Mar 10, 2023

The VIP Volunteer: Dick Owen

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Dick Owen gets ready to start Buck Davidson at Rocking Horse. Photos courtesy of Dick Owen

After working for nearly 30 years as a broadcast engineer and operations manager for the largest radio network in the country, Westwood One, Richard "Dick" Owen has acquired many of the skills needed to help a horse trial run smoothly. From presidential inaugurations to political conventions to the State of the Union address, Owen’s friendly and calm demeanor and experience with the logistics of covering major events have served him well in Area III, where he volunteers on dozens of weekends a year.

Owen was named Area III’s top volunteer of 2022, and he also won the U.S Eventing Association’s Volunteer Incentive Program Volunteer of the Year for 2022 with 489.5 hours of service.

A native of Massachusetts, Owen got involved with horses after visiting a local show in Maryland with a friend. Living near Washington, D.C., at the time and working constantly, he was stressed out and found a day in the country to be just what he needed.

“I said, ‘Why am I not here? It’s a beautiful day, everybody’s laughing and having a good time and tailgating. There’s no drama. I love animals. Everyone’s just having fun,’” he remembered.

"Sometimes this job bites!" Dick Owen at Three Lakes Horse Trials.

Inspired by his visit, Owen decided to buy a horse and learn to ride in his 50s. Soon after, he joined an internet chat group about horses and saw a post about the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event needing volunteers, so he got in touch and made his first trip in 1999. He also started volunteering at Fair Hill (Elkton, Maryland) close to home.

After a few years, Owen became the chief steward of competitor and owner shuttles and the cross-country jump videographers' chief steward at Kentucky.

When his horse died in retirement several years ago, Owen and his wife, Carolyn Jones, relocated to Daytona Beach, Florida, and Owen got connected with Emily Holmes at the Florida Horse Park in Ocala. He also got back into casual riding and found a Quarter Horse through a friend.

“I’ve found that volunteering was a way to meet a lot of good people in an area I was new to,” he said. “It’s brought me around the state so I can see all these different venues. That’s all a side benefit to the fact that I get to watch one of the most incredible sports you can imagine. I just think the ability of these horses and riders to do what they do is absolutely incredible. To see them and appreciate their athletic ability and to see the progression of the riders is pretty amazing.”

Owen, 72, particularly likes watching the development of young riders and grass roots riders at his local events.

“Volunteering gives me the opportunity to watch these people grow and watch the sport mature in many ways,” he said. “I’m glad to see the advancements we’ve made in the course designs and frangible designs and things like that because I’ve seen too many accidents. It’s a great thing to be able to be out there and participate and to offer back. I really enjoy doing it. You see the good, the bad, the ugly, and you gain an appreciation of the good riders because you see the bad. It makes you appreciate the sport more and appreciate how difficult it is to succeed in the sport.”

Dick Owen often helps set up videographers on cross-country day.

Owen can most often be found handling cross-country start or finish at Florida events like Rocking Horse, Three Lakes, Grand Oaks, Majestic Oaks, Ocala, and Barnstaple. He’s traveled further south to TerraNova and has also helped out at Tryon (Mill Spring, North Carolina) in Area II.

“The people I’ve met I really enjoy,” he said. “It’s become an extended family I wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Owen has come up with a few innovations in his time as a volunteer, including the fan cut-outs that the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event sold during the 2021 event when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented spectators.

“They ended up going along with the idea,” he said. “I put three cut outs of my own there. That was fun and interesting. It was my way of trying to help them out as opposed to being just a worker.”

At the former Ocala Jockey Club event and at Tryon, Owen worked as a videographer and helped improve the technology from Go Pros and unmanned cameras on cross-country to using tablets and training volunteers to video.

“We came down to using tablets, and that worked out real well,” he said. “I put together a thing saying, this is how we’re going to do it and with a video. Now we have a very standard practice. Last year we had 27 cameras on course.”

While he’s given up his longtime role with the competitor and owner shuttle at Kentucky this year, he’ll still head up the videographers.

Owen said the VIP leaderboard wasn’t a goal for him, but he’s happy to have won. “I’m very appreciative of the VIP Program,” he said. “I hope more venues take advantage of it. The fact that you can see what positions are available and choose the position you want and that you feel comfortable with as opposed to doing a general signup, I think that type of situation is the way to go.”

Dick Owen helped bring the fan cut-outs to life at the 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.

He encourages everyone to try to volunteer when they can. “I think more people really need to try and come out and volunteer,” he said. “There is such a need for them, and people don’t think that they can. They don’t think they have the ability to. What they don’t realize is, they will be instructed on how to do it, and it’s not something that’s rocket science. Once you learn the basics of judging or helping, there’s not a lot of difficulty. It’s an opportunity that a lot of people need to take advantage of.”

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 (https://useventing.com/support-usea/volunteer) to learn more about the USEA Volunteer Incentive Program.

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