As soon as the nights start to cool and the grass becomes dewy in the morning, I smell that deep morning grass smell and start to get excited for fall volunteer season! Yep, that’s right, I consider it a “season” because so many great autumn horse trials and events happen and it’s become a ritual of mine to be involved.
A friend recently asked me to provide her with a bit of information she could pass on to a group, explaining why volunteering is important and why her group should do it. This was such a simple request but honestly it threw me a little, as I had to think pretty hard about those questions.
I guess the “why” has to do with wanting to be a part of a shared experience that is positive, unlike the terrible storms of Hurricane Harvey and Irma, which also united people in a shared experience which was very difficult and testing. One hopes your volunteer experience in the sport of eventing is not difficult and testing! Instead, the experience should be fun, educational, important to you, and useful to the event and to the sport.
Not every volunteer experience is going to be perfect. I’ve learned, over the years, that standing (or sitting) out in a field all day has its drawbacks. But most of the time, it’s a lot of fun and something that us veteran volunteers do look forward to doing. And here’s a bit of why.
Sharing an experience, the experts tell us, provides us all with a way to respect one another, to enjoy memories, and to feel a part of the action. The draw of volunteering is we all get to see the same event, but in different ways. Our experiences are different – but the same, as we are all at the same event at the same time and place. Beyond the observations and activity, the volunteer has the knowledge they are one of many and that others are seeing and hearing what they are experiencing.
When you share an experience you have a common place to start from, you each know what it was like to be there. That feeling is sort of addictive. I think that is why we return to help year after year. We enjoy being there and with others doing something useful, and it’s not long enough to get tired of the work and just long enough to feel as though your contribution was valued.
Shared experience often means eating, or breaking bread together, which is a bonding mechanism; and interacting with others outside of family and work, which is a growth enabler. That’s a lot of fancy words meaning it’s kind of fun to step outside your familiar circle and do something new. I never had crab bisque before Fair Hill, and I also never knew really how to use a power drill before volunteering. Hey that’s a really useful skill!
So finally in the “why we do it” department, is the educational aspect of working at very high level international events. These events attract the highest qualified riders in the country, and as a result, the riding is at a high level. Watching the warmups, the performances, the adjustments while these riders are mounted on their horses is very enlightening. That’s the riding knowledge. Some of it is quite subtle and takes a lot of watching. The best fun is to watch the top coaches with the riders off in the corner on a circle somewhere; if you can hear the instruction it’s even better. Sit quietly and listen!
Another education: The differences in the conformation of these horses and how they move and how they are put together is neat to see on the jog runway; then you take that set of observations and apply them to what you see on cross-country, in stadium jumping, in dressage. That’s a breeding and conformation education.
And lastly it is also a way to learn about both the importance and pressure of competition and as a volunteer, often you can be in a position to see this drama play out firsthand. It gives you perspective on how people act, how they should act, and unfortunately at times how they should not act. You can learn from that, too. Like a great movie, big events keep us entertained!
So while you sit down and check out the calendar this fall, take a look at www.eventingvolunteers.com and see what days look good for you and consider volunteering! I know they will need you. And you just might find the experience a great one! Don’t miss out. When you smell that scent of fall leaves and crisp air, it’s time to sign up. Go eventing!