SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 

We Are Flying Solo

April 11, 2014

Tell Me Your Favourite Volunteering Experience!

Who has adorable ponies!  Go meet them!!!!
On my last post, Eventing At Midnight (who also has some posts up from a spectator's view at the Carolina International CIC*** & HT, go read them!) asked a great question -- which I promptly & shamelessly stole for this post.

Because I suspect that for many, when they think of volunteering, they think of a day of slogging work when they could be taking a lesson or going to a show.  The reality, however, is quite the opposite. 

She asks, "What was your most memorable volunteering moment & event?"

As I paused to think, I realized it was a harder question that I first assumed.  Of course, I can't just say one thing, I must keep up my reputation as a hopeless rambler thoughtful writer, you know!  Priorities!  So instead, I'm going to share my top five.

Then, my dears, I would love to hear yours (in the comments or on your own blogs -- link in the comments so I don't miss any!!).  

Officially volunteer stuffs
(5)  Scribing at the 2013 Wardaca T/N3DE for an excellent FEI judge whom I had met previously as a TD (and wow, we are so glad he got his FEI card, what an eye!).  After noticing a pattern on several movements for which he made the same comments, I quietly asked what he was looking for.

Not only did he answer, but he explained the question the movement asked of horse and rider & why the noted evasions occurred.  I wrote it down somewhere, because it was a dressage lesson in itself, & I know I applied several gems as soon as I got home -- with results!

Meet cool people: Wendy, designer/owner, Kan-Tec
(4)  Sitting in on an afternoon break conversation between two dressage judges (both also licensed as TDs) at the Southern Eighths BN/N/T3DE (& HT this year!!!!  Entries are open until next Tuesday, April 15th, send yours in if you want to ride at one of the most gorgeous venues in the country), one very experienced with her FEI card (and my personal favourite to ride for, tough but very fair, positive, & helpful), the other having just completed the early part of her training.

It really opened my eyes:  you would not believe the unbelievable amount of time, money, & effort people put into becoming a licensed judge.  While there are still a few not-so-great ones who slip through the program, it is HARD, & I certainly think twice if I am tempted to grumble about a judge (although I am really not that person; rarely has there been a comment that I don't 100% agree with).

I judge Karen O'Connor at The Fork; the key is a great chair
(3)  My very first time (yes, I was a volunteering virgin!), when I XC judged the World Cup 3* (and so many other levels, I remember something like 350 horses) at The Fork.  I had a fly fence, a simple (if you have an Advanced horse!) table at the top of a short incline.

I was amazed at how differently each rider chose to approach it in terms of balance, speed, the shape of the horse, & whether or not they used the rolling terrain.  That was when I first glimpsed how educational volunteering could be -- and how fascinating to sit at one fence, any fence, all day long.

Of 350, I had maybe FIVE who never lost a steady, forward galloping rhythm & jumped the fence out of stride, as a fly fence should be, while remaining balanced in the center of their horse with a soft & educated hand.  Even more surprising was that those five were not the winners, nor were they big names.

Tremaine:  "OOOVER the jump, like this, not through, ok?"
(2)  Walking the Waredaca T3DE course with a top tier course designer (CD; yes, Tremaine Cooper, you rock).  I learned so much in that 45 minutes that completely changed the way I think as I walk my own XC courses.

As he perfectly put it, you are not competing against other riders, you are competing with the CD.

Seeing how a thoughtful & creative CD's mind works showed me elements that I had never even contemplated, such as the simple placement of a jump in relation to different types of terrain.  You can change a question entirely just by putting a log at the crest of a hill as opposed to putting it two strides back.  Knowing what is being asked at each jump gives you the ability to ride it proactively, instead of reactively.  And I think we all have experienced the difference that makes!!

2006.  What MY last 3DE jump would feel like.
(1)  The last day of the 2009 Waredaca T3DE.  It was the first year I staffed this USEA Area II Adult Rider-run event.  And it was beyond even my ample words to describe, in terms of atmosphere, horsemanship, education, professionalism, comraderie, sportsmanship, teamwork, & generosity.

I got to know each rider & follow their ups & downs through the weekend, attend all of the teaching workshops & course walks, pick the brains of officials, & meet fellow Adult Riders who, five years later, are irreplacable friends.

I walked away with two distinct feelings:  (a) I want to do this more than anything!  (b) With Brian O'Connor's trademark voice on the loudspeaker, a contest for the Best Dressed at each jog, dressage judges at C and E, & multiple vet checks, you really did feel like you were doing Something Big.

Max & DOC help Karen O. warm up at Rolex 2006. They'll help you, too.
My mind & body thrilled with the same excitement & anticipation of two decades ago, wandering the Kentucky Horse Park at Rolex every year.

But at the same time, there was a clear undercurrent of team spirit, that we, riders, volunteers, clincians, judges, were all in this together & if any member found themselves in need, they'd better find a snorkel before the descending hordes of help smothered them!

Everyone was Someone & as folks like Stephen Bradley & Karen O'Connor & Max Corcoran & Tremaine Cooper & Sharon White & Colleen Rutledge are by your side & no question is silly or out of bounds, how can you feel anything but lucky?

Notice all but one are at a 3DE?  Hmmmm....  I showed you mine, now you show me yours!!


  1. Best (recent) volunteering moment: Judging a Prelim rolltop-ditch-rolltop-skinny combo and hearing every single rider come in counting "One-Two-One-Two" to keep the rhythm. I do this up to every fence too and feel like a total n00b doing it, but to learn that Prelim riders do it too... I felt so much better!

    1. Well done, them! I get distracted and forget about just listening to the rhythm sometimes. Count the heartbeat, count the hoofbeats... :D

  2. I love volunteering and I can tell you stories from every volunteering experience...

    I love meeting the riders, looking at beautiful horses, the other volunteers. No matter what the weather, I love watching. The people that you meet are the best... everyone has a story and I love to hear them tell me theirs.

    I guess the hardest and maybe the best was volunteering at the event (Groton House Farm) where I hit a tree. Randomly, I was assigned to that very jump. I got to watch 85 Novice riders negotiate that tree without an injury. Do I feel that I could ride that course this year? Maybe, maybe not but before that stint, I KNEW I could never ride that course again. Funny how immersion therapy works!

    1. Oh no, not the tree of doom!!!! But don't feel like a wimp -- there is a venue I will never go to again because of the terrible experience we had there. I could ride it again, but it never rode well and while I always got my best dressage scores there, it cost my horse his career and me a rather important body part, so no thanks!

  3. I have enjoyed every single time I have volunteered, they have all turned out to be educational and fun and a great opportunity to meet other eventers!
    I have had the education of watching horse after horse tackle the same tricky fence, and especially how Karen O'Connor rode her Prelim horse so QUIETLY through it, when he was obviously pretty green at that level. I really love that it gives you contact with judges and officials and you get to see how truly NICE they are, and that they want everyone to have a good experience and learn from makes you much less nervous as a competitor! One of my favorites was working at the finish of cross country, turns out my co-volunteer there had a farm in Rougemont and brought in this really good trainer for lessons on a regular basis...and turns out that was David O'Brien and that turned out to be an awesome link made when I started lessons with him! I've never walked away from a day volunteering feeling like I'd lost a day I could have ridden or taken a lesson, I feel like I gained so much more each time!

    1. Ditto!! And how funny that it brought you around to meet David -- I love that man, he is truly a wonderful person and such a great trainer, he did amazing things for Solo and I and is so sympathetic, he always brings out the best in the horses.

  4. I've had quite a few volunteering experiences, but one in particular really stands out to me.

    While I was in High School, I shadowed one of our local equine veterinarians. This doctor is a boarded specialist who owns several different clinics, has a very busy practice, and basically works non-stop every day, all day. We went to a local horse rescue & equitherapy clinic on a Saturday, where he spent all day working with the horses. A lot of the people there for therapy would come up and ask questions about their favorite horses, and he'd always take the time to answer any details they asked him. We spent about 8 hours there, by the time he finished doing physical exams, nerve blocks, and other procedures. At the end of the day, the barn owner told me that he never charged them for his time there, only for the cost of the few materials and prescriptions he wrote out. He rotated between several different rescues & similar barns , doing 1 Saturday a month every few months at each. The fact that he would donate so much time and effort routinely, without really talking about it or advertising that he was doing it was truly inspiring. I hope that, as a veterinarian, in a couple more years I can live up to his example and never forget that no matter how successful or skilled I am, it's the acts of kindness like that that are the best quality of a life lived.

    1. That is amazing. People like that are irreplacable.& I'd love to spend a day with a large animal vet! Thank you so much for sharing -- it certainly doesn't have to be sport related.

  5. XC area steward at 2010 WEG. Also, not so nice, but learned so much as safety officer at Maui Jim (the year that Uni Griffon passed away there). Also, very first time I did xc control at Hunter's Run (2001)