Today was the day I’d earmarked for a first run at an affiliated Event, but one or two things put paid to that and so I decided that second best would be seeing things from a different angle, signing up to volunteer at a training event at Little Downham. I wasn’t riding and spectators aren’t allowed as such, and this was a great way to learn how an event is run, what you need to bear in mind through the day, what the stewards can help with and so on. As a first-time volunteer it was a bit daunting to be in charge of the showjumping warm ups, ensuring that the limits on numbers in each place were stuck to, getting riders into the warmup on time, accommodating the people who’d jumped and wanted to change for XC without going back to their lorry, keeping queuing riders in the loop… It all went remarkably well, with horses in five different places and deciphering riders’ self-produced (and in some cases beautifully handdrawn) numbers providing an extra challenge.
As a sop to the quickly-passing sadness not be riding (although a but jealous of everyone who was going XC), one thing that struck me was the huge number of thank yous and kind comments that came my way – there’s the secret: the volunteers might be on their feet for 8 hours and your encounter with them might only run to 10 minutes, but those appreciative comments and smiles make all the pressured things easier to work through. The low-key atmosphere of the event meant that people had more time to talk, hopefully putting them at ease or keeping minds from racing. I didn’t expect any praise – after all, I wasjust following my instructions and could always fall back on a smiling appeal to current restrictions because of you-know-what – but it did make me aware of how much I’ll be looking for guidance and reassurance from the stewards, fence judges, and all those who make these things run.
I did enjoy being party to the staff comments over the walkie-talkies, and working on my own meant that they were a welcome connection to the staff around the event. Having ticked two boxes in the list of spectator-volunteer-rider, I can’t wait to get to the third – Max and I hope to be out there before the season’s end, with great respect for the volunteers and ready for my turn to say ‘I don’t envy you your job!’