Jun 30, 2023

The VIP Volunteer: Susan Hart

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Susan Hart (left) on the job. Photos courtesy of Susan Hart

When Susan Hart was considering a move to Malvern, Pennsylvania, for a job in pharmaceuticals with DuPont, she had no intention of getting involved with eventing since dressage was her passion, but after driving around the Fair Hill property in Elkton, Maryland, she was intrigued.

“The guy who recruited me was a rider and knew I was a rider,” she said. “He instructed my dinner host to make sure that the route he took from Dupont to the Fair Hill Inn went through Fair Hill, and it was explained to me what it was. Fair Hill was used as a recruiting tool!”

Hart always enjoyed volunteering at dressage shows but found it difficult to do so in her local dressage community. She’d been aware of eventing, but had never pursued it.

“[Dressage is] a French word that I translate to, ‘scared of heights,’ so the jumping part didn’t appeal to me,” she said with a laugh. “I started to get involved [with eventing] because I was getting very frustrated with the roadblocks I was getting from the Dressage at Devon and Festival of Champions organizers about not letting me scribe because I didn’t have ‘FEI experience.’ I figured, alright, a four-star eventing competition is FEI, so let’s see if they’ll let me scribe. Lo and behold, the eventing community is not the same thing. They were willing to accept and train anyone who was willing to wield a pen.”

Hart got hooked on volunteering in eventing because she was allowed to scribe, but as time went on, she picked up other jobs. In fact, her first job was fence judging at Fair Hill in 2018 after she’d found the Eventing Volunteers app. It was too late to sign up for the feature CCI4*-L, but a starter horse trial had openings.

“So my first gig was fence judging at a schooling event for Fair Hill, sitting in the rain for seven hours in a chair and rubber rain suit because I was afraid to drive on the grass, and just gobsmacked at how cheerfully these competitors went out in the mud and the pouring rain and got their horses successfully over these things that scared the crap out of me just looking at them,” she said.

She returned to Fair Hill in the spring and started learning about other events in Area II through the Eventing Volunteers app. Now she’ll travel to any event within about 1.5 hours.

Hart says she appreciates the training, athleticism, and harmony between horse and rider in eventing, but says the biggest thing she enjoys is the community.

“Everyone from my fellow volunteers, the competitors, the behind the scenes professionals—course builders, course decorators, ground jury—appreciate and welcome volunteers and are willing to invest in my education,” she said. “The fact that they’re willing to invest in my education is what makes me stay. Everybody has everybody’s back, and everybody wants to teach you. I haven’t found that with any other discipline. That and the way that the competition managers and competitors appreciate the fact that we’re giving our free time, our energy, and our efforts to make this happen for them, and they say thank you and try to teach you to do your job better—it means a lot to me.”

Susan Hart (left) will take any job that needs to be filled at an event.

Hart found a passion in course decorating, and she loves helping get the cross-country course set up, especially at Fair Hill. If she has some free time, she’ll text organizer Mary Coldren and ask if anything needs to be done in preparation. She can often be found with a paint brush in hand helping stain jumps or helping the course designer and learning about how decorations help a horse read a fence.

“I was down on the ground with [course designer] Ian Stark learning how to make ground lines. He was willing to teach me. Imagine that!” she said. “The more I’ve done it, and the more it’s been brought home to me how much that matters in terms of horse and rider safety and their ability to understand and negotiate the questions that each jump asks, the more I’ve learned and the more I’m intrigued by it. It kind of speaks to the scientist in me. And there’s an aesthetic and artistic thing to it too.”

Hart, who now works as a non-clinical safety expert for a small pharmaceutical company, often ends up filling in for jobs that need to be done. One day she might be scribing, the next she might be jump judging if the event is short of bodies.

“The volunteer coordinators know I’m the square peg that fits in any round hole around here, so if there’s a critical position that’s missing, they’ll ask me to do it, and I never say no, and I’ve learned a lot and sometimes had the most fun with things that I’ve done that I would have turned my nose up at if it hadn’t been something that needed to be done,” she said.

Hart can usually be found volunteering at Plantation Field, Waredaca, and MCTA when she’s not at Fair Hill

She earned third place on the Eventing Volunteer VIP leaderboard in 2022 with 461 hours, and she earned the USEA’s Area II Volunteer of the Year award. This year she’s already at 218 hours.

“I tend to be very competitive which is why I gave up showing,” she said. “I put on blinders and set a goal for myself. My goal was to go from bronze [medal] to silver in a single year. I needed 460 hours to do I, so I knew it was going to be a stretch. My goal this year is 500 and to see how much I can contribute while staying sane and staying employed!

“It’s nice to have that acknowledged,” she continued. “I love it because the app and website make it so easy to find ways to contribute. If you’re not part of a GMO in the dressage world, you can forget about volunteering at shows because nobody lets you know they need your help. But the eventing community with that program has made it so easy to get involved. It’s a great tool.”

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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