A lifelong love of horses has blossomed into so much more for Kristen Janicki through not only a lifetime of volunteering, but also her career. Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Janicki loved all animals, especially horses, from a very young age. While she never owned a horse of her own growing up, she got her start in the saddle at a local hunter/jumper barn and competed in local competitions. In 1993, she took a Quarter Horse named Ozzie that she was leasing to the Fox River Valley Pony Club Three-Day Event where she won her division and found herself hooked.
“My love of horses continued and I went on to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1998 and then attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky, studying under Dr. Laurie Lawrence in the area of Equine Nutrition.”
While in graduate school, Janicki found that she was too busy to own her own horse, so she began taking lessons with Champagne Run in Lexington, Kentucky. In addition to running a booming training facility, Maggie Wright of Champagne Run also organizes events held at the Kentucky Horse Park so Janicki began competing at and volunteering at those events.
“I was awestruck that ‘normal’ people got to show at such a cool facility where professional three-day eventers competed,” Janicki reflected. “That was about 20 years ago, and I’m still at it! I’ve probably done it all from running dressage tests, ring stewarding, jump judging, ring crew, scribing. You name it, I’ve probably done it! I was even able to e-scribe at the 2010 World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park for Para-Dressage, which was easily the coolest volunteer position I have ever done!”
Now Janicki also assists with events put on by the Keeneland Pony Club and the Mid-South Eventing and Dressage Association (MSEDA). After years of helping with so many different events, Janicki feels that her sweet spot in volunteering lies within scoring.
“Scoring, especially show jumping and cross-country, is interesting because you get to work with a lot of different people, from judges to stewards to technical delegates, and really understand what it takes to make an event happen. I’m a very analytical person, so following a set of rules and guidelines is easy for me to implement into my job as a scorer, and you have to do a lot of that while scoring,” she commented.
While the days are long, Janicki says they are well worth it because of the people she has worked alongside and now become friends with. “They love the sport as much as I do, and there’s nothing better than watching someone cross the finish flags with their arms around their horse’s neck even though they didn’t make time and had 20 penalties on course.”
When it comes to the eventing community, Janicki says her love for the sport all boils down to two things: the relationship between the horse and rider and the people involved in the sport.
“Being a volunteer for as long as I have, it's so much fun to see horses and riders compete up the levels successfully, or a horse take several riders through their first Beginner Novice or Novice horse trials. Eventing is such an interesting sport with three distinct phases, and that requires riders to really understand their own strengths and weaknesses, plus that of their mount. That doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a relationship that is built with trust and time. The eventing community is one of the most supportive groups of people I have known. In 2021, I had a close friend competing in the Novice Amateur division at the USEA American Eventing Championships, and it was so much fun cheering her and her horse on in every phase, regardless of how she placed. Just watching her cross the finish double clear on a horse she developed was so inspiring and emotional, it was such a great moment for me to be there with her!”
Her childhood love of horses has had a huge impact on Janicki’s entire life and she was even able to make a career out of that passion as the Associate Digital Brand Manager for BUCKEYE Nutrition. She gets to travel often with the Mars Equestrian team at several of the events that they sponsor.
“I am lucky that my personal and professional life blend together every day,” remarked Janicki. “Working with the Mars Equestrian team is a completely different and fun perspective, and I get to experience some of the larger events through the sponsorship and trade show side as well, such as Kentucky Three-Day Event and Maryland 5 Star. On top of that, I work directly with our sponsored riders for BUCKEYE Nutrition, and developing successful nutrition programs for these high-level athletes brings out the geek in me!”
And if you are wondering, yes Janicki did finally get a horse of her own, Romeo a black APHA gelding who she competed in several smaller combined tests and horse trials around Lexington until he was retired in 2011. At the ripe age of 23, Romeo is happily enjoying his retirement, and Janicki is still volunteering.
If you are competing at the Kentucky Horse Park and see a volunteer with a Golden Retriever named Rey, that is Janicki! Rey often accompanies Janicki on her volunteering excursions, and she hopes that competitors, eventing fans, and other volunteers alike will stop by and say hello the next time they are competing in Lexington.
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 United States Eventing Association (USEA) is pleased to announce the addition of the Modified Rider division beginning at the 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC), presented by Nutrena Feeds. The USEA AEC will move back to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky August 29–September 3, 2023.
Are you interested in competing in the sport of eventing but aren’t quite sure how to get started? Do you have a horse that is looking for a new career? Consider participating in a USEA New Event Horse (NEH) competition in 2023! The USEA NEH Program was created to be an introduction to the sport of eventing for both horse and rider, and the 2023 NEH Calendar is now available here.
Will Coleman had a huge 2022 with his string of horses, including a team silver medal at the FEI World Eventing Championship in Italy on Off The Record and top four-star placings with Chin Tonic HS, but it was Dondante whose consistency paid off to earn the Standlee Premium Western Forage USEA Horse of the Year title.
Julie Murray has loved horses since she could breathe, so when her daughters showed an interest in Pony Club and then eventing, she was thrilled to go along for the ride.
Murray started volunteering at the Fallbrook Pony Club near her home in Fallbrook, California, serving as an intermediate district commissioner.