We’ve all heard the expression that volunteers are the lifeblood of many organizations – well, my friends, horse organizations are no different.

I spent this past weekend volunteering at the Virginia Dressage Association fall show which also included the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 1 Championships. To say that it took a lot of dedicated volunteers to make this amazing event run like clockwork is like saying that it takes “some effort” to train a Grand Prix horse – a huge understatement.

This weekend we had riders (some who volunteered around their ride times at the show), spouses, children of various ages, friends and students. They were a great group to work with. Without our volunteers, the show literally could not have taken place. A little sampling of what our volunteers accomplished this weekend? Check out the (very partial) list below.

  • secured sponsorship from a wide variety of sources
  • handled all the necessary USEF and USDF paperwork
  • hired officials, such as judges
  • handled all of the paperwork involved with rider entries (and believe me, there is a lot of it!)
  • set up rings
  • decorated the entryway to the show office
  • acted as ring stewards
  • acted as scribes for the judges
  • scored the tests
  • ran the tests from the judges’ boxes to the scorers’ office
  • dragged rings to maintain optimum footing
  • watered the flowers
  • organized (beautifully, I may add) the awards ceremonies, making sure all the horses were in place with the correct ribbons on time
  • took down all of the rings, judges stands, flowers, decorations, etc at the end of the show
  • dealt with making sure that all of the appropriate post show paperwork was handled

Without a great volunteer coordinator and a management team who treats their volunteers exceptionally well this show might have run differently. What did our volunteer coordinator provide for us? Things like amazing catering for lunch every day – freshly made soups, salads, bread and desserts along with coffee always at the ready and plenty buckets of candy appropriately placed; sweatshirts, tote bags filled with goodies and door prizes daily. VADA is very wise in knowing that if the volunteers are well treated and made to feel special, they’ll want to come back again (even if it’s only because of the soup ;-).

Virginia Dressage Association (VADA) is also very wise in that riders are required to volunteer a certain number of volunteer hours in order to be eligible for year end awards. VADA goes a step beyond this; however, and also has a Volunteer Incentive Program (VIP). Three tiers of gifts are offered for volunteers who spend 12, 24 or 50 hours (Bronze, Silver and Gold levels, respectively). This also adds an extra boost of encouragement to riders who aren’t currently competing to help out the organization.

What does this have to do with you (if you’re not a member of VADA?) It’s really two-fold. First off, if you are a board member of an organization (which is often a thankless volunteer position), be sure to analyze not only what you’re getting from your volunteers (or not), but what you’re offering as well. People seem to be busier with every passing year, and with the tighter economy, it’s hard for many to be able to volunteer like they were once able. Be creative, check out other volunteer-driven organizations and see what they’re doing to attract – and retain – good volunteers. Secondly, if you are the member of any organization, see what you can do to help. If you only have an hour to offer, believe me – a well-run organization will put that hour to very good use. And remember, if there are 8 people with “only” an hour, there’s a full day of volunteer work right there.

Moral of the story – maybe love does make the world go around, but volunteering for your favorite organization will not only get you a little love, but quite possibly ensure the future of your group. Volunteers really are the life-blood of many organizations.