October 2016 - To Volunteer is Noble—and Needed!
Written by by Asia Vedder
Saturday, 01 October 2016 04:22
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Twin Rivers volunteer coordinator shares the often nerve-wracking view from her post.

by Asia Vedder

While some people make a plan for their life, and then follow that plan diligently, I seem to have chosen a path full of quick changes, which I often fall into rather accidentally. This is how I ended up living on the East Coast for eight years and working with steeplechase and race horses, and this is also how I ended up in the role of volunteer coordinator for events at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles.

I have always enjoyed staying busy and helping out at the shows, after all, if I am only riding one horse I have a lot of extra time on my hands, but this was not a job I had ever envisioned for myself. In September, with both my horses off, and Twin Rivers’ Andrea Baxter sending out a plea for help, I offered to come up for the weekend and work in whatever capacity she needed me. She quickly took me up on the offer and said she was going to have me be the volunteer coordinator. I wasn’t sure what all the job entailed, but that never stopped me before and I like a challenge, so I said “sure.” Little did I know what I was getting myself into, and a challenge it definitely is!

One of the things I have always loved about eventing is the sense of camaraderie that exists, and that people are always willing to help each other out. When my father and I first began competing many years ago, volunteering for a few hours, especially for cross-country, seemed to be a given. The sport relies on its volunteers, and it is a great education to park yourself next to a fence for a few hours and watch all the different rides that take place.

Skip forward 20 odd years and, from the perspective of a coordinator, it seems like that attitude has started to fall by the wayside. It can feel an awful lot like pulling teeth trying to get the number of bodies we need to run a show. Facebook posts begging for help in the weeks, days and hours leading up to the show are now commonplace. That being said, I am starting to know my regulars, the people who sign up for multiple jobs, and who I can go to in a pinch. This job is also a great way for me to reconnect to a community I have not been part of for eight years. It is wonderful to see people I knew when I first started eventing, as well as the new faces who have come along since I went east.

The April Twin Rivers marked my third time working as coordinator, the second all on my own. It was also probably the largest show of the season for us, with around 450 entries. Much of my job takes place in the last week leading up to the show. Schedules are finalized and ride times go out. While there is a small group of people that live in the area who come to work, and I am very grateful to them as they are some of my most reliable volunteers, the rest of the volunteers are competitors or parents.

This means that until ride times come out, my Signup Genius is woefully empty. I understand and appreciate that people do not want to commit to working until they know their time. What I struggle to understand is why, the day before the show begins, and even the night before cross-country starts, we are still begging for volunteers.

Free Lessons

I find it especially difficult to wrap my head around the dearth of scribe volunteers.  Scribing is like getting an entire day of dressage lessons, all for free, and can be very educational in getting tips to take a few pesky points off your score. The same can be said for scribing for show jumping, or ring stewarding.

All of these jobs allow an astute volunteer to pay attention to the rides and coaching going on around them, and get a day or a few hours of free lessons. That being said, volunteering is not always easy, fun and certainly not comfortable. It can include a lot of hours out in the hot sun, or wind or freezing rain. Believe me when I say that I am well aware of these factors and would love to have everyone work for only an hour or two, and always sit in the shade. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way, and the best I can do is try to make sure everyone stays properly hydrated and fed and can get to the bathroom on time.

Volunteer Coordinators are a small group, and as I have gone about picking the brains of those who have been doing this much longer than I, the struggles are all the same: trying to build up a good base of volunteers who are reliable and who sign up early. What I think few people realize, and I certainly didn’t, is what a logistical nightmare it can be trying to get everyone moved around to new jumps for each level change of cross-country, especially when you have volunteers coming in and out.

Author Asia Vedder is an international event rider. Born and raised in California, she has competed extensively in both eventing and show jumping. She spent eight years on the East Coast, eventing and working with race horses. She returned to California in 2014, and trains out of the family ranch in Carpinteria. She is currently on the East Coast to contest Fair Hill 2* with her OTTB Gaelic Wealth, as well as campaigning her two young horses.

While there may be 30 minutes between the last horse of one level and the first of the next going out on course, for us, it means we have 15 minutes to get everyone moved, bathroom breaks done, and radio checks run, all to start on time. Added to this, there is the possibility of people showing up late, or not showing up at all, as well as a whole host of other issues that keeps us hopping. One person showing up a few minutes late can potentially delay the entire show 5-10 minutes, which may never get made up, or may compound into 30 minutes or more. As riders, when we hear this there is always a groan, and level of annoyance felt, but few people realize how greatly one person not showing up on time can impact the entire day.

Ducks on the Pond

I have a vision for how to make this job run smoothly. It involves having all the volunteer positions filled well ahead of time, and everything organized days ahead of time. I know this is not a reality, but the possibility of having all slots filled by the Monday of the show, where I am not up until 11 pm the night before cross-country madly trying to get all the jump assignments done and hoping that everyone shows up, and on time, could be a reality. So next time you see that request for volunteers go out by e-mail, or the pleas for help go around Facebook, and have the thought that it’s not that much fun to volunteer, please just remember that every little bit helps, and while things may look like they are going smoothly, we volunteer coordinators are like ducks on a pond, gliding along on top, and madly paddling away just trying to keep everything going.

Article reprinted courtesy of the Area VI website.