For us as riders, we prepare for events ahead of time: making sure our horse is fit, sending in our entry, and fine-tuning our dressage test. For all the people who make our competitions go ’round, it’s no different! There is a lot of preparation and moving parts to an event — more than most people realize. I caught up with event organizer Molly Bull to learn about what goes on behind the scenes of an event.
Molly organizes various events on the east coast, Stable View’s full roster of National and FEI Horse Trials being one of them. She lives outside of Charlottesville, VA and makes the seven-hour commute to Stable View for all of their recognized events and some of their unrecognized events.
Molly rode at the Advanced level for many years but took a break when she had her son. “I knew I didn’t want to ride at the upper levels anymore, but I still wanted to be involved in eventing. So, when he was little, that’s when I started doing a bit of secretary work,” she explained.
Eventually, she switched to being an organizer and now Molly makes sure all the moving parts are moving where they need to be. In order to do that, planning is a multi-step (more like a million-step) operation.
The process of planning and executing an event starts just as soon as the event ends. “When an event ends, I usually write up a debriefing email with notes, that for Stable View, it would go to Barry and Cindy [Oliff], the owners and then anybody else who might be affected by whatever is in the notes.”
Molly ensures that people like the show jump designer, Technical Delegate, president of the Ground Jury, dressage and show jump judges, and cross country designers and builders are able to work the event the next year. “I allow my thoughts to settle after the event ends and then start thinking about who I want to hire for the next year,” she said.
Some event officials stay consistent throughout the season, so at the end of the year Molly will send them the event dates to make sure they can work all of them. For the officials that rotate between events, Molly assembles a team in her head and contacts them to see who can commit.
Next step: getting the event on all the calendars. “You have to renew the competition through your USEF dashboard and pay the fees for that. Closer to the event, you have to register it with US Eventing and pay a fee for that. Then, as you get closer still, you have to do your omnibus page and submit that, plus a bunch of prize list materials to the USEF and then that has to get approved.”
Since Stable View hosts so many events throughout the year, they own things like golf carts, radios, manure dumpsters, and Porta Johns. “They’re a little bit of a unique venue because they own so much that you don’t need to order; at some events that I organize, I have to order radios, order Porta Johns, order ribbons.”
Depending on the size of the event and how many levels are competing, Molly will make the drive to Stable View a few days before the course opens. For smaller events, this means driving down on Wednesday or Thursday of that week, but for larger events, she arrives on Monday or Tuesday.
“When I get on site, usually there’s no competitors there yet, so I like that process of getting everything ready for them and putting up tents and getting everything set out — posting maps on the start box once they’ve been approved.”
Molly enjoys her job and once everything comes together on the day of the event, she finds it thrilling. “It’s always exciting when dressage starts. But for me, the most exciting is when the first horse leaves the box for cross country. That’s the moment that I’m like ‘Ok, I’ve put all this work into it and now it’s really happening.’”
Inevitably, some things are bound to go wrong, but that’s no worry for Molly. “My job isn’t to make sure nothing ever goes wrong but to react and handle it when things do go wrong– make good decisions, be calm, just come up with a way to solve the problem.”
So, what can we as competitors do to help people like Molly and the rest of the crew? “I think speaking for the secretary, they can get their paperwork in and have complete entries.”
Another thing we can do to help is not waiting until the closing date — or after — to enter an event. “It makes it really hard to plan the schedule, as an organizer, that’s hard because if you think you only have 100 entries, but then between closing and the event, you get 100 additional entries, it completely changes the makeup of the day and how many officials you need.”
Molly, along with all the other show organizers, officials, and volunteers work insanely hard to make it all happen. We are so lucky to enjoy so many beautiful venues and well-run events that keep our sport running.
Next time you’re at an event, be sure to thank all those wonderful people who make it all happen!