“Everyone who is a student of mine has to go volunteer,” said veteran five-star rider Jane Sleeper. Sleeper, who has made over 10 trips to the Kentucky Three-Day Event and completed Burghley in 2007, is particularly proud of her working student program at Jane Sleeper Eventing. With her program, Sleeper emphasizes that earning a well-rounded education of the sport comes by not only competing, but also through volunteering.
“The biggest thing I have found out about volunteering is the education. When you volunteer you learn so much - you learn how to set up a show jumping course, you learn what the judge is looking for in dressage. When you’re a warmup steward you see how people warm their horses up,” said Sleeper.
For as long as she can remember, and many years before the creation of the USEA Volunteer Incentive Program presented by Sunsprite Warmbloods (VIP), Sleeper has always encouraged volunteering. “I’m from a big family and my parents always stressed that everybody helps everybody out. I think that’s where it started.”
Based out of Chester County, Pennsylvania, Sleeper and her students frequently volunteer at Plantation Field, Fair Hill, and in the winter at Full Gallop Farm and Pine Top – all of which are registered events through www.EventingVolunteers.com, which allows her students to record volunteer hours.
Sleeper explained, “I’ve always volunteered myself at the trot up at Plantation Field International. I did that even when I was competing. It’s fun and it’s a time I’m free to help out. It’s just so educational, and of course, it pays back the sport too. To me [I think of volunteering] as giving yourself another great opportunity to learn.”
“I usually go to Full Gallop Farm in the winter and Lara Anderson has a great program where if you volunteer, you get a certain amount of credits and then you can earn a free entry to a starter event, combined test, or a recognized event (if you volunteer long enough). It’s great because my students set up the show jump course and they learn all the rules in setting up a show jump course.”
“It gets fit into the schedule whenever there is time,” said Sleeper when finding the time for her students to volunteer at events. Marsha Zebley, one of Sleeper’s longtime students, found herself with an unexpected amount of time at the Maryland H.T. in 2007. Sleeper shared the memorable story of how volunteering changed a bad day into good for Zebley. “We were at Maryland H.T. and my student was on a green horse and was second to show jump in the Preliminary. She jumped the first fence and went down the long side and turned. But the horse went right through the rope and jumped out of the ring. She was eliminated and had a fit. She was yelling and throwing things and I said, ‘I think it would be good for you to volunteer and work at the show jumping.’ It was the best thing – the event announced it, they thanked her, they put it up on the website, and they invited her to compete at the next event the following week. It turned into such a great experience.”
“Another thing I encourage from my students is when volunteers speak to you while you’re warming up, don’t just ignore them – thank them. Acknowledge that you heard them and that you’re paying attention so that you’re not so nervous that you can’t think. It’s just a way of encouraging the students to learn.”
“I think that volunteering and helping each other out is a vital part of being a human. It keeps you four square where you have four feet on the ground (even though we’re not horses). Lucinda Green used to always use the term ‘four square’ and that’s how I feel about volunteering – you just become a better rider, better competitor, better groom, and overall a better human being.”
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.
Having this historic competition close isn't the right result for the sport, and the United States Eventing Association (USEA) is working hard to find a solution. The organizer and landowners operate exceptional events on a beautiful piece of land. We are deeply sensitive to the history of the word "plantation" and its connection to slavery; however, this property has no known connections to slavery and was instead named after 'plantings' on the property.
After a quiet spring season due to COVID-19, the fall season is ramping up and this weekend we have the first of two West Coast CCI4*-S events taking place at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, California.
Dawn Robbins is a current USEA Board of Governors member, Area VI adult rider, and a contributor to the development of the Event Management System (EMS). Note that this article was written more than a year ago and serves as a guide for future USEA software development.
Discover a position so natural and a connection so sensitive your saddle all but disappears as your performance comes to life. This saddle celebrates the art of dressage – the sculpted performance conducted by horse and rider in choreographing every movement with emotion, power, and grace.