Eventing Volunteering - Finding Your Perfect Role
It can be hard to give back when you don't know what you're giving. Read on for our basic guide on what to expect from different positions on an event site.
N.B. This guide details roles as they are in a "normal" year. COVID 19 has altered some roles in how they interact with competitors and other members of a team. Use this article as a guide and contact your local organiser for details on how their safeguarding precautions will affect your role.
Eventing is a sport built on an army of volunteers. They give up half days, or whole days, or whole weekends or whole weeks to make sure events can run, without whom the sport, very simply, wouldn't. Those who regularly volunteer experience many benefits, not only do they meet some incredible people but they learn a great deal through watching a wide variety of other riders and horses. It can also help ensure your entry avoids the ballot.
But what's really involved?
Description: For the competition to run, each arena needs a dressage judge and writer. The dressage judge in in charge of giving each movement in a dressage test marks out of ten for each competitor in their arena
Things you should know: Generally you must be listed on the BD judges database and each organiser will have a list of judges they trust and use. This is one of the few positions on an event site you will receive money for, prices vary depending on venue and level but normally a set amount per test and your petrol. You will need to bring your own car, if you require a writer you will be supplied with one. Generally for a one day event your section will last for half of the day (eg. 9am-12pm) and will consist of roughly 30 horses.
Description: Each dressage judge is provided with (or brings their own) writer. The writer sits next to them in the judge's car and writes down all the marks and comments on the dressage sheets.
Things you should know: You'll need legible handwriting but it doesn't need to be calligraphy, just good enough to read when you're writing quickly. This is one of the best jobs for learning as you can watch dressage tests from a variety of horses and riders and hear all of the judge's comments and corrections. If you show interest some judges will also give you a more in depth analysis. It normally takes up half a day.
Description: The dressage steward is responsible for being a point of contact for the competitors in the warm up arena, getting them into their arena on time, in roughly the right order and hopefully without items of tack that will get them eliminated (N.B. while it's helpful for a steward to remind riders of this, e.g. "you know your horse still has boots on, would you like me to take them off?" it's the rider's responsibility to remember them)
Things you should know: You'll be provided with a sheet of times, clipboard, pen and tabard with your arena letter on it. PACK A GOOD COAT or two or three. You will need to find out which arena is yours and then will be communicating with riders to get them to the arena on time. Most stewards do this by shouting across the arena: it's simple and effective. Once you've done this once or twice you'll become adept at juggling riders who have arrived late or offered to go early, you're not under any obligation to do so but it's nice to do you best to fit people in. The riders are generally very friendly and happy for a chat (within reason, they do have a job to do) and this is one of the more social jobs on an event site. Generally takes up half a day.
Description: Pretty self explanatory, you're picking poles up when people knock them down
Things you should know: You'll have a seat in the middle so you're not on your feet all day, it's normally best to leave a pole on the floor until the end of the round to make sure the score box has seen it. This is generally an all day job but GREAT for getting your steps in and being able to get home knowing you definitely deserve an extra helping at dinner. Watching that many showjumping rounds also means you'll learn heaps and is a nice way to spend a day
Collecting Ring Steward
Description: Just like the dressage steward, you're responsible for getting people into the arena at the right time. This time there's only one arena, the riders know where it is and are generally a bit more switched on about getting themselves there in good time.
Things you should know: This job requires a bit more organisation as some arenas operate under a "put your number down when you arrive" system and you will be responsible for staying on top of where people are putting themselves and the logistics of riders with multiple horses who might be coming straight from another discipline with only a small time window so will need you to hold a space for them and fit them in as and when. Sometimes it pays to be a bit more experienced so you can hold your ground with any complaints but these are rare. This is a social job as you can chat to competitors and grooms waiting and a loud voice is a plus so you can effectively communicate running orders. Generally an all day job.
Score Box and Commentary
Description: Inside the showjumping commentary box are a range of people: A Judge, a Scorer, a Commentator and a Score Collator. The Judge is in charge of ensuring all rules are adhered to and confirming eliminations, they must be a qualified British Showjumping Judge. The Scorer has sheets on which they mark a competitor's faults and which fences they occurred at. The Commentator calls a rider's name, horses's name and their total faults over the loud speaker and may also use the speaker to alert medical personnel to an accident. The Score Collator rings through to cross country control to pass on showjumping faults to the Provisional Scorer.
Things you should know: A very social job (you will at some point have to remind yourself you're there to do a job and not chat), the group in the box normally know each other and have formed their own team who travel around events together but in the experience of the author are absolutely lovely and always happy to have and include a new member. You'll have a prime view to watch the showjumping and more often than not will hear some of the most outrageous gossip you've ever been party to in your life. Bear in mind to take it with a pinch of salt, for entertainment value, it pays to never let the truth get in the way of a good story. This role lasts all day.
Collecting Ring Steward
Description: As with the other stewards, you are responsible for getting the riders to the start box on time.
Things you should know: By the time they've got to cross country the riders are normally completely out of their time order. Don't ask me how since all the times are worked out in a logical and professional manner, but the riders are almost never in any form of logical or professional order when they reach the cross country warm up. It's normally because they've completely ignored their logical and professional times. They will pretty much turn up when they want. You get them to the starter preferably one at a time, if there's a hold on course you communicate that to any riders warming up. This is a job that lasts all day so bring a chair if the boot of your car isn't comfy and always pack at least one good coat. It's generally a great place for a chat while competitors are waiting around.
Description: Each fence on a cross country course has a fence judge who is responsible for recording any faults and alerting the cross country controller to the progress of competitors around the course and any accidents.
Things you should know: You will be given a briefing before the start of the cross country phase. You must attend this briefing. It is important that you know what is expected of you. If you are new to the role you'll be given a nice fence which is unlikely to cause problems so you can relax and enjoy the day. You'll normally be given a packed lunch but it's sometimes nice to bring your own and well behaved dogs are welcome provided they are kept under control on a lead all day. This is often a good job to do with a few friends, bring a picnic and watch the action in slow time. Generally lasts all day.
Cross Country Start (Starter, Timecard writer, Control's Point of Contact)
Description: The cross country start box contains a variety of roles which, like the showjumping score box, normally form a little team who do lots of different events together. There is The Starter, who is responsible for counting competitors in the start box down from 10 and sending them out at a time that will make calculating their time on course simple. They must keep in contact with control and will be the first person contacted by the controller to stop the course in the event of an accident. The Timecard Writer, who makes a note of a competitor's start and finish time and calculates time penalties. The Point of Contact with control, who rings through to The Plotter to give them the numbers of the next competitors to start so the commentator knows who to expect and the time for the horse finishing. Some boxes will spread these jobs differently between 3 or 4 people.
Things you should know: Just like the showjumping box, the start box is normally a very social place to be. You will need to concentrate occasionally which honestly is a shame. Listen to the starter and or whoever has organised your little group and you cant really go wrong. These roles last all day
Control (provisional scorer, plotter, commentator, controller)
Description: The control box is really the coordination centre for the whole of the cross country phase. It consists of: The Controller, The Commentator/Assisting Controller, The Plotter and The Provisional Scorer. The Controller is responsible for managing the course and the team of volunteers who cover the course. They do the fence judge briefing, keep a log of faults and in the event of an accident they are responsible for assessing the severity of the accident, stopping the course and getting emergency services to the rider and or horse. You cannot be a controller without proper training (to learn more about becoming a controller see our Controller in Training
blog series). The Commentator/Assistant Controller (obviously) commentates on the action occurring on course, as they are also an Assistant Controller and therefore require training. They keep track of the competitors on the course by listening to the fence judge radio network, can see when riders are getting too close to each other and in the event of an accident they will help the controller judge how much time a fence judge will have to clear the course and if the course needs to be stopped. As being a controller is an intense job, the controller and assistant controller will occasionally swap to give one another a break. The Plotter mans the phone in the control box and receives information on the next horse to pass to the Commentator and helps to keep track of competitors on course. They also receive timings from start which they pass to the Provisional Scorer. The Provisional Scorer will receive provisional dressage, showjumping and time scores from all over the course and put them together so they can be announced at the end of every section and inform the commentary
Things you should know: The control box has an important role to play on an event site and needs to be able to function as a well oiled machine. Most controllers build a team of people they know and can rely on whom they stick with from event to event. It's generally a social environment but can become intense very quickly. If you're interested in a position in the control box it's worth trying a few other roles for an organiser so they get to know you and can suggest you to the controller to fill a space. These roles last all day.
Description: On bigger courses which attract large crowds, crossing points are stationed around the course to allow spectators to cross safely. Crossing Stewards are responsible for closing the crossing when horses are coming.
Things you should know: A very social position as you can chat with the general public all day. It's generally advised to bring a chair and at least one good coat in case of inclement weather, this role lasts all day.
Description: Working in the Secretary's means you are the accessible face of the competition for competitors. They come to you for numbers, to pay start fees, to collect dressage sheets and to lodge any queries.
Things you should know: The secretary's also has a coordination role. Dressage will ring to see if a rider has collected their number (ie. turned up) if they don't appear in the warm up, showjumping may do the same, any withdrawals or substitutions are made to the secretary who must then alert the other departments so that commentators and scorers know who's competing. It's a social position as you see everyone coming and going but you might have to be prepared to receive questions or complaints.
Description: Fairly self explanatory, the scorers add up the scores, publish the scoreboards and report the scores to British Eventing at the end of the day for them to be put on competitors' records.
Things you should know: Another area which forms its own little team. The scorers is generally a very social place to be as you don't need to be quiet while somebody speaks over a loudspeaker and just like the showjumping box, the stories flying around would make a sailor blush. You don't need to be a maths prodigy or bring a calculator, they have magic techniques for dressage sheets and crib sheets that work out penalty scores for you. The roles are all fairly interchangeable and morph as the day progresses. You begin with dressage sheets, then showjumping score sheets begin to arrive, as the dressage phase draws to a close fence judge sheets which are sorted and fed to the head scorer with timecards following shortly behind. With the exception of the organiser, the Secretary and the Scorers have the longest day as they arrive before the first horse has done its dressage test and cannot leave until the last horse has done its cross country round and the prizes collected. The scorers also receive any scoring queries and therefore a Chief Scorer need a good knowledge of the rules (and often to have a rulebook handy to prove them).
Description: Car parking marshals ensure lorries are parked in a relatively organised fashion, with enough space to tie horses up but using the space available most effectively
Things you should know: You'll be told how the organisers have envisaged fitting everyone in. You'll probably have one or two sneaky competitors who would rather park anywhere other than where they're being directed to but for the most part people are respectful and take direction. Be aware of things like side loading ramps and definitely have at least one good coat. Normally takes up about half a day.
Want to get the absolute most from Eventing 2020? 9 Ways to Crush It this Eventing Season
Having a go at volunteering this year? Tag us in photos: @theponypdcast for a chance to be featured on our pages!
For more tips from the top follow:
Facebook: The Pony Podcast