It’s no secret that I love to volunteer. Not only is it a great way to give back, but there is a lot you can learn by sitting on the sidelines and lending a hand even if it is just to learn how extremely hard it is to run an event.
Back in the 90s and early 2000s, I spent my time competing in whitewater slalom. My event was the women’s closed canoe and it was my first introduction to amateur sports. Running a race was not so different than running a horse event in that a lot of volunteers were needed to fill a large number of roles: gate judges, timers, start and finish gate, scoring, safety boats. Since most of the races barely broke even by the end of the weekend, there was no room to pay anyone for these jobs.
The whitewater world had a simple solution: make working the event mandatory. Each race day was split into a morning and afternoon session. As a competitor you get two runs with the best score kept. Unless you were competing in a class in both the morning and afternoon, which was rare but did happen, then you were assigned a job for the session you weren’t on the river. So for instance, if my class ran in the morning then I was assigned a gate to judge all afternoon. If someone shirked their duties they were eliminated from the race. It set it up so nicely that the event coordinators never had to worry about a lack of help running the race.
Now I understand that this system wouldn’t work in most horse disciplines and especially in endurance and eventing where I have some degree of exposure. Technically you could force those in the limited distance division to work after completion but that’s a bit unfair since the 50s and 100s wouldn’t be able to. I don’t even see how it could work at a horse trail with all three phases running in a single day.
But I do believe that giving back to your sport is important. Not even important. Vital. Just take a minute to think of the last horse event you competed in, no matter the discipline, and all the volunteers it took to run it: the ring stewards, bit checkers, scribes, jump crew to reset jumps, jump judges, timers, announcers, etc…. I’ve seen local to me events nearly beg for help and still run it on a skeleton crew.
I’ve heard a ton of lame excuses why people don’t volunteer. Honestly, they all suck no matter how much you think it is viable. You can’t tell me that in an entire season there is no way you could find one Saturday or Sunday to spend time at an event lending your hand wherever it was needed. I won’t buy it.
While the mandatory work of my whitewater days is not likely possible in the horse world, I do think that there is a solution. One that probably wouldn’t go over very well, but one I wish were a reality. If it was up to me I’d make a mandatory 8 hours of volunteering a part of maintaining membership. So if you wanted to renew your USDF, AERC, USEF, whatever else exists out there, membership in 2018 you would have to show proof of 8 hours of volunteer work at an event within that discipline in 2017. That’s one single day out of an entire year.
I’m sure there are a lot of reasons people wouldn’t want that to go into effect, but the truth is that without volunteers there wouldn’t be a show to attend. Or at least not at the price point they currently are if they’d have to pay people to do the work. So the next time you have a Saturday or Sunday without plans and there is a local show going on, offer up your services in whatever capacity they can be used. Give back to the world that you love so much and help keep these events running.