Good Volunteers Come Prepared!

By Holly Covey — USEA volunteer since 1980, member of the USEA Volunteer Committee

As a sport, eventing exists for several different groups of people. There are the organizers, officials and paid workers that support an event. Then there are competitors, owners, trainers and coaches. And the third group — every bit as essential as the first two groups — is volunteers.

More than most other equestrian sports, eventing relies heavily on volunteer labor for all three phases of competition. Jump judges, stewards, bitcheckers, scribes, parking people, setup and takedown people — they are all needed for the smallest event all the way up to Land Rover Kentucky.

When we compete, we expect that competitions would attract and keep the volunteers they need. When we get to the start box, we assume that there are enough jump judges on the course to give us a tick beside our pinney number at every obstacle. We expect folks to tell us when to go in the ring for show jumping and dressage. We arrive expecting those dressage arenas to be perfect and the show jumping course to be ready.

But as organizers know, behind those expectations are literally hundreds of hours of coordination. Reaching out and communicating to find help. Once you’ve got some help, making sure they know what to do. Hoping they know, because they don’t have time to teach them. And the sigh of relief when experienced, knowledgeable folks walk into the jump judge briefing on Saturday morning to help staff your cross-country course.

Volunteers are often some of the most important “headaches” of putting on competitions today,  and there’s not an organizer alive who doesn’t have a real moment of panic when there aren’t enough jump judges, or the bit check person calls in sick. There are a lot of solutions to help organizers keep and attract more volunteers out there — and they range from cool rewards, freebies, food, and fun stuff — but I think there is a very important part of volunteering that involves everyone — all the groups — and it’s called the “shared experience.”

A shared experience is what really is the heart of eventing volunteering in my view. It’s the fun of meeting friends, of being a part of something important, and giving back to a sport you enjoy. There’s a lot more to the shared experience but there is one more thing that really makes the shared experience work for everyone — that’s education.

When a volunteer can step out of their car and walk right into a job they know and have done before, can roll with whatever the day brings, and leaves with a smile — that’s when everyone in the sport wins.

Here’s where I’m not going to give you the lecture about volunteering, but I am going to direct you to a resource that EVERYONE in this sport needs to use. That’s the incredible catalog of updated and modernized videos that were made by Irene Doo, a member of the USEA Volunteer Committee, an eventer, and volunteer coordinator for Pine Hill Horse Trials in Texas.

The USEA had an outdated video for jump judging that dated back to the ’90s and the new five-part jump judge video is really good. I highly recommend you watch all six sections especially if you are an official, a competitor, or an organizer. And there are a few more — and they cover all the essential jobs needed at most events.

Why should you watch them? If you’re a rider – you should take a look because they give you a great quick overview of the phases of the sport, the details that are required by the rules, and overall procedures for competition that as a rider you may not know, or haven’t considered.

Last year I jump judged a few times and NONE of the officials giving the briefings even mentioned the great jump judge videos — and you know, you can watch them on your phone right out in the field by your jump! So I’d like to see all the officials take a look at these wonderful educational tools available for free at the USEA website and mention them at briefings to the volunteers.

If you’re a volunteer coordinator, or organizer looking for volunteers, you should definitely put them on your list of things to do. Knowing how jobs work for everyone is always good to review. And you may find some time-saving tips and tricks that other events have used.

Links to bookmark:

USEA Volunteer Videos

USEA Jump Judge Video Set

Vimeo Jump Judge Catalogue Link

So grab some popcorn, dim the lights, and have fun!


Keep an eye on Eventing Nation each Thursday for our “Volunteer Nation” roundup of eventing volunteer opportunities for the upcoming weekend. And be sure to log your hours at Eventing Volunteers, an online portal for volunteers, volunteer coordinators and event organizers.