Oct 20, 2022

The VIP Volunteer: Katie Bystrom

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
Photo courtesy of Katie Bystrom

For Katie Bystrom, becoming an equestrian was destiny. “A love of horses is in the DNA of the females in our family,” Bystrom shared. Her mom grew up riding with her grandmother on the family farm in Indiana and eventually, Bystrom would follow in the same path, pursuing her love of horses at a young age out on the trails with her mom.

“At two, I got my first pony. My dad would take my pony for runs with him like a dog and I'd bounce around bareback giggling the entire time with my pink helmet,” she said. “My mom would pony me from her horse for miles and miles after school and on weekends giving me really safe positive miles. After years of begging for lessons, I finally got my wish for my fifth birthday.”

While her start in the show ring was in the hunter/jumper realm, Bystrom soon connected with eventing through the United States Pony Club. From there, Bystrom states, there was no looking back.

“I've been eventing in Area VII ever since. It's been challenging, but wonderful to keep eventing through having kids. We have spent a lot of miles and hours in the truck driving to shows. The lessons the girls are learning by being a part of the Area VII eventing community are invaluable. They have a safe place to fail, make mistakes, and grow.”

Bystrom and one of her daughters at a local show. Photo courtesy of Katie Bystrom

Bystrom runs Back Road Eventing in Pullman, Washington, and her training program has one unique aspect to it. “In my program, volunteering is just part of the privilege of showing. I expect clients and their families to help whenever they can. From painting jumps weeks before the show, to cleaning up the parking/camping areas on Sunday after events - we do what we can to take some stress off show hosts and organizers. I believe in leading by example. I try to get out and volunteer as often as I can at shows. If I have a light client load at a show or I'm not riding very many horses, I fill in where I can. We won't have any shows if we don't have enough volunteers. I feel like we all need to do our part.”

Bystrom, who has logged over 70 hours of volunteer time in 2022 so far, shares that of all of the volunteer positions she has held over her volunteering career, the position of warm-up steward holds a special place in her heart.

“You can make or break a rider’s day in this position,” reflected Bystrom. “It is so important to minimize each rider’s stress and keep them focused on their horse. It's not the easiest job and there are a lot of emotions swirling, but I try to get everyone where they need to be with a smile on their face. This position really influences the vibe of a show. As a rider and coach, I appreciate a good ring steward so much.”

As eventers know, the show must go on no matter the circumstances! Oftentimes competitors are challenged with riding in the elements, but what often goes overlooked is that volunteers must combat these issues as well. For Bystrom, finding the silver lining on the more arduous days is pretty easy.

“Volunteering is not glamorous, it's often in pretty horrific conditions: rain, extreme heat, dust, but please know how appreciated you are and keep volunteering. You never know what opportunities will present themselves because you were there,” Bystrom shared. “I can't tell you how many opportunities I've been given because I was there, showing up and working hard, going the extra mile. To me volunteering is just an extension of showing up and getting the job done. This industry would never work without volunteers. Volunteering will be part of every job you take with horses: coaching, riding, officiating, organizing shows, it's not a 9-5 clock on and off culture. To be successful you need to be prepared to volunteer your time and prove yourself.”

Photo courtesy of Katie Bystrom

It’s not just the reward of giving back to her sport that makes Bystrom so passionate about volunteering. She loves the connections she makes in the various roles she can hold. “When you volunteer you meet awesome people. I have made so many friends through being out in the rings at shows. You see the same names show after show and I try to match a few names to faces each time. By the end of each season, I've always made new friends. Eventers are great about showing up and being there for each other.”

Just like she does in her own program, Bystrom strongly encourages all eventers and their support systems to give back to the sport any chance that they can get.

“Please get out and volunteer! It makes me so sad to see Organizers having to post on Facebook desperate for help. Is it hard to juggle with clients showing and horses to ride? Yes. Is it necessary for the survival of our sport? Yes, I think so. Bring friends, bring family, and get them involved.”

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.

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