221 Hours of Service: Meet the USEA’s 2017 Volunteer of the Year, Mike Smallwood

Mike Smallwood (second from left) and crew. Photo courtesy of Mike Smallwood.

Actually, to be exact, it was 221:01 volunteer hours logged at USEA recognized events, according to the EventingVolunteers.com program that does the tracking. Which, if you do the math, amounts to over nine days’ of Mike Smallwoods’ life in the past year — an impressive feat that speaks to his dedication to the sport.

But what of that extra one second?

Beats Mike. “Ha, the .01 … I’m not sure about that,” he says. “Just goes to show EventingVolunteers.com program counts every second that every volunteer has worked over the year.”

Mike, of Dickerson, Md., is known for putting his head down and getting done whatever needs to be done — no matter the job and no matter how long it takes. He’s worn many hats: safety coordinator, jump judge, announcer, jump crew, control, volunteer briefer, horse wrangler, trailer mechanic, truck mechanic, golf cart mechanic, course builder, landscaper, parking guru, cook, bartender and many more, at both recognized and unrecognized competitions. He’s always one of the first to arrive and the last to leave every day, and he’s in it from pre-event setup to post-event clean-up.

His favorite roles to play? “Safety coordinator and jump judging, but I will fill whatever role is needed,” he says. Although, he does admit to one hole in his volunteer skillset: “I think competitors would appreciate my handwriting staying away from scribe duties.”

During those other 8,538 hours and 59 seconds of the year, Mike keeps himself busy riding his horse, a bay Thoroughbred mare named Prada, running Woodstock Equestrian Park, and serving as a volunteer firefighter and chief at Carol Manor Fire Company.

Photo by Cheryl Sherman.

Photo courtesy of Alex Ambelang.

“Horses have been a part of my life, all my life, thanks to my mom,” Mike says. “I grew up riding in jumpers, then switched to western, and now it’s just pleasure and some eventing. I got into eventing through a friend, and now I am fully immersed in it.”

He got hooked into volunteering through the Maryland Horse Trials, where he started on an ambulance with the standby crew, and then grew into handling the safety coordinator position. From there, it was full speed ahead: “This year I have been to more event facilities than I think I ever have, both as a volunteer and a spectator visiting my lovely girlfriend (Alex Ambelang).”

Asks what he gets out of the volunteer experience, Mike says it’s all about the people and the great friendships he has made.

Photo courtesy of Alex Ambelang.

Mike’s achievement will be honored at the 2017 USEA Annual Meeting and Convention Year End Awards Dinner with a $1,000 check, a custom “USEA Volunteer of the Year” jacket, and crystal trophy. A special thank you to Sunsprite Warmbloods for sponsoring the Eventing Volunteers program and covering the cost for every USEA recognized event.

Ever humble and gracious, Mike says he would like to thank Carolyn Mackintosh, Gena Cindric and Alex Ambelang for their support through the year, and gives a nod to his fellow volunteers. “I think all the volunteers that have given through the year and years deserve as much recognition as I am getting,” he says. “We all work so hard to do our part for a sport/community we have come to love.”

Mike urges others to embrace the volunteer spirit. “Anyone can be a volunteer; I encourage it as it’s giving back to the sport. No experience is required — every place I have been has had great coordinators and stewards who will show you the way and make you feel welcome.”

Other pro tips for volunteers: “A good pencil, and a comfortable chair.”

Go Mike. Go Eventing!