Sep 10, 2023

Volunteerism Brings Eventing Lovers Together at the 2023 AEC

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
USEA/Meagan DeLisle photo

With 850 competitors on the roster, putting on this year’s USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds was no easy task. And like all other horse trials in the U.S., the AEC still relies heavily on the efforts of volunteers to bring its efforts to fruition. Over 750 volunteer shifts were filled over the course of the 7-day-long competition by an outstanding 300-plus volunteers. Those volunteers hailed from all over the country, with 30% of the final volunteer number driving in from out of state. Eventing enthusiasts flew in from each coast to help make this event a special one for the qualified competitors this year. While on grounds, the USEA caught up with a handful of these spectacular individuals to get the down low on why they opted to volunteer at this year’s national championships.

Liz Fronczek was a returning AEC volunteer, having offered up her time at the 2021 championships the last time they were in Kentucky shortly after making the move to Kentucky from the Chicago area. For Franzia, giving her time back to the sport is what fills her cup and has her volunteering time after time again.

“Volunteering in 2021 was really fun; we did the planting and flower decorating for the jumps,” shared Fronczek. “I met a ton of people, I just moved here, so it was a great way to meet like-minded people that also liked horses.”

While Fronczek has not evented herself, she does ride, and she works in the equine industry as a graphic designer for "Thoroughbred Daily News." Growing up, her dad was a police officer in Chicago, and so after her move to the area she began volunteering at the mounted police barn at the Kentucky Horse Park and the rest was history.

“From being here all the time at the mounted police barn, I just found all these other places to volunteer. It is just so much fun," she said.

Vicky D’Angelo was a first-time AEC volunteer this year. D’Angelo, who events herself, knows the importance of giving back to the sport she loves.

“I was eventing down in Georgia, and a lot of those shows you can't run them without the volunteers,” said D’Angelo. “It’s a nice way to help the whole process along so it's still available for people that want to keep showing.”

While D’Angelo was currently working bit check at the dressage rings when we spoke with her, she has volunteered in a variety of capacities before. Some of her favorite positions to work are jump crew and jump judging, especially if she can get a front-row seat to the water complex on cross-country.

Missy Elleman is in her third year of volunteering. Like Hitchner, Elleman got her start at the Kentucky five-star event and has since migrated into helping other events out.

“It's a big crew for Land Rover and because Sheila [who organizes the flower crew] is such a great organizer and person to work for, it makes you just want to keep jumping in and helping elsewhere,” commented Elleman. “I've started off the beginning of this week working with her, and then I wanted to do a little bit more, so today I've been doing hospitality.”

If you haven’t picked up the volunteering baton yet, Elleman highly encourages you to do so.

“First of all, you're gonna meet great people,” she shared. “Second of all, you're going to have fun. Third, if you're still competing, you're going to learn a lot by osmosis of being around, watching horses go, and learning things that go on to put an event together. Competing is one thing, but being on the other side of the fence and putting an event together and trying to bring all those things together so that the riders and the horses have a safe and fun experience, takes both sides. it takes a full village to make these events happen. And I think if you work on the opposite side for a while, and get out of the stirrups and see what goes on to make that happen, it makes you appreciate your ride even that much more.”

Pam Kimmel was playing double-duty at this year’s AEC: volunteering earlier in the week and competing in the USEA Novice Master Amateur Championship later in the week. In past years, Kimmel has given her whole week to volunteering at the AEC in Kentucky, but this year she had to balance her scales a bit more.

During her volunteering hours, Kimmel worked in the dressage warmup, as a ring steward, and in scoring at this year’s AEC. She has been offering her time to the local events in the Lexington area for nearly 36 years.

“When I was here in college, I hooked up with some people who all volunteered,” recalled Kimmel. “And I just got into it and basically have done it since then. I've done practically every job that you can volunteer to do.”

Throughout those 36 years of volunteerism, Kimmel also competed herself, and she found the experiences she gained as a volunteer invaluable to her experiences as a competitor. She encourages other riders to do the same.

“You learn so much, being on the other side and watching people do it," she said. "You get to see so much and then learn why the rules are what they are because when you're doing something as a volunteer, that rule will get explained to you. Plus, to have this event or any event, they run on volunteers. You have to be out there. I competed at the AEC a long time ago in North Carolina, and I ended up volunteering the times I wasn’t competing. I rode cross-country early, and I actually ended up working cross-country that afternoon because they called for volunteers. If your rides are early or late, maybe try to volunteer a couple of hours. They'll take you a couple of hours.”

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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