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Mon, 2011-08-15 09:44
Authored By: Katherine Erickson

Why it's Great to Volunteer

1. Free Food!!

At a swell place like GMHA you get breakfast, snacks, and lunch; at a smaller place like Huntington the organizer will make you a sandwich at her kitchen table! What's not to love?

2. Judges are nice

Ok, this is stupid for me to admit, but I was definitely one of those competitors growing up who was seriously intimidated by dressage judges. There they were, sitting impassively in their little booths... LITERALLY JUDGING ME. Over the years I made up countless excuses about how such and such judge was evil and must not like me/my horse/my turnout/(insert lamo excuse here). Well, there probably are some judges that will do that out there, but in my time volunteering I haven't met them yet. Every judge I've met has been kind and courteous, worked as hard as they could to be fair and unbiased throughout the day, and has judged the quality of the test in front of them and nothing else. It's been really fun to get to know them!

3. It's Satisfying

Let's be real: if I hadn't volunteered today, I probably would have picked a few paddocks, ridden my ponies, and spent the rest of the day in a vegetative state either in front of my computer or the television (or both). While enjoyable, such a day could hardly be labeled rewarding or satisfying. Volunteering, however, feels like a day well spent in every sense of the word. I'm up and working from before sunrise to sunset, I'm active the entire time, and I'm working for the sport I love. I finish the day feeling like I've not only given back to the sport but enriched my own learning and riding. Which brings me to...

4. It's a good learning experience

There's no better way to figure out what a judge wants than to watch 50+ tests over a 7 1/2 hour period with a score-by-score running commentary direct from the judge in your ear. I always leave scribing feeling like I have a better understanding of what the judge wants to see, what her expectations are, and what part of the test to pay closest attention to as a rider. For example, today we did the Training division, which of course felt pretty applicable for me and Kiki. There must have been 30 riders who lost points for the figure-8 circle movement because they didn't prepare their horses well enough for the change of bend. I've always known that the preparation was important, but it really hit home to watch the difference between a properly executed ride and a sloppily done one.

5. It's a great excuse to horse-gawk

At three days one of my favorite spectator activities is the jog because I love watching how all the different horses move and are put together. Well, the scribe's view of dressage (which is a lot of disconnected flashes and bits caught between feverish writing interludes) is about as close to the jog as one can get in a regular horse trial. I got to watch pretty much every horse in the competition, either in the ring or in warm-up, and could admire an almost endless combination of shapes, sizes, movements, and personalities. I just can't get enough of it.

6. It's good handwriting practice!

Sorry folks, I have terrible handwriting. But, just like improving one's knowledge about test riding, there's nothing to jumpstart one's penmanship like a 7 1/2 hour trial by fire. I focused hard and in the sweet-spot middle of the day (when I was warmed up but not weary yet) I managed to make my words loopy but legible, as lovely as I'd ever seen them in quick form (I actually can have nice handwriting when I write painstakingly slowly; it just falls apart when I try to turn the tempo up).

7. It's a chance to catch up with old friends

I have a lot of Area I friends and good acquaintances that I really only see at shows, so if I hadn't gone up today it would have been a whole year or even more until I saw them again. The scribe is probably one of the more focus-requiring and so less catch-up-with-old-pals friendly volunteer jobs, but that's what lunch breaks are for.

8. It feels special to be a part of place I've loved for so long

GMHA has always been one of my favorite venues, and nearly all my fondest childhood riding memories revolve around it in some way, between the Connemara shows and Young Rider camp and my earliest early events. So, even beyond the satisfaction of volunteering in general, it feels extra special just to get any old excuse at all to be up at GMHA on a fine summer day and bask in its beauty and uniqueness.

9. It's awe-inspiring to realize how much goes into every show I attend

This goes hand in hand with the other satisfaction/giving back thoughts, but even more specifically I wanted to underline the increased awareness and gratitude volunteering gives you for just how hard running horse shows really is. There are so many people behind the scenes that get almost no recognition but without whom events just couldn't run. Definitely a lesson in not taking things for granted!

10. Did I mention free food??

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