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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Volunteer crisis could bring down the sport of equestrian

ABOVE: Horse trials need volunteers in massive numbers. Picture: ONE-EYED FROG

IT’S easy to go to a big horse event and admire the beauty and talent of the horses, the elegant riders, the enormous size of the fences jumped, but what people should really be looking at and applauding are the volunteers who have made it all possible.

These events don’t just happen and unfortunately it is getting harder each year to find the people who are willing to put the time in behind the scenes to ensure the sport we love to participate in and watch continues.

Gone are the days when it was a privilege to work at a big event with many organisers now resorting to a “carrot and stick” approach.

“It is getting harder to get volunteers,” one very experienced organiser, who preferred not to be named, said.

“Competitors are becoming more entitled. They want to arrive mid-morning, leave mid-afternoon and have a nice day. The workers arrive in the dark and leave in the dark. Even with comps where competitors pay a fee rather than volunteer, you still have to find the bodies to do the work.”

There is a desperate need for volunteer stewards across all disciplines.

While competition may look simple to the untrained eye, pencillers, gate stewards, gear checkers, scorers time keepers starters, people to repair fences are essential and require some knowledge and proficiency in the sport.

Being a part of a big event can be addictive, as super stewards Wayne and Rosey Loughan can attest.

“Back in the 1970s there was a call to arms for help with the local show which had moved from Dalyston,” Rosey said.

ABOVE: Not all jobs for volunteers are glamorous. Picture: ONE-EYED FROG

“Wayne was already involved. I was interested in helping, went along and the rest is history.”

This involvement at the local level ignited a passion in Rosey for the ‘ag show’ world in general.

“I am still passionate but measured against what I can achieve,” she said.

“It would be remiss of me to not mention Barastoc and what it meant to Wayne and I. We said our children ‘no weddings on our show weekend, Barastoc or Sydney Royal’.

“Wayne would agree with all of this. Words don't really match why we do it and still love it.”

John Mullenger, known for his involvement in the discipline of harness, remains passionate about helping at events.

“I have done it for many years, you get to meet and work with great people,” he said.

“It upsets me when the young ones say ‘we don’t want to help, we just want to show’. Some of the biggest shows are in trouble trying to get stewards.”

Long-time volunteer Chris Hartigan agrees.

“I volunteer because we wouldn't be able to run comps in any of the disciplines without all the people behind the scenes,” she said.

“It just wouldn't/couldn't happen. Besides, a zillion years ago people volunteered to enable me to compete and I am now repaying their kindness.”

A quality horse trials, whether it’s for pony club, adult riding club or open eventing will have at least five divisions and needs upwards of 300 workers.

Yes, 300 workers – sometimes more.

Put simply, sport does not run without volunteers and once the current people get tired and leave, there is a great chance the competition and event scene will collapse.

Several groups are beginning to create ways to ensure the load falls a little more easily on hard-working shoulders.

In showjumping, at bigger events, competitors who can supply a helper for the day get priority entry.

Classes fill fast and to not provide one can mean missing out.

Missing out on an entry to a favorite event soon ensures the entrant finds someone to do the needed job.

Carrot. Stick.

An hour spent picking up jumping rails for younger and fitter volunteers, calling competitors in from the collecting ring for older ones makes for smooth running.

ABOVE: Showjumping requires many hands to run an event. Picture: ONE-EYED FROG

Eventing is labor intensive and needs a steward on every cross-country fence. People want to see their own rider go round but sitting at a fence for an hour at another level keeps the wheels rolling.

Many events have used a “sign up” system where a helper is nominated for a job on the entry form but too often the named helper doesn’t turn up.

Recently in frustration, one big event added $50 to the entry fee to be reimbursed when the helper signed in and then out for the job.

“All riders made a one-off payment when they entered for an extra $50 on their entry, “the event organiser said.

“We put jobs to do at the event and riders had to fill in what job they wanted. The link went out a day after their times. By the time the event ran it was 98 per cent full. At the event they had to come to the office, check in then come back to check out of their job.”

The Horse Riding Clubs Association of Victoria has a strict policy on volunteer help for all types of events on their calendar.

It flatly states that should a host club require assistance to run an event, it may stipulate that teams must supply a volunteer helper or helpers as a condition of entry.

If a volunteer is unable to fulfil their commitments for the nominated period, a replacement helper must be provided.

The organising committee may eliminate teams failing to provide a volunteer helper for the nominated period and may report the matter to the HRCAV executive, which has the option to fine the club up to $200.

It shows just how serious the situation has become.

It’s now very much a matter of putting your hand up or missing out but seriously, do you want to be the "volunteer" who has to be forced to help, or one who steps up willingly to ensure an event is still around for the next generation like someone once did for you and your family?

ABOVE: Where would be be without them? Picture: ONE-EYED FROG

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