The Volunteer Ladder – Knowing Which Step Is Right For You

Volunteers keeping warm early in the morning. (Photo by

By Kathy Grisolia

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word volunteer means, “a person who undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service.”

This may be true, but obviously Mr. Webster has never been to a dressage show. There, the word volunteer means the life blood of the show. There isn’t a show in existence that can run without them. They are the extra hands and angels on every organizer’s shoulder. Some are so dedicated that as an organizer, you want to take them wherever you go.

Volunteer coordinator Kathy Grisolia with her companion Jake

As Volunteer Coordinator of the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, I have met some extraordinary people over the past seven years. I sometimes wonder how they got started on the road to volunteering at horse shows. Was it just on a whim or the opportunity to give back? Were they a seasoned horse person or someone that had never been around horses?

As someone that has had limited access to horses, where do you begin? What job can you do that is best suited for your limited knowledge of horses? For me, it was as a test runner at a dressage facility on Long Island, many moons ago. At the time, I had just discovered dressage, and this gave me the opportunity to watch and learn a bit more since there were some good riders at these shows, and a lot of nice horses.

What is a test runner? Personally, I think it is the single most important role for a volunteer. This job requires you to retrieve the written tests from the judges and bring them into the scoring office. Some think it is boring, and yes it can be, but always a good place to start. Actually, it is a bit of an art form, learning how to dance between the judge’s booths when you have two or more judges, and making sure not disturb the judge or the rider in the ring. Also, the efficiency to which this is done helps the scorers to get the competitors their scores quickly. Although, with a lot of the bigger shows going to electronic scoring/scribing, the test runner is sadly being minimized.

The next rung on the volunteer ladder was to learn how to scribe. As a scribe, you get to listen to what the judge sees (I was always afraid to lift my head in case I lost my spot. LOL!) and then apply it to your own riding. That is where your dressage education can really take off. To be able to see through the judge’s eyes and ask questions between rides can make quite the impact. A good scribe is always sought after, and if you can type well, you can take the next step up to electronic scribing.

Well, once I had learned how to scribe and run those tests into the scorers, my next option was to learn how to do the actual scoring. The scoring office is just a flurry of paper, as tests coming in from the runners are being scored andentered into the computer. After which, they are double checked on calculators and handed over to the head scorer who maintains the “boards” as they are called. These boards have a list of every rider that is in every class, to ensure that every test is accounted for. After the whole class has been scored, the tests are then delivered to the awards table. At a one ring show, this may be a single person, but at bigger shows sometimes it can be up to five or six people. If you are good at 10 key this is the job for you! Scoring was my love as a volunteer.

So, now we go behind the scenes to the warmup and ring stewards. They are the flow of any horse show. They are the eyes and ears for the Technical Delegates and the time clock for the riders. The warmup steward will keep the riders informed of who is in the ring ahead of them and send them on their way at the appropriate time to check in with the ring steward. They will also keep an eye out for any misbehaving horses that may be an endangerment to a busy warmup ring.

The Ring Steward then makes sure each rider gets to the ring for their designated ride time. Afterwards, they check the rider’s equipment and report to the Technical Delegate if anything is amiss. Good organizational skills are a must in these positions. Although it is the rider’s responsibility to be at the ring for their designated ride time, the guidance of the stewards is always greatly appreciated.

Those are the top 5 most highly sought-after volunteer jobs at a dressage show, but may we not forget, the gatekeepers, the hospitality people, and “Bio Control” (poop scoopers). All these jobs have been done by the seasoned volunteer and the newbie. Like the test runner for someone new to volunteering, these are a good place to start. You may laugh, but at the US Dressage Finals, these are the three most sought after positions! Mainly because it gives the volunteer the opportunity to be out there to “undertake or express the willingness to undertake a service” to the sport they love.

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