The Joys of Vol­un­teer­ing

A long-time Ken­tucky Dres­sage As­so­ci­a­tion vol­un­teer shares her mean­ing­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.

Dressage Today - - Content - By Judy Serie Nagy

A pas­sion­ate vol­un­teer shares her ex­pe­ri­ence.

Five or six years ago, vol­un­teer­ing for the Fes­ti­val of Cham­pi­ons (FOC) sched­uled for the Ken­tucky Horse Park (KHP) seemed like a fun idea. I had many fond mem­o­ries of or­ga­niz­ing teams of riders with dis­abil­i­ties in the past at FOC at Glad­stone, New Jersey, but this time I re­ally wanted to just be a “peon” vol­un­teer. Through USDF, I found Sheila Wo­erth, the driv­ing force be­hind the Ken­tucky Dres­sage As­so­ci­a­tion (KDA), emailed her and signed on to work the event.

Driv­ing into KHP for the first time was sur­real—acres of pas­tures in ev­ery shade of green, full of gleam­ing horses, tidy build­ings and lush land­scap­ing. The place is magic for a horse lover. I was thrilled to be as­signed to the Rolex Sta­dium warm-up. Meet­ing many riders, horses, train­ers, of­fi­cials and Ken­tucky lo­cals made my first week in Lex­ing­ton mem­o­rable.

The fol­low­ing year, KDA was host­ing the USDF Re­gion 2 Cham­pi­onships, so I hap­pily flew to Lex­ing­ton. It was a huge event, spread over the Rolex Sta­dium and the Dres­sage Com­plex at KHP, with com-

pli­cated lo­gis­tics. I was at the warm-up about an hour be­fore the first ride, and it soon be­came ap­par­ent that no­body was join­ing me. My warm-up fed three com­pe­ti­tion rings, a bit of a chal­lenge for a lone ste­ward. About 10 a.m., a tall blonde in an Aussie hat and duster came strid­ing up to my lit­tle tent and an­nounced that her name was Patty Wal­ter and that she was there to help—all day, all week­end. It was mu­sic to my fraz­zled ears. We bonded in­stantly, and Patty fig­ured ev­ery­thing out in three min­utes. How­ever, she had promised Show Man­ager Anne Kuhns that she would also do the awards. When she told me this, I just stared at her and asked “Are you out of your mind?”

Awards are no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to or­ches­trate, so I be­gan keep­ing an eye out for more help. New KDA vol­un­teer Marie Keel, an­other nim­ble mind, was next to ap­pear. I be­gan to have hope. Get­ting the riders pinned and down the ramp on time is top pri­or­ity. One of my best mem­o­ries is Anne on the ra­dio softly ask­ing “Is the next class ready?” while an­nouncer Ni­cho Mered­ith filled in the air­waves.

Anne’s in­volve­ment re­ally re­flects the KDA story, I think. She was asked to man­age awards for a KDA cham­pi­onship at KHP. On their way home to Ok­la­homa from a fam­ily re­union early that sum­mer, Anne and hus­band Bill drove through Lex­ing­ton. They met Sheila, toured the Horse Park and fell in love with the area. In March 2012, com­plete with three Great Danes, they took up res­i­dence in Paris, Ken­tucky. Re­gion 9 has not given her up, though, as Anne still man­ages two Ok­la­homa shows and is in charge of awards for the Re­gion 9 Cham­pi­onships.

Last sum­mer, my Ken­tucky visit was sched­uled for KDA’s Sum­mer Clas­sic in July. The com­pe­ti­tion was huge: 300-plus horses, more than 1,000 rides, 13 breed reg­istries, 20 pony reg­istries and the Na­tional Dres­sage Pony Cup (NDPC), and many spe­cial awards with five rings go­ing for three days.

When I ar­rived, Anne told me that my fa­vorite job of warm-up ste­ward was wait­ing for me at Ring 5, which would see many of the NDPC riders over the week­end. Some had lit­tle show ex­pe­ri­ence, so I was more than happy to have an op­por­tu­nity to guide them along. I also en­joy teach­ing the horses good be­hav­ior, such as gen­tly con­vinc­ing a horse that a ring ste­ward stick­ing her hand in his mouth is a good idea.

KDA’s Lynn O’Con­nor ran Ring 4, and we shared day sheets and a tent full of chairs, ice wa­ter and sup­plies. At one point, we watched multi-dis­ci­pline tech­ni­cal del­e­gate Su­san Mo­ran defuse a coach/ par­ent/rider sit­u­a­tion with such grace that every­one walked away happy. Lynn said, “I love work­ing these shows. The peo­ple are great, the horses are beau­ti­ful and the Ken­tucky Horse Park is gor­geous. It’s al­ways a spe­cial feel­ing to turn into the drive­way as the sun comes up.”

The vol­un­teer co­or­di­na­tor’s of­fice is the hub of a smooth-run­ning show. We al­ways laugh if we can’t find Vol­un­teer Co­or­di­na­tor Sandy Kraatz—we know that she’s out there fill­ing a job, some­times at the very last minute. Like me, Sandy feels that all riders and train­ers should vol­un­teer at shows for greater un­der­stand­ing when they com­pete. As an ex­am­ple, my fa­vorite plea is, “Please check in with the Ring Ste­ward” when riders en­ter the warm-up. If a rider vol­un­teered half a day in a warmup arena, he or she would un­der­stand why that is so im­por­tant. And if they knew how much KDA ap­pre­ci­ates them, they’d be lin­ing up to vol­un­teer. Perks abound at KDA: prize draw­ings, spe­cial din­ners, gift cards—but most val­ued are the count­less thanks we re­ceive. Price­less.

There were lots of Ken­tucky riders, of course, as well as par­tic­i­pants from the sur­round­ing states. I was im­pressed that riders from as far as Texas and Canada had trav­eled to com­pete. I also no­ticed a rider from New Jersey on a horse from Wash­ing­ton State. Bill Solyn­t­jes’ lovely liver chest­nut Ger­man Rid­ing Pony from Min­nesota had the most en­thu­si­as­tic rider I’ve ever met. Noth­ing brings joy to a vol­un­teer’s heart like a com­peti­tor who’s hav­ing the time of her life.

Manag­ing a vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tion is a com­plex task. Sheila is an amaz­ing hu­man be­ing and the driv­ing force be­hind KDA. Un­der her lead­er­ship as show chair, KDA has grown from two to seven an­nual shows since 2005. In 2010, Sheila formed a com­mit­tee to trans­form the Dres­sage Com­plex at KHP. KDA has made some great im­prove­ments and is now work­ing on a huge project—a pro­posed multi-pur­pose pad 110 by 95 me­ters. It will ac­com­mo­date dres­sage, jump­ing and driv­ing with two com­pe­ti­tion are­nas and two warm-ups and more. Sheila makes it all look easy and there’s lit­tle doubt in my mind that ev­ery­thing will magically ap­pear over the com­ing years, seem­ingly without ef­fort. KDA will be host­ing re­gion­als again in 2018, and I’m look­ing for­ward to a re­turn to Ken­tucky.

No mat­ter where I travel or for whom I work, work­ing a dres­sage show is a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence. But a KDA show is way be­yond pleas­ant. There are so many fac­tors that make a great event, but I have to think that manag­ing by com­mit­tee, where KDA mem­bers have their own proven sets of skills, has to be the best. Most of us know ex­actly what Sandy means when she says, “I feel a great sense of sat­is­fac­tion when the show has run smoothly for every­one in­volved.”

Perks abound at KDA... but most val­ued are the count­less thanks we re­ceive.

Judy Nagy (right) and Lynn O’Con­nor vol­un­teer­ing at a com­pe­ti­tion

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