We Are It

Jump crew at Fair Hill. Volunteers needed at your local event! Photo by Holly Covey

Somehow, the sharpest and smartest horsemen I know come from Australia. And there’s a not of them there. They seem to be the most dedicated and the most down to earth. I think it is because of how they truly have to appreciate their events, which are far between in a large country, and staffed by a few very dedicated supporters. Gosh, does that sound familiar?

When I was in harness racing, an old timer who was originally from Australia reminisced in the paddock one time about his days as a young man racing on the fair circuit. They’d ship in a truck, picket the horses overnight, set up a track with stakes and string, and “have some sport” racing horses all afternoon, then pack up when the day was done and off they’d go to the next fair. Everyone helped, everyone participated — that was part of the sport. There weren’t enough of them to “let someone else” do it. They were it.

Once, after the very last horse had finished at Fair Hill International, I was packing up the tables and chairs and tents in the cross-country warm up area. I was the last person there and it was a long day, and I was totally dragging with exhaustion. Guess who wanders by with a couple of working students but an Aussie … and they willingly pitched in, threw everything in the car and had me loaded up in about five minutes! I’ll never forget Kate Chadderton’s kind gesture — but she said, “no worries”, and meant it.

I was scribing dressage at MCTA in the lovely May fields at Shawan Downs when Boyd Martin rode a nice young horse into the ring. At one end, the horse stepped on something and it made a clink. Next time through the corner, there was another clink. As he saluted he mentioned there might be a rock in the corner.

The judge allowed me to go and check on it. I found what appeared to be a stone, but as I pushed and kicked, it was much larger than what showed up through the grass. As soon as Boyd handed off his horse to his groom he came back with his white dressage gloves and squatted down and helped me dig a pretty big chunk of granite it out of the grass. He’d already ridden. But he didn’t want someone else to step on it and hurt their horse. And there was no one else to help and the ring was getting behind time. So he pitched in.

I don’t mean to say that it’s just Australians who understand that the sport is theirs. There are lots and lots of darn good volunteers in our sport who aren’t from Down Under, who really care and understand its needs. But there are never, ever enough of them helping at events. We need more and we need them now. We need them with that Aussie spirit — we are it. There’s no one else.

I believe all riders should consider the sport “theirs” to care for, not just to compete in. This means if you see something that needs to be done, you ought to do it and not wait for someone else to figure it out. It means you should not complain. It means you should take at least one day in a year and volunteer in some capacity for some event. If you have the time you should do more than one day. It doesn’t matter what you do or where you do it, but it matters that you give that time and show up and work all day and give thanks for the opportunity to do it.

Your volunteer time is a gift, yes but it is not just a gift to the organizer or landowner. It’s a gift to you. You’ve insured the sport goes on one more event, one more year. You have given yourself the gift of education, the shared experience of being a part of great thing, or perhaps the great gift of a new friend or two met while volunteering.

The dearth of volunteers is so critical that to keep the events going in some parts of the country we may see volunteer hours become a requirement for participation in the sport. Area II’s year end awards currently require the recipients to provide at least one full day of volunteering to receive awards, and have for several years. And do you know that more than one person has lost a championship by not taking the time (through an entire season, in the country’s busiest eventing area) to volunteer at one event for one day? All that hard work and to miss out on the honor you’ve worked hard for, just because you can’t be bothered to sit in a chair and jump judge for an afternoon. For shame.

One of the busiest riders and trainers in the business, Sally Cousins, embodies this spirit. On any given event day, she’s riding upwards of four to six and sometimes even more horses in nearly every division. But Sally doesn’t use that as an excuse not to help out. She designs courses for the charity event derbies, she gives lessons for fundraisers, she supports the horse rescues, she leads course walks, among many other things she does for the sport and for events.

She recently took a horse up to Fair Hill and jumped it around a field for a television crew doing a story on eventing for a Baltimore television station. She MAKES the time (she does not really have) for the sport. I just don’t get how a rider with just two horses can’t find two hours to help set dressage rings or scribe for show jumping for an hour.

We are it. There isn’t anyone else. Volunteer!