering? Staying true to his ways, Smallwood volunteers even more. “I stay on the go, and I am a volunteer fire/rescue chief. I run an equestrian park, I tend to my horse, and dabble in course building.” Dedication is embedded in Smallwood’s DNA as he’s been with Woodstock Equestrian Park in Dickerson, Maryland since it opened six years ago and has been involved with volunteer fire rescue/EMT for the past 24 years. 

Award-winning volunteer, fire rescue chief, equestrian park director, rider, and horse owner; Smallwood has a wide range of talents. Understanding the hardships of owning a horse is included in the range. In the same boat as many horse owners, Smallwood’s horse, Prada is coming back from an injury and he plans to compete her next spring. “Much like many others, my horse decided to be a horse and injure herself. A few months off and she will be no worse for wear.” Seeing the ups and downs of eventing, Smallwood continues to have a positive, humbling attitude that can inspire anyone.

Relating to most eventers, he describes eventing as, “three phases of fun, well, except for the dressage.” However, don’t let the slight dislike for dressage fool you, Smallwood has a true love for eventing and it’s reflected in those 221 volunteer hours. His hours are his way of giving back, “it’s a great way to be a part of an awesome sport!”

When it comes to the variety of events Smallwood has spent time volunteering, there are too many to count. “Between recognized and unrecognized [horse trials] for the past 12 years, it’s hard to guess,” how many events at which he has volunteered. The Maryland Horse Trials is how he first got hooked, and since then it’s been an upward trajectory. 

“The [2018] title is up for grabs!” Smallwood wants to spread the wealth, “there are so many great volunteers out there, and they all deserve the recognition.”

“Last year was a wild ride climbing to the top,” and again, his passion for the sport shows, as he thinks the USEA’s Volunteer Incentive Program is beneficial for “unknown workers that make the events happen. After running up and down the east coast last year, I had the great pleasure of meeting so many of them, from the riders, to owners, to show organizers, and most of all the volunteers. Everyone is always so welcoming, and this is what makes eventing such a great sport.”

Michael Smallwood riding his horse Prada and showing his support for Team Orange at Last Frontier Farm’s annual Derbycross Fundraiser. Photo courtesy of Michael Smallwood.

Make sure to be on the lookout for Smallwood at your next show, since he plans “to continue to volunteer. Who knows where I’ll show up!” Takosushi is another likely place to find him while he’s in Aiken, considering his favorite food is “anything from Takosushi.”

Interested in meeting Michael Smallwood? Find out where he will be volunteering next through EventingVolunteers.com (available as an app for iOS and Android). Smallwood thinks the new app has “made things really easy. I can look up who has what positions available without pestering the volunteer coordinator. Also, the information needed for the day of the show is sent out through the announcements section.”

Lastly, if Smallwood could pick any superpower, he would pick one that would double his volunteer hours by “being able to clone myself. It would be nice to be in two places at once. It would help get a lot more accomplished in a day.” Humble, hardworking, generous, and loyal, Michael Smallwood is the epitome of what these unsung heroes look like, and the USEA agrees – having a clone of Smallwood would be a nice perk!

About USEA Volunteer Incentive Program

Volunteers are the lifeline 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, show 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, 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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