I started this blog post a week ago and went on a proper rant. When I opened it up to finish it this morning, that rant was gone and disappeared into the internet.
Good? Bad? Frustrating. But maybe a good thing, because I was very honest in the original. Maybe a bit rude. But as an event organizer, and the Area III Organizer Representative, I'm at my wits end.
Before every horse trials, I constantly post on social media about needing volunteers for events. A horse trials uses between 25-75 volunteers, depending on the size. FEI events can use upwards of 100 volunteers across the course of a week. Every organizer does this, desperately hoping people will sign up to volunteer and we aren't frantically calling our friends and family to fill in spots.
And we never have enough volunteers.
Yet here is the kicker: volunteering doesn't always mean you have to give up showing that weekend. We need volunteers the week before the show and the week after the show. It takes almost four days to decorate cross country, which involves lifting heavy plants and tubs, setting flowers, and dumping mulch in front of jumps. Setting show jump takes two hours of an afternoon. Labeling and stuffing packets can be done at any time before the show. Painting and staining cross country jumps. And all of this stuff has to be removed or taken down once the show is over.
I was mulling this over this morning as I was about to post the www.eventingvolunteers.com link for Barnstaple South. It is now a week before the event. We don't have any Dressage Stewards for Saturday and only three Cross Country jump judges for Sunday. We can't run the event until spots are filled, or we have to pay people.
Dressage and Hunter/Jumper shows are infinitely more expensive than Eventing. When I got my Bronze Medal in Dressage last year, I was shocked at the costs. I could have run an Advanced Horse Trials for less than what I paid for three dressage tests and a ship-in fee. Dressage shows use arenas, judges booths, and hire judges. But they also pay scribes, in-gate people, office personnel, etc. Hunter/Jumper shows use arenas, sets of jumps, and judges. They also pay everybody: office personnel, gate people, jump crew, etc. Eventing uses the same infrastructure as Dressage and the Hunter/Jumpers, and also need hundreds of acres, cross country jumps for all levels, banks, ditches, water complexes, irrigation, grass seed, aeration, labor, etc etc. Infrastructure costs are insane. The list goes on.
And yet Eventing competition fees are much cheaper than Dressage and Hunter/Jumper.
And this is solely because of volunteers. All of the personnel that Dressage and H/J pay? We use volunteers. If events continue to struggle to get volunteers, they'll have to move to start paying people. And if we have to start paying people, entry fees are going to skyrocket. Those large entry fees at the Dressage and Hunter/Jumper shows will look small compared to how many "volunteers" event organizers would have to pay.
Let me be very clear here. Events must make money to survive. There has to be profit, otherwise, event organizers will stop running shows. It is not a crime for event organizers to make money. Running events is a business with a huge upfront cost, a lot of overhead, and all the unpredictability that comes with hosting an outdoor event for horses.
I recently put a post on my Facebook page, asking people why it's important for riders to volunteer. The responses were all similar in thread. I will post some below with names and photos blacked out. Interestingly enough, I believe only one professional rider commented.
I love my regular volunteers, but they're getting burned out from being needed every. single. weekend. during the season and working their own full time jobs. Shoutout to the regular volunteers. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH for being educated, reliable, upbeat, happy, and always willing to pitch in. You are truly the lifeblood of this sport. We cannot cannot do this without you. And if you've read this blog, hey! You might start getting paid if we can't rustle up enough of you! HA!
Professional riders, I implore you to help me. To help all event organizers across the country. Please encourage your students to volunteer. Please consider volunteering yourself. Please help us keep costs down so that Eventing is accessible to people from all income levels. Let's keep the "grassroots" part of our sport alive.
Interested in finding out more? You can visit Emily at www.emilyholmesequestrian.com for more Equestrian Marketing Tips, Complaints about Competitors, and other Ocala based Equestrian stuff. You can also find Emily on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and her decidedly boring TikTok. @eholmes611
Emily Holmes is an Ocala, FL based Freelance Event Organizer who is an expert in Equestrian Public Relations. She also attempts to compete in Eventing and Dressage on a VERY amateur level while building a new facility (see Five Hound Farm) with her hound dogs, husband, and a myriad of horses.