Karen Czarick – Equine Blogger – Dancing Horse farm keeps us on track with Part Four of Intro to Eventing
So, let’s assume you’ve done your first bit of homework and have attended at least one event as a spectator and/or groom, ideally from start to finish. You’ve familiarized yourself with the whole event from a competitor’s perspective. Now you’ll want to familiarize yourself with at least some of the logistics of an event from the organizers’ and officials’ perspectives as well. The best way to accomplish this is to volunteer. It would be pretty much impossible for an event to run without a substantial staff of volunteers. The nature of the competition and the sheer size of venues necessitate a lot of help to keep things running. A paid staff of that size would be cost-prohibitive, as the costs of hosting an event leave relatively little room for substantial profit as is. Luckily, there are a lot of eventers willing to give back to the sport and many generous fans whose primary involvement is in a volunteering capacity. Very often, organizers will offer vouchers for cross-country schooling in exchange for a half-day or full-day of volunteer time. Perhaps most importantly, however, an eventer needs to recognize the educational value of volunteering.
Follow the experts lead
Working with an official, such as a technical delegate or stadium judge, will familiarize you with a lot of the rules that govern events, help you to understand the logic behind those rules, and perhaps be a bit more empathetic when you are privy to the deliberation that goes into judges’ rulings. And, if you’re fortunate enough to be selected to scribe for a dressage judge, it is sure to be some of the best dressage instruction you will ever receive. Scribing is a fantastic way to learn so much about dressage, and to do so in a structured situation that allows you to see so many variations of the same movements coupled with a running commentary by a trained eye. Your first priority is the quick and accurate recording of the judge’s scores and comments, but as you get more comfortable with scribing, you will find you have a bit of time to observe parts of each test, and you may even work with a judge who is willing to share some insights with you directly.
Another great volunteer duty is cross-country jump judging. This duty will allow ample time to watch rides over one obstacle, a combination, or a short portion of the course comprising a few obstacles. It won’t take you long to get pretty accurate at predicting which approaches will culminate in good, clear rides and which won’t. No matter what level(s) you judge, you’re bound to see good training rewarded as well as the consequences of inadequate preparation. But you’ll also witness “lucky saves,” “bad breaks,” and a host of other chance occurrences, all of which will help you develop that ever-important eventer’s perspective.
Probably the biggest misconception people have who don’t have any competitive eventing experience or know very little about the sport is that they are not qualified to volunteer. The likelihood of organizers securing the help of oftentimes dozens of competition-savvy volunteers is pretty slim, and organizers know that. As a result, they have a lot of experience working with volunteers new to the sport. Be very honest about your qualifications or lack thereof. There are plenty of duties that require no previous experience, and that require little or no training. Runners, for instance, simply get paperwork from one place to another on the grounds. Tallying dressage test scores requires little more than simple calculations on a calculator or adding machine. Stewarding a warm-up arena basically involves keeping track of which riders are in the area at any given time and sending them to the competition arena or course when it’s their turn. You will find that most eventers are pretty good self-managers and in turn will make this job fairly easy.This will leave you a good bit of time to observe warm up, one of the best educational opportunities that exists at any competition.
Even if you have no previous experience as either an eventer or a horse trial volunteer, don’t assume that cross-country jump judging is not yet an option for you. If you are enthusiastic and punctual, organizers recognize your potential and you are worth their investment to train. Most will happily pair you with a more experienced volunteer to sit with, not only to train you, but because ideally each obstacle or section of the course will have two sets of eyes to observe. In fact, when they have enough people to do so, organizers prefer to have two judges at an obstacle or series of obstacles. This is helpful if a horse and/or rider gets into trouble, if a judge must temporarily leave the station for any reason, if there is a question about whether or not there was a disobedience or other error of course, as many times these calls can be tricky. Especially at recognized events, it’s more likely a difficult call will be accurate and will stand up to protest if more than one person were there to evaluate.
Give back what you take out
Volunteering, while great fun, is also serious business. Do not volunteer unless you know you can arrive punctually, commit to the full amount of time the organizers need you, and give your full attention to your duties (which means not getting distracted by chatting with friends, texting, etc.). Once you’ve proven yourself a reliable volunteer, you will find organizers are very willing to accommodate you. This means you can begin to request specific volunteer duties, ensuring you’ll ultimately be involved in every behind-the-scenes aspect of the sport and find the learning opportunities truly limitless.
Article Part Four: Karen Czarick of Dancing Horse Farm who led a team of four to win the Chronicle of the Horse 2013 USEA Training Adult Riders Eastern US win