Jeffrey Lesitsky was always intrigued by horses, but growing up Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he didn’t have much access to them. “My only experience was what I saw on television,” he said. “I saw pictures of Secretariat when he won the Triple Crown, but I was only 10 years old and I didn't really understand what was going on. Secretariat was a beautiful horse and I wanted to learn more about them – later I learned Secretariat and I have the same birthday, but I'm seven years his senior!”
It wasn’t until Lesitsky attended college at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania that he got the chance to ride for the first time. “One of the physical education courses was horseback riding, English seat,” he described. “A bunch of guys signed up and we learned the basics. My trusted mount was named Dodger. I was hooked. I had the opportunity to purchase him, but being a poor college student, that didn't happen.”
After college, Lesitsky took his engineering degree and went to work in the environmental field on Superfund sites before moving to the pharmaceutical world where he is currently a senior engineer at Merck & Company making vaccines. All the time though, his love of horses stayed with him. “I took a vacation to Tucson, Arizona, and rode in the desert at a ranch,” he recalled. “It was my first time in a Western saddle – not too bad, but I preferred the English seat. My family is not into horses much, but I incorporate some horse activity into each vacation. I’ve ridden on Mackinac island and the Caribbean, I’ve ridden the simulator at full gallop in Saratoga, and I’ve gone on local trail rides. Recently I had to go to Ireland for business, so I booked my flight a few days early so I could enjoy the countryside and get in a ride or two. Riding in Ireland was fantastic. I was placed on Shires named Rambo and Russel. The guides and I had some fun trotting and cantering through the countryside.”
Before he was a volunteer in the eventing world, Lesitsky used his equestrian skills in service to Sebastian Riding Associates, a facility for children and adults with mental and physical challenges. Lesitsky was introduced to the organization in 1990 and has been volunteering there ever since. “It is amazing what happens there,” he observed. “I am a horse leader, side walker, schooler, I treat hurt and injured horses, and of course, I’m a mucker! Twenty-five years ago, a new horse named Thunder, who was 8 years old at the time, arrived. He was a scared little Palomino and I went over to comfort him. We were together as friends for 23 years. He survived colic surgery at the age of 27 and passed at the age of 31. He was my best friend and I miss him every day. I currently work with a Fjord named Lucky. He is doing very well and the kids love him!”
Lesitsky got involved volunteering at Great Meadow International because he wanted to learn more about different aspects of horsemanship, and for him the sport of three-day eventing “checked off a lot of boxes. The opportunity at Great Meadow came up and I decided to give it a go!”
Lesitsky started out volunteering as a crossing guard before he learned about volunteer opportunities in the stabling area. “Since I interacted with horses before, I thought this would be a great opportunity to meet the horses and riders. I wasn't disappointed! The horses and staff were very nice and everybody did everything from riding to mucking.”
“My favorite volunteer position is working in the stable area, he continued. “One better know more than one job! From directing the horse rigs, shuttling staff and athletes in golf carts, answering questions, to keeping the wash stalls orderly, it is just part of a day's work and everyone pitches in.”
There isn’t anything Lesitsky can think of about volunteering that he doesn’t enjoy about volunteering. “The people, the horses, the festivities – everything! Everyone is there to do a job, but one job everyone does is have fun! At the end of the day, you might be tired and maybe a little sunburnt, but it was fun and you are ready to do it again the next day.”
During his time as a volunteer, Lesitsky has grown to love the eventing community and its members. “Nobody has a chip on their shoulder,” he said. “Everybody helps everyone out. Of course, some friendly competition is always involved from who can get a golf cart down to the arena the fastest (safely) to cheering on your favorite horse and rider. Everybody encourages each other.”
“Volunteering is rewarding in many ways, be it an equestrian event or volunteering in your community. Everybody should give it a try!”
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.
The West Coast's sole CCI4*-L will take place this weekend at the Galway Downs International Event in Temecula, California, kicking off this afternoon with the first horse inspection for the FEI levels. The only other CCI4*-L in the United States will be held in two weeks at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Tryon, North Carolina.
Top 10-ranked U.S. eventers are among the 420 entries for the Galway Downs International starting Thursday in the heart of Southern California's Temecula wine country.
Last week, young horses on the West Coast took their turn in The Dutta Corp. USEA Young Event Horse West Coast Championships at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, California. This week, attention moves to the East Coast, where the Virginia Horse Trials in Lexington, Virginia will host The Dutta Corp. USEA Young Event Horse East Coast Championships over two days - Wednesday, October 28 and Thursday, October 29.
This week's USEA Podcast is about all things Galway! The Galway Downs International Event is taking place this weekend starting on Wednesday, October 28 with the first horse inspection for the FEI levels. Nicole Brown is joined on the show by Galway Downs's cross-country course designer Clayton Fredericks for a chat about what riders can expect at Galway this weekend before she and Diarm Byrne of Equiratings discuss which pairs to watch this weekend.