When Daniel Stickney met his future wife Kathy in college, he had zero involvement in the horse world. Kathy had ridden as a teen and after marrying in graduate school, the couple was invited on a trail ride by an acquaintance who owned a boarding and lesson barn. That trail ride sparked Kathy’s fire for riding again and she began working at the barn to help offset costs of lessons and boarding for her first horse, Kismet. Suddenly Daniel found himself in the saddle as well. The two have been riding together for over 30 years now.
After completing graduate school, the Stickney’s moved to Indiana where fueled by Kathy’s desire to event, they both joined the Indiana Eventing Association (IEA). “The IEA has always had a strong volunteer culture,” Daniel shared. “I first started volunteering at cross-country workdays because my brush cutting skills were more evolved than my riding skills and volunteering was the best way for me to participate in the sport. Once I was known as a reliable workday volunteer, I was asked to volunteer for more and more things. My riding did progress to the point where I started competing,” he joked.
Volunteering at events became a staple activity in the Stickney household, to the point where it became a family affair. “Volunteering has always been a family activity for us. I get more attention than Kathy because the volunteering I do is up-front and visible, but I think Kathy contributes just as much in less obvious ways. Over the years she’s been dressage chair, score runner, starter, timer, dressage scribe, and compiled and printed the program. For the last few years, she has been using her ‘teacher’s voice’ as the stadium warmup steward to keep things running on time. Our daughter Jennifer has also put in many hours as a fence judge, score runner, and my assistant on cross-country,” Daniel reflected.
Daniel’s involvement with the IEA continued to grow and one day he found himself elected as President of the association. His time as president of the IEA really impacted his mindset on volunteering in a whole new way. “As a former President of the Indiana Eventing Association, I know that you have to lead if you want others to follow, so you have to volunteer if you want others to volunteer,” he shared. “This sport relies on volunteers, and no volunteer position is too unimportant. Horse trials of any significant size require hundreds of volunteers. There’s at least one volunteer for every flag on the course. But you also can’t demand more than your volunteers are willing to give. You have to be willing to accept whatever your volunteers have to contribute because everything counts towards the goal and you have to let the volunteers know that every contribution is valued. A lot of the most important jobs, like scoring and scribing, take place behind the scenes and don’t get a lot of public recognition.”
The IEA has regular volunteers who have given their time and energy to the IEA for over 30 years. Daniel reflected that he first met some of the current volunteers he works alongside when they began volunteering as children with their parents. That feeling of camaraderie and the family-focused atmosphere is what inspires Daniel to remain a constant fixture in the Area VIII eventing community.
“Anyone who has ever participated or contributed is welcome,” he commented. “I am not particularly accomplished as a rider, but nobody looks down on me for that. I may not be up to riding prelim, but a lot of prelim riders have jumped fences I’ve painted.”
In reflecting upon his time as a volunteer, Daniel shared several stories of the community coming together to help one another out when needed. He also noted that as a rider the honesty that comes from riding cross-country has impacted him greatly throughout his time as an eventer.
“I’ve received some hilariously blunt instruction from coaches and clinicians over the years. They don’t sugarcoat things to spare your feelings because your safety requires their honesty. You have to be confident in your skills, honest about your abilities, and fully committed to your task to successfully negotiate the course, all things that I will freely admit to struggling with at times. But once you enter that start box at any level you have to show your horse ‘we got this’ and ride with intention. It’s something you either have to do whole-heartedly or not at all.”
While he jokingly shared that the free food is a definite perk to serving as a volunteer, Daniel’s true motivation for volunteering runs much deeper than that. “My favorite part is watching the riders as they finish the course, especially the kids. It’s the high point of my week. I do appreciate the thanks I get but I mostly do it for the smiles.”
Daniel has held many jobs since his first time volunteering with the IEA including starter, timer, warmup, and ring steward, but his passion lies in preparing the cross-country course for the competitors. “I spend the week before the IEA Horse Trials at the Hoosier Horse Park doing whatever needs to be done, which is usually a lot of trimming, raking, and other small but vital jobs like filling the water complex, setting up the start boxes, and warmup, painting and anything else the course builder needs,” he shared. “I try to do as much of the little stuff as possible so our course builders can concentrate their valuable time on the important things. It can be very challenging to get everything done if the weather doesn’t cooperate, but we’ve always managed so far.”
The sheer manpower that goes into running an event successfully is something that Daniel has a thorough understanding of. “A lot of people don’t fully appreciate the logistics required for running a horse trial. Even a relatively modest horse trial running starter through prelim requires six tracks and something around 100-120 jumping efforts, which at our venue means 80 or more portables that have to be placed, staked, flagged, and numbered. That’s 200-240 flags, 100-120 numbers, 160 stakes, and a whole box of screws.”
The IEA also offers both Training and Novice USEA Classic series long-format events which means additional preparation and volunteer hours. “That requires two more cross-country tracks, roads and tracks, a vet box, and a steeplechase course with three or four more portable fences and still more flags. Now throw in the flowers, decorations, start boxes, and roping where needed. Now pile three dressage and one or two show jumping rings on top of that. It all adds up to some surprisingly big numbers fairly quickly. Setting up the show involves thousands of small tasks that all have to be accomplished in a fairly short time, and many of them are best accomplished before the other volunteers arrive or can’t be done until the competition is complete.”
While Daniel stays busy volunteering in any way he is needed during the sanctioned IEA events, he does treat himself to some time in the show ring with his Cleveland Bay BHF Captain during the schooling shows held in the community. He noted that many of the volunteers from the sanctioned shows turn to the IEA’s Leg Up Schooling Show as an opportunity to get into the ring and shares a way that he feels volunteerism can continue to grow not only in Area VIII but all across the country.
“Most of our volunteers at our IEA Horse Trials and our Leg Up schooling show are people who ride at the lower levels and their families, kids who have just caught the eventing bug, parents, pony clubbers, and the like. I think it’s important for people at the mid and upper levels to also give back to the sport by volunteering at the schooling shows where the kids who volunteer at the big shows get to ride. That’s the sort of volunteerism we need to have to make the sport sustainable.”
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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