“Volunteers are the backbone of our sport because if we had to pay every person that’s needed to run an event, the entry fee would be up to $2,000 a horse.” Christina Gray explained. “It’s astronomical the number of volunteers that are needed to do this sport but it’s what makes the sport so great.” A show secretary extraordinaire and a newly minted FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) volunteer, Gray has been on both sides of the volunteer curtain.
Gray’s events fully embrace the United States Eventing Association (USEA) Volunteer Incentive Program (VIP) and their online management system, EventingVolunteers.com. The growing popularity of the VIP program, which is only three years old, can be seen in the numbers. In 2017, 71 events and 631 volunteers were registered and now 114 events and 1,796 volunteers are using EventingVolunteers.com.
As a show secretary, Gray interacts with riders, officials, volunteers, owners, and spectators on a daily basis. “Everyone’s friendly and everyone’s cheering for each other. You see other [equestrian] sports where everyone’s paid, and it loses that family feel.” The family feel can be felt across the country as four-star event rider Sharon White, USEA CEO Rob Burk, and U.S. Eventing Hall of Fame member David O’Connnor have all been spotted volunteering their time to better the sport. “A lot of the volunteers are local but most the time it’s from the community itself. You’ll have riders that are riding in the morning and volunteering in the afternoon."
Emphasis on volunteer treatment, Gray pointed out a mistake events can make that leave a bad taste in a volunteer’s mouth, both figuratively and literally. “You can fail as an event by not providing adequate food for your volunteers who are giving up their time to help you."
“I think every volunteer likes a different thing. Personally, I like scribing because you get to learn a lot from the judge’s perspective. Jump judging is one of the larger needs and at bigger events you need more volunteers - jump judges at every jump, spectator control, crossing guards, etc. When I was working with Rolex [Kentucky Three-Day Event], we would have over 1,000 volunteers."
Show jumping warmup can be stressful, the start box on a fired-up horse can be stressful, dancing in the sandbox can be stressful; eventing can be a nerve-racking experience for any rider at any level and volunteers can have an impact on the high-stress environment. Gray explained, “As a volunteer, make sure that you’re friendly with the competitors because a lot of the times the riders are stressed and anxious so you need to remain happy and have a smile on your face."
Nations united in Tryon N.C., not just to compete against one another at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games, but to lend a helping hand on cross-country day. “What was interesting about WEG was the volunteer I worked with was from England. She has volunteered with her husband at every Olympics and every World Equestrian Games. They both flew over and have always enjoyed volunteering at the big events. Now, I have a place to stay whenever I go to England,” said a smiling Gray.
“I was fortunate enough to work with Shelley Page, the eventing discipline manager for WEG 2018 and she had a need for someone to video the cross-country. The reason for video on cross-country was to see if the horse’s shoulders go between the flags. [If questioned] they have an instant replay where officials can easily review it.”
“For me it was super exciting because I got to watch cross-country and was lucky to be videoing the notorious fence 10ABCDEFG. It was fun, and I got to meet a lot of great people. The best part about it was running into people from all over the country that were there just to watch.”
Whether it’s a big or small event, Gray has run into multiple international volunteers. “At Twin Rivers this April we had people from Australia who were passing through and happened to stop and volunteer just because they wanted to see the horse show.”
“Volunteers have many different qualities and it’s about finding the right job and what you enjoy doing.” Find the right fit on EventingVolunteers.com and compete for the chance to win the year-end USEA Volunteer of the Year award!
About the Volunteer Incentive Program
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 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, trophies, a top ten USEA Volunteer leaderboard, and a Volunteer of the Year award which is given to the volunteer who accumulates 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.
USEA podcast host Nicole Brown chats with Interim Eventing Chef d’Equipe and Team Manager of the U.S. Eventing Team Bobby Costello about the Silver Medal Performance put forward by the U.S. Team at the 2022 FEI Eventing World Championships.
There is still time to experience the long format of three-day eventing this year, by competing in a fall USEA Classic Series Event! The USEA Classic Series offers long-format eventing at the Beginner Novice, Novice, Training, Modified, and Preliminary levels, and there are still a few left on the fall calendar in various Areas.
This story first appeared in the August 2022 issue of Sidelines Magazine.
I have had many young horses in my time, and one thing I’ve learned is that it’s rarely the perfect, easy baby that becomes the next superstar. In fact, I’ve always considered it a positive to have the well-behaved youngster throw a little bit of attitude my way, as I believe that it takes fight to become a great event horse.