American Eventing Championships (AEC) Volunteering

When this event headed to TIEC last year, I scrambled at the last minute to volunteer and ended up having a really good time. So much in fact that I stalked sign ups to grab exactly the job I wanted and took my first actual personal day of the year for it and closed my office on Thursday.

Thursday saw me getting up at 5:30 am to make the hour drive to TIEC and sign in by 7 am. I was Cross Country jump judging all day and when I got there I was informed that Preliminary and Training would be running. I’m probably in the minority here as most people prefer the higher divisions, but I was a little bummed it wouldn’t be beginner novice. At my level, it’s nice to see the next level up and learn from it.

They gave each volunteer a chair to use. I was so thankful for that canopy as it at least allowed part of me to remain dry

I was assigned jump 22, a yellow roll top along the back side of the berm and one I knew right away wouldn’t pose any issues for the day. The approach was basically a turf race course lane with a skinny brush on the corner leading up to it and then the last fence of the course around the corner and out of sight.

Fence 22 – a preliminary size table. It rode really well all day. What was odd was that Fence 4, cabin corners, was above it on the berm. 
Looking out at fence 21, a skinny brush on the corner

While my fence was clean the entire morning, there was some pretty decent carnage at fence 9 which claimed quite a few victims with falls and refusals.

What was really interesting was seeing the horses at the end of the course. Most looked tired but still had the ability to go on, quite a few were dragging and a rare couple looked like they had been out warming up only.

The preliminary riders were pretty lucky. The weather was cool and would intermittently spit some rain, but nothing major and the footing held up really well. That wouldn’t be the case later.

Fence 4 up on the berm. There were a few times when both 22 and 4 were being jumped at the same time.

Once Preliminary ended, I booked it all the way to the other side of the course in the sand arena for Training jumps 6a and b which were two brush corners set at three strides on a tight turn. In order to set up correctly, the riders had to make a wide approach nearly hugging the arena fence.

Fence 6ab from my vantage point with the warm up arena behind it
Fence 6ab looking through the line. You can see the foot prints in the footing in front of 6a to show where the riders planned to approach a to make it to b which is the far left second fence. 

Training wasn’t so lucky. I had one fall and a few refusals at the b element, but that wasn’t so bad compared to the rest of the course. Around lunch time the sky opened up and it poured the rest of the day.

Training didn’t end until 6:30pm and I don’t think I have ever been so wet when in regular clothes before. It was cold too and the afternoon was pretty miserable. I felt so bad for about 30 horses who had to run during the worst of it. The footing deteriorated quickly and the radios were lit up with requests for footing assistance. The turf just isn’t mature and there are no roots to the grass. Once it got saturated it just peeled up making for really slick conditions.

Training got beat up pretty badly. For nearly two hours there wasn’t a single clean run and a lot of people were eliminated after four refusals on course. I know you can’t help the weather but that sucked for a lot of people who spent a lot of money to be there.

One of the many barns

What was the coolest thing about my spot though was that I watched warm up right behind my fence. I paid a lot of attention to how the different divisions handled the warm up. It was neat to then get to see those same riders come through my fence.

I’m not sure how many pros were riding as I’m not really into paying attention to that but I did recognize Don Schram, Becky Holder and a local pro Erik Dierks all in the Training Horse division.

Warm up

I thought my shift was never going to end. Finally at 6:30pm the last rider left the start and never made it to my fence before being eliminated. It was awful out there. I squelched my way back to my car hoping my feet would eventually dry out again.

Friday morning was early too but the rain stayed away so that was a blessing. I originally had an important work call at 2 pm, so I only signed up for the morning. The call ended up being rescheduled for October, not sure it constitutes as really important any longer, and I was wishing I had signed up for the entire day.

Friday I was scribing for the jump judge which is my favorite thing to do. It was made even better when I saw that Preliminary and Training were running in the morning so I’d get to see those I judged the day before again. Training had run from 12:15pm to 6:30pm on cross country with a massive list of competitors. Once I saw the order of go I was shocked to see how many were eliminated on course.

Scribing itself is super easy, but the real reason I love it is that I get access to the judge and that is always a learning experience. This time I also got to meet and chat with the course designer and that was my highlight of the entire weekend.

My view from the judges tower. It looked nasty out but the rain stopped early and stayed away until later that evening

After the first 12 riders went, the designer came over and looked at the sheet over my shoulder. He was really happy and I asked him what he wanted to see. His answer was a lot of rails down spread out throughout the course. He doesn’t want a bunch of clear rounds (course too easy), no clear rounds (course too hard) or to see one particular fence always coming down (a badly designed fence). The course was running perfectly to his expectations above. Later he also said he wanted 50% of the top 10 to have at least one rail down.

I noticed that jump 6 had a lot of rails and it seemed odd to me. Fence 5 was a two stride a b combo along the rail with fence 6 being an oxer after it still along the rail. It didn’t look difficult yet a lot of horses had rails down there. He explained that he set it at 5.5 strides and apparently nobody figured that out. To ride it right the rider would have to come out the of combination, which needed to be ridden pretty compact, and gun it to get 5 in there. Not many made it and would bury themselves deep and pull the rail.

It was fascinating to watch the course and talk to him about it.

Sadly, my time ended around 11. But….then I got to meet up with fellow blogger KC!!!! She met me at the judging tower and then we had lunch. She is super nice and great to talk to. Funny too!!! We watched a bit of the cross country course which was running novice and then caught the end of the Training stadium rounds before a long break.

Cross Country derby field
You can see the berm on the far left. We watched as one rider couldn’t get their horse to cross it. The only jump on this course for novice was at the far end of the berm. The rider eventually dismounted and retired from the course although not until the next rider was on top of her 

About that time she mentioned Bette was there competing in BN. Bette is another blogger but she doesn’t write very often. I met her one other time and she is amazing. We wandered over to her barn, found out her dressage wasn’t until nearly 5 pm and chatted for a bit making future horsey plans this fall.

It was a great way to end my AEC time. WEG will be here next year and I am for sure going to try to find a way to volunteer there too. I may just have to take the entire time off work for it and work every day for all the various disciplines if they will have me.

In case I haven’t said this loudly enough: GET OUT AND VOLUNTEER! If you need a selfish reason to do so, you can learn an absolute ton doing it (I have an entire post about what I learned) and meet some great people.

16 thoughts on “American Eventing Championships (AEC) Volunteering”

  1. what a great post. I dont volunteer enough and should considering how close i am to so many venues!! Glad you had a fun/learning time albeit a bit wet! 🙂 I know what you mean about feet being so so wet. When i unzipped my boots on Sat water ran out of the bottom of them. LOL That is a lot of rain! 🙂 That course looks so pretty but odd for cc!


    1. It is a really unusual set up. Kinda like a football field with jumps thrown in. I’ve never ridden it so won’t make any comments as to what the competitors thought of the course. Hopefully someone who ride will post about it.


  2. such a shame about the weather, esp the impact it had on the riders. it’s really hard to prepare for riding on that type of surface when so many ‘normal’ events are run on established natural fields instead of manufactured ‘turf’ type stuff. sounds like a wonderful experience for you tho! (despite the extreme wetness ugh haha). even better that you got to spend so much time talking to the judges and course designers – i LOVE getting that inside scoop and insight! and even moar better that you got to meet KC and Bette!!!


    1. Yeah that footing is interesting. I can’t really comment on it since I’ve never ridden on it but I heard a lot of grumbling.

      Meeting fellow bloggers is always awesome and I love talking to the people behind the scenes too. So much fun even if I nearly drowned


  3. What a freaking fun weekend! Minus the rain, of course. I love the anecdotes about the course designer – very informative and super cool to hear!


  4. I’m honestly still bummed that we didn’t get to say hello last year. My phone lost network in chimney rock, yada yada, didn’t get your email until it was too late 😦 Figured you’d be back this year & was looking forward to your write up. I have a book called Courses for Horses, highly recommend. It’s written by a course designer. I’m looking to volunteer at WEG also. Horse Radio Network has a podcast just on WEG with tons of inside info on things like that. Glad you had a fun time this past weekend even though you got soaked.


  5. I’m apologizing for being a terrible blogger!!!! It’s almost embarrassing how many drafts I have started that never make it to a blog post… whoops!!! But it was great seeing you again and can’t wait for blogger horse adventures this fall 😄😄😄 also they are most definitely in need of WEG volunteers and rumor has it if you volunteered for AECs you are on a priority list for WEG so yay! (If the rumors are true)


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