Dec 01, 2019

Leah Fleming: USEA's Volunteer of the Month Presented by Athletux

By Mikaela Kantorowski - Athletux Equine
Photo courtesy of Leah Fleming.

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].

December’s Volunteer of the Month, Leah Fleming, did not grow up around horses. Nor did she ride or even know what the sport of eventing was prior to her 12-year-old niece, Ashlee, coming to live with her. It was when Ashlee’s friend’s younger sister began riding at a local barn that her mom thought Ashlee might like to come out one day to see what it was like. According to Fleming, “That was pretty much it.” Through Ashlee, Fleming continued to become more involved as Ashlee leased a horse for a couple of years and met a forever friend who has become a huge part of their family. Their knowledge, passion for horses, and love of all equestrian sports grew as their time spent in the barn increased. Fleming said, “Once she finally stopped begging for a horse of her own, we got Roux, a Quarter Horse/Paint,” and the rest they say, is history.

Now, the Fleming family has 2.5 horses as Fleming explained, “One is a mini so she counts as a half even though she has the attitude of four and I don’t ride any of them. I’ve had two lessons ever and finally worked up the nerve to ride our draft cross, Jimmy, a couple of months ago.” Her hesitation in the saddle comes from a bad fall she suffered 10 years ago while out riding a trail horse. It left her with a fractured back and a bit of apprehension. Thus while she still would rather spend time on the ground rather than in a saddle, she makes up for it by the long hours spent around the horses and out volunteering.

Fleming initially went to Loch Moy Farm, home to some of Area II’s longest-running events, to help out the safety officer and ended up working in dressage warmup. “I discovered I loved watching the horse and rider pairs figuring each other out as they went around the course and watching the praise heaped on the horses when they did well and even when they didn’t perform as expected,” she added. She was also quick to say her favorite role to fill is anything out on cross-country, minus the warm-up. “I’m old and my back and feet hurt,” she said jokingly.

Leah (center) volunteering at Loch Moy Farm. Photo courtes of Leah Fleming.

For Fleming, it’s the time spent watching the horse/rider pairs read the questions the course designers present them with and the different ways that each rider approaches the exact same jump that make it even more exciting. “You learn a lot just by sitting back and watching. Plus, except for the hoof beats coming past every 2-3 minutes, it’s quiet out there on course! I can sit there and do nothing other than watch and report on my assigned jumps,” she explained.

Eventing, while exciting, can also be quite tranquil as Fleming pointed out. It also is an outlet for everyone, riders and volunteers alike. “There is no worrying about not cleaning the house or mowing or what I’m going to make for dinner because as a bonus Carolyn [Mackintosh of Loch Moy Farm] feeds her volunteers at the end of the day,” she said. It is a completely different side of volunteering that often gets overlooked. Volunteering is not only a way to give back, but also a way to escape, a way to catch up with friends, and a way to generally forget everything else because you’re so involved and so connected to what you’re doing at that event or show.

After just a few days volunteering, she was hooked and never looked back. “What kept me coming back though were the people I met and worked with. The riders, the event staff/coordinators, the other volunteers . . . It’s such a diverse group of people with everyone having at least one thing in common – their love of horses,” Fleming said. It is easy to hear the passion for the sport and the people whom she has met along the way when she talks about her fond experiences volunteering.

Now, whenever the trio behind Loch Moy Farm - Dale Clabaugh, Carolyn Mackintosh, and Gena Cindric - call, she is there in an instant. Plus, she will go wherever she is needed, “Except for the year my brother dared to plan his wedding during a heavy recognized show weekend,” she said with a laugh adding, “At the end of the day, spending your weekends with horses far outweighs doing chores, right?”

Over the course of time, Fleming has filled just about every role imaginable. From cross-country fence judge to scribing for dressage, stadium, YEH/FEH jumps and conformation and even acting as ‘catcher’ at the end of the jump chute, she has done it all. Fleming has also performed some volunteer official duties by filling in as a show jumping judge for unrecognized shows. Add that on top of working as the show jumping jump crew, cross-country and show jumping timer, cross-country starter, cross-country control and stewarding, and you have one of the most well-rounded volunteers you will ever meet. A fond memory of Fleming’s? “One time I was even a ‘horse’ when a young rider was too scared to ride her real horse over ground poles in a lead-line class,” she said.

Leah acting as a "horse". Photo courtesy of Leah Fleming.

Currently, Fleming is seventh on the USEA VIP All-Time Leaderboard totaling 430 hours and 54 minutes since hours began to get recorded. Just this year, Fleming has logged 184 hours and 39 minutes. That is over seven 24-hour days! When you consider typically one logs about 16 hours per event weekend, that is quite a bit. “I've managed to make it into the top five volunteers (for hours, not necessarily for my brilliance) for USEA Area II with many more hours worked at Loch Moy for unrecognized events,” Fleming added.

Finally, we asked Fleming about what her favorite part of the sport was and she answered, “There’s nothing about the sport that I don’t enjoy. I used to think that dressage was the most boring thing ever and couldn’t imagine what purpose it served but by watching and scribing. Then I learned that it is actually an integral part of the relationship-building between horse and rider. If you can’t master the basics, you probably don’t want to be out there on the tougher events where the obstacles are less forgiving.” However, she did have to add, “With that said, the inherent risk in cross-country has me hooked – watching, not doing.”

Fleming’s passion and love of the sport and volunteering comes through in spades when you speak with her. Anyone can tell Fleming loves what she does, and we feel so grateful to have Fleming as part of our eventing community. She gives so much back to the sport and her you can’t help but smile and enjoy everything happening around you when volunteering alongside her. Fleming is more than deserving of this month’s nomination and we can’t thank her enough for all she does. If you see Fleming out and about next year, be sure to give her a huge thank you as well. Eventing wouldn’t be possible without Fleming and all the amazing volunteers that make our sport happen.

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 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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