In the past few weeks, I have been fortunate enough to be both a competitor and a volunteer at Area I events. I’ve put together a few thoughts on the subject that may be worth sharing. For what it’s worth…
Thank you. It’s very generous of you to offer your time. That said most volunteer jobs aren’t easy. Yes, it’s generally fun in the big picture, but sometimes minute to minute it can be tough.
Weather, conditions, people any or all can be disagreeable at times.
Come prepared. Most events do offer lunch and beverages, but don’t count on it. It’s always a good idea to have at least a snack or two with you, and some water. Bring a chair, changes in footwear, and possibly rain gear or an umbrella if there’s any chance of rain. Bring bug spray.
Sunscreen. Basically, pretend you’re going camping, minus the sleeping bag.
If you are a fence judge:
Take good notes. Take excellent notes. Write down details about anything out of the ordinary. If you are asked later, you’ll be glad to have it in writing, rather than having to use your memory while the TD, and possibly the competitor, are asking you to recount what happened.
How many of us have thought, “Oh, I don’t need to write this down. I’ll remember…”, but then…guess what? You don’t. Awkward!
When your shift is done, don’t leave the show grounds without checking in with either the volunteer coordinator, the TD, or someone in an official capacity (possibly the person who gave you your clipboard and/or fence assignment). If a competitor has an issue and you’ve gone home, it leaves the organizers and the TD in a difficult position.
Be sensitive. If you have to eliminate a competitor who has had too many refusals, or if you’re the one pulling up a person who missed a jump, think about how you would feel. You’re giving bad news to someone who is likely already upset. Consider your delivery. We’ve all been there.
Make sure you’re not in the way. Sitting along the tree line or on a jump that isn’t being used for this division may make sense to you, but your Kermit the Frog umbrella might spook its fair share of horses, and a few riders might have chosen creative lines to their jumps.
Stay some distance away if you can, while still maintaining a clear view of your obstacle. If you have a question, check with the TD or a more experienced fence judge before the division starts.
If you have a radio, use it for official communication only. While it may be fun to yell “Susie is a ding dong!” to tease your buddy at fence 7, you may inadvertently talk over something important.
If you are a scribe:
This sounds harsh, but your best bet is to be seen and not heard. You’re about to get a lot of information in a short amount of time, and your job is to write it down. Telling the judge your own latest eventing horror story may have to wait until the break, if not longer.
If you are picking up score sheets:
Try to be quiet and discreet and time your visits so as not to spook any horses or interrupt the judge’s thought process. If they are between horses, ask if the judge or scribe needs anything. If it’s a hot day, it might be worth bringing a few water bottles along to offer to them.
If you are a steward:
Remember that competitors don’t have to go until their official time. Even if you have a long gap and the start box crew is frothing at the mouth to get more people out on course, you can’t make the 10:42 horse go before 10:42. A lot of people love to go early, but it’s important to offer it as an option, not a mandate. Riders, especially inexperienced ones, who feel pressured may wrongly hasten their warmup with poor consequences.
If you are a parking attendant:
You are dealing with nervous (and even late) competitors, or possibly their overwhelmed parents. Remember that you are the first person they see. You’re representing the organizer and the horse trials. Be as clear and concise and polite as you can. If you want to shout with great authority and wave flags, go work at the airport.
In general, if you’re interacting with competitors in any capacity:
Remember that everyone deals with stress differently. Try not to take it personally if someone who is running late or has an overexcited horse snaps at you.
We are all proud of our horses. If you see one who is especially lovely or catches your eye, it’s ok to say so. This doesn’t mean you should chase everyone around gushing about every single horse. But an occasional “Wow he looks ready, have fun!” or “You have a beautiful pony. I love his braids!” can go a long way.
If you are cold, wet, hot, or tired, don’t whine to the competitors about it. They have enough to worry about and don’t need your negativity.
This should go without saying, but thank your volunteers. Usually they respond that they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, or something along those lines, but it’s still nice for them to hear it.
Try not to take your frustrations or nerves out on the fence judge or steward. If you’ve had a bad ride or are particularly worried about fence 6, abusing an innocent volunteer isn’t going to make things any better. A volunteer who had a bad experience may not return next year for more abuse. If we don’t have volunteers, we don’t have competitions.
Communicate. If your horse can’t be near the start box until the timer says you have 10 seconds, or if your horse has an aversion to the warmup area and cannot attend, make sure the steward or timers know about it. If you’ve forgotten your number and need to go back and get it, tell the warmup steward what you’re doing so they don’t mark you as a no-show.
If you have an issue or a problem, find someone with a radio and ask for the TD. You should not address fence judges or timers directly unless told to do so. The same goes for scorers. Generally the scorers are not accessible, but even if you can find your way into their bunker don’t.
Volunteers are not your coach or your mother. They aren’t going to tell you when to start warming up or what time to tack up your horse, so don’t ask. If you’ve forgotten something, it’s not your volunteer’s responsibility to come up with a replacement item.
Most of the above advice is common sense, but a few reminders never hurt. We all have one thing in common – we love our horses and our sport. If we can all put ourselves in each other’s shoes on occasion, hopefully it will be a fun experience for everyone!