I am still trying to wrap my mind around the World Equestrian Games coming to my town two years from now. But, even more, I am trying to imagine the care and feeding of the 3,000 volunteers needed for those two weeks, much less finding the volunteers in the first place.
The Virginia Dressage Association shows, where I regularly judge, are among the best I know of for the quality of their volunteers, and that’s one of the many reasons that I always look forward to going there. I think it must have a lot to do with the thoughtful way that those volunteers are treated. I judged for them at the Col. Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships in Lexington VA last month – fabulous scribes all weekend and every test was run the instant it was signed.
Gathering volunteers for this show isn’t easy because Lexington is in the Shenandoah Valley, well west of the state’s population centers, and most volunteers have to drive several hours to get there. There’s a lot of people needed, too – 100 for this show but as many as 175 when VADA does the regionals. The BLMs had six rings over four days, and the terrain at the Virginia Horse Center isn’t easy, since it was pretty much carved out of a vertical slope up the Blue Ridge Mountains. I spent most of the weekend in the East Complex, which required eight volunteers at any one time – two scribes, two runners handing off to a golf cart driver, two gate holders and a ring steward.
I got started in dressage back in the ‘70s, and for three decades it seemed that volunteering at shows was just what you did, even if you were riding at the show. It appears much harder to entice people to volunteer now, and I can’t say why. VADA seems to have the magic touch, though.
Holly Veloso was the volunteer chairman at the BLMs. She told me that she starts early in the year to solicit donations of goodies to be given to the volunteers. Some of the stuff that the volunteers get: A goodie packet; raffle tickets for prizes plus “volunteer of the day” prizes; sweatshirts (it’s cold in the Shenandoah by October!); catered breakfast and lunch; shared overnight rooms if working a full day. And LOTS of thanks.
Holly has been doing this job for almost two decades and, like me, recalls volunteering at shows while also riding back in the ‘80s. She finally got a helper recently and has now stepped down from the chairman post but says she will continue to help on show weekends.