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].
Kristina Whorton has been riding almost all her life. When she was in sixth grade, she begged to take lessons and eventually begged enough that her parents gave in and took both her and her sister to a local barn for some rides. Like any horse crazy girl, she was obsessed and while her sister’s passion fizzled out after a year, Whorton’s passion never wavered and she continued to ride. Eventually a summer turned into a year and after proving her dedication, she and her parents picked up her first horse, a Thoroughbred. While he hadn’t done much, it was the beginning of a long and special partnership. Together, Whorton and her horse learned the ropes of eventing. Even though Whorton can’t exactly recall the beginning of her journey with Carlos, she one day found herself cross-country schooling and fell deeply in love with the sport. Ever since, she has devoted her time to learning more about eventing, volunteering, riding, and doing everything she can to become involved.
As she grew up in the sport, both Whorton and her parents began to meet other people who were involved with the sport, which subsequently lead them to become more involved as well. Her parents found the sport very interesting and while they knew very little about it, they took charge and quickly became actively involved in assisting the Pony Club as well as the state Combined Training Association. With her parents help, Whorton continued to participate in Pony Club and ride throughout high school, learning more about the sport along the way and racking up an impressive number of volunteer hours at a young age. Even if she wasn’t riding due to her high school obligations, Whorton always continued to take lessons and volunteer. She fondly remembers being in the barn at all hours during high school in order to give her horse the TLC he deserved.
It just so happened that during her high school years, the trainers she rode with were very involved with the local horse parks, including Heritage Horse Park. Not only did the horse park host shows and events throughout the year, but the Mid America Combined Training Association (MACTA) was also run out of the Horse Park. It was the perfect opportunity for both Whorton and her parents to jump right into the sport with both feet. While her parents joined the board of MACTA, Whorton began volunteering more and more at all of their shows throughout the year. This gave her a unique perspective from the behind the scenes sides of the sport, which had always interested her. She explained, “There were a lot of things that you don’t get to see as a competitor and my trainer was always big on volunteering because these shows don’t go on without volunteers.” That message still sticks with Whorton today and while her life has been extremely busy over the past few years, she never stopped trying to find time to volunteer on top of her riding.
Whorton began competing again, now with a husband and child and a full-time job, but she felt she still has more to learn in eventing, specifically through volunteering. Whorton stayed in contact with the president of MACTA; becoming more involved in the organization seemed like the logical next step. She would always go out and volunteer here and there, which lead Whorton to jump in head first to accept more volunteer positions and jobs. As luck would have it, she made many connections while volunteering, and one of them was with a course builder who introduced her to the idea of becoming a licensed official. Worton explained, “It was so eye-opening and made me realize how much I really enjoy the backside of the sport as well. Whether it was organizing or learning to be a judge or TD, I wanted to do it all.” Eventually, Worton hopes to realize these dreams and really turn her passion into a full-time job. For now, she vows to volunteer as much as she can.
Whether it was staining jumps or setting flowers, she has held pretty much every volunteer position that she could, and now it is remains a family affair for Whorton and her family. Her father builds the cross-country jumps at the Horse Park, Whorton helps stain them, and her mom volunteers as well. Everything around the Horse Park was most likely touched by her family at one point, from all the new cross-country numbers to the signs and even the big checks handed to the winners at the Area IV Championships this year. Those at the events point out that Whorton is always the first one to arrive and the last one to leave and add that it is her incredible dedication and infectious, always-smiling personality that makes her such a special individual in the community.
When asked what the most important piece of advice she ever received was, Whorton was quick to point out that it was, “get involved, get involved, get involved.” She explained, “The first thing I did after hearing this was email my Area Chair to show that I was dedicated and I emphasized that I really wanted to become further involved with the behind the scenes workings of the sport.” From there, she took a seat on the Area Council, where she assisted in helping with the website and attended meetings, during which she acted as a sponge, just taking in as much information as she could. Whorton felt she had so much to learn and joining the Council seemed like a natural progression after assisting MACTA for so many years. It is also a role that she still carries to this day and one that has greatly influenced her knowledge of the sport.
When you speak with Whorton, it is easy to tell how passionate she is for both the sport and volunteering. She emphasized that she feels everyone should volunteer at some point to, “really understand what goes into this and learn what makes a successful horse trial.” In fact, one of Whorton’s fondest memories was recruiting one of the Area’s local upper-level trainers to volunteer after her rides for the Starter divisions. “It was so fun to see her out there giving back to the sport and helping those Starter division riders know that they were just as important as the rest of us. People like her are role models and I really feel everyone should take some time to give back,” she explained.
One of the questions Whorton responded to the quickest was when she was asked why she loves the sport. “I love the people that I have met along the way and the doors that it has opened for me. The horses are unbelievable and the people are amazing. I couldn’t have picked a better sport and I am so happy to still be able to do what I love, ride and volunteer,” explained Whorton.
Now, everywhere she competes, even if she isn’t volunteering or if she is just schooling, she is always thinking of ways to make her hometown event better and is constantly sending back ideas to implement at the next show. She truly dedicates her time to making these events the best they can possibly be and the community feels so lucky to have her on their team. They use words like “selfless,” “passionate,” “dedicated,” and “spirited” to describe her and add that their Horse Park would not have half of what it has now without Whorton’s work and ideas. It is incredible to see the impact she has had on the community, and last year Area IV honored Whorton when they named her as the 2017 Volunteer of the Year. After many years and hours behind the scenes, Whorton was overwhelmed with appreciation for the honor.
Area IV and the entire eventing community love having Whorton as part of their team and the eventing community doesn’t know what they would do without her. So this year, if you see Whorton wearing one of her many hats at an event, be sure to give her a big thank you because these shows could not function 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.
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