Part I – The Volunteers
by Jennifer Keeler
As we look towards this year’s US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®,
it’s hard to believe how quickly the years have flown by! So YourDressage is
reaching out to competitors, officials and volunteers to share their experiences and favorite memories from the first five years of this unique event. This month we spoke with Volunteer Coordinator Kathy Grisolia, whose tireless work behind the scenes takes “herding cats” to a whole new level.
Dressage shows simply cannot function without the selfless efforts of dedicated volunteers, and as a show manager herself, Grisolia knows this fact as much as anyone. The sheer scope of the US Dressage Finals brings its own set of challenges, yet every year a capable and loyal army of volunteers flock to the Finals where they draw the unending praise of competitors and set the bar for all other competitions in the country.
When the Finals were getting ready to launch in 2013, right from the get-go Grisolia was determined to be a part of it. “I had missed out on the World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park in 2010, and I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to miss out on an event like this again,’” she explained. “So I contacted my friend Debra Reinhardt (who was in charge of operations and volunteers that year) and told her that I planned to come down from Long Island where I lived at the time, and if she needed me to do anything at all, I was happy to help. As things got closer to that inaugural show, she found herself juggling a lot of different things and asked me if I could help with coordinating the volunteers, such as following up on emails and that sort of thing. I really enjoyed it, and so the next year I officially became her assistant and was even more involved with the whole volunteer effort. Then the third year I officially became the Volunteer Coordinator, and I absolutely love it.”
Like many dressage enthusiasts, Grisolia admits she wasn’t exactly sure what to expect that first year, but it exceeded everyone’s expectations and she enjoyed the Finals even more by being involved behind the scenes. “We’re all quite used to outdoor shows, even big fancy ones, but whether you’re a competitor or a volunteer the first time you walk into an indoor stadium all decked out like we do it for the Finals, and you can’t help but say, ‘WOW, this is big time,’” Grisolia explained.
“One of my favorite memories is from that first Finals,” she added. “We had been finishing up with all those lavish decorations in the Alltech Arena, and a competitor come in the show office with her face white as a sheet. She turns to her trainer and says, ‘I think I’m going to be sick.’ Her trainer said, ‘Why?’, and the rider responded, ‘Have you been out there to see that indoor? It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen, and I can’t believe I’m going to be riding in there.’”
While there’s no question the Finals are a special experience for competitors, it’s also a memorable event for volunteers. “I don’t think we had more than 40 volunteers in 2013, and now we have double that number so it’s grown incredibly,” said Grisolia. “The Finals just become even more amazing each year, and I think a big reason why people want to be involved and then keep coming back year after year is that everyone’s treated very well, and not only is it such an impressive event, but people are happy to be there. It’s a chance to see riders from all over the country, not just from their local area or region, and be a part of something extraordinary.”
And those volunteers do keep coming back: in fact, 13 dedicated individuals have volunteered for the Finals each and every year since 2013, including Leah Yurasek (HSO), Heather Petersen, Lisa Gorretta, Chris Hayner, Bud Moore, Bill Schultz, Toni Nelson, Helen St. Amand, Nancy George, Linda Thompson, Diane Welling, Steve Chen, and Regina Lin. Why? “Not only is it so special to be a part of an event of this caliber, but we also keep the atmosphere fun,” Grisolia noted. “We all try to have a good time, and we have such an incredible team of people who know their jobs. I try to rotate the volunteers’ duties from day to day at each year’s Finals, and also try to make sure that at some point everyone gets to be in the Alltech in some capacity so they can see what happens there and watch a few rides.
“Plus, like I mentioned before, USDF treats everyone so well,” Grisolia continued. “Shared hotel rooms for volunteers are paid for; you’re fed three meals a day; everyone gets a goodie bag; and volunteers who work all four days get an awesome Finals jacket. I can’t tell you how many people I know who became friends by volunteering and staying together at the Finals, and those friendships have carried on year after year. All people have to do is get themselves there, and then they’re taken care of and get to be a part of it. For instance, we have one big group from William Woods University who has come down for every show – they are such a fantastic bunch of people who work hard and are very knowledgeable about what needs to be done, and that makes my job easier because people who come back are well-trained. I love seeing people come back year after year, and I try very hard to make it fun for everyone.”
A group of volunteers from Erie College came to last year’s Final after hearing about it from the group at William Woods.
Interested in making memories as part of the volunteer experience at the 2018 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, being held November 8-11 at the Kentucky Horse Park? Sign up on the US Dressage Finals website HERE. Join us!