Wednesday, October 17, 2018

my favorite horse show volunteer jobs

Thanks in large part to Sara's 2018 Volunteer Challenge, I've been motivated to get out and about at local events as a volunteer more than ever before. This included everything from small low key stuff at Charlie's farm, to bigger recognized and championship USEA and USDF events.

jump judging the MCTA Jenny Camp training division back in 2015. this is Sally Cousins and Stravinsky
I've always enjoyed volunteering anyway, for a few main reasons:

1 - It's a plain old great way to pass a day outside watching horses and riders do cool things.

2 - Seeing horses and riders successfully tackle big obstacles has the definite advantage of making it look not quite so intimidating. BN will feel 1,000% more accessible after spending an hour jump judging the Prelim course!

3 - With horses, the best education comes from experience imo. You can read the books, watch the videos, have long chats with your trainers and friends, etc etc etc. But at the end of the day nothing beats that in-person experience. Spending the day at a horse show in any capacity will tell me LOADS more about how this sport operates than if I just read the rule book online.

4 - Plus it's an effective networking experience. Volunteering provides ample opportunities to meet and observe all the local pros, trainers, riders, barn owners, organizers, etc etc. Useful for finding clinicians you'd want to ride with, for instance. And it's never a bad thing to become a familiar face, recognized as someone who's happy to help out!

tools of the jump judging trade: clip board with score sheets + order of go, plus radio. plus a comfy shady seat ;)
So when Sara announced her challenge at the beginning of this year, I knew right away that it was something right up my alley.

To get started, I created a free account on the USEA's volunteer dashboard - and, no you don't have to be a USEA member to do this. Once logged in to my volunteer portal, I can browse all the upcoming events, or search for events by area (Maryland is in Area II, for instance).

This is still a newer tool available to events organizers, so not every event uses it. But many do, and to great effect. And it's not limited to recognized events either, or even USEA events. Loch Moy for example uses the volunteer portal for their schooling events and USDF shows too.

Generally speaking, the USEA calendar is finalized (with few exceptions) by spring time, and venues will start populating their events and volunteer positions in the portal shortly thereafter. Once you've opened an account, you'll receive email newsletters for upcoming volunteer opportunities in your area.

I found it useful to scroll through the entire year of events last spring, blocking off weekends on my calendar well in advance. The dual advantage is that, by signing up for positions so early, I was likelier to nab positions that looked really exciting or interesting.

So with that in mind, let's talk a little more about volunteer positions I've done this past year:

preferred xc jump judging set up: complete with friends and a cooler of beer haha
Cross Country Jump Judge

This is the quintessential introduction to volunteerism at events. Most lower level cross country courses have between 15-20 jumps spread across 1-1.5 miles, and each fence needs at least one but ideally two sets of eyes on it. Therefore each event needs a LOT of jump judges.

The role is relatively simple, tho. The technical delegate (TD) holds a meeting before the event starts to review all the rules and regulations with jump judges, and get everyone squared away with clip boards and radios, etc.

Jump judges are often paired up - so this is a fun thing to do with a friend, SO, or kiddo. And basically the role is to be the eyes on your particular assigned jump or jumps. You have a score sheet to mark down whether each rider was clear or had penalties at your fence, and a radio to call in the same.

While technically you're also there to be a first responder and communication point in the event of an accident, it's generally a quiet job spent mostly sitting. I tend to only sign up for this at our home events, when I know I'll be paired up with buddies Brita and Rachael. Otherwise, I find it a little boring. But I still end up doing it relatively often anyway, just bc sometimes events are short handed and will need more warm bodies out on course, even if I signed up for something else.

weather can't always be good at these things tho... i was impressed with how tough all these dressage riders were duringn the deluge at this USDF show. in the ring are my coach (far side) and barn mate (near), while i was stewarding the warm up. fun fact - austen is just out of frame to the right, handling bit check!
Bit Check

I've done Bit Check at both USDF and USEA events, and it's fascinating to me how different the two governing agencies run things. More on that below too haha.

At USEA events, every horse must get their bit checked, bonnets pulled, and spurs and whips measured. At USDF, there's more of a "random draw" to this process, with something like every 4th horse getting pulled for a check.

In this role, you obviously have to be comfortable and confident handling a strange horse's face and sticking your fingers in and around their mouths. You have to be comfortably assertive with riders too, especially as many riders in the heat of competition have 8,000 other things on their mind (including stress and anxiety) and are not always super compliant haha.

But generally, you're checking that the bit is legal for the level (you'll be provided pictures of all the various examples, but something like 90% of what you'll see are snaffles) by sliding it far enough out of the mouth to see it, opening the horses mouth to visually assess, or running a thumb over it to check for sharp edges.

At USEA events, riders can opt to have their checks done before or after their test, depending on their horse. Most are happy to get this out of the way, but some with nervous horses, for instance, or with bonnets, will wait to do the check after. It's up to you to keep track of who you've checked, tho it's up to the competitor to ensure they get checked.

It's a job spent mostly on your feet with a lot of interaction with competitors. These are aspects I personally like in a volunteer role, tho I tend to prefer warm up steward over this particular role.

dressage scribing is always fun!
Warm Up Steward

At almost any show in any discipline, my favorite role is warm up steward. Whether at the small fun shows at my home barn, or at big recognized events. I've done it for dressage, show jumping, and cross country. It's also often (esp at smaller shows) combined with running the "in gate."

As warm up steward, your job is essentially to impose order on the chaos haha. And for those of you who have competed before in wild and unruly warm up rings, you know what I mean. From my perspective, an effective steward can improve the experience for everyone.

As a competitor, I rely on the stewards to answer questions: Are things running on time, early, or behind? How many horses are ahead of me? What ring do I ride in? What's the optimum time? So as a steward, it's my business to have the answers.

Especially in jumping warm ups, this can keep things orderly in what is often a small space with limited jumps shared among all the riders. If a rider knows they have 15 minutes before their ride, they're more likely to stay out of the way of the rider who's on deck. Usually haha.

Most events ideally want to stay true to the order of go where possible, but usually it's more important to keep things moving, and keep getting riders out on course. It's up to the steward to have a sense of order and communicate that to the riders. As with any volunteer role, tho, the TD is only ever a radio call away if you have a question on rules or need help with a competitor.

It's also up to the steward to make sure everyone is safely sharing space in the warm up. Again, the difference in rules between USEA and USDF shows is fascinating to me. For instance: at USDF shows, nobody is allowed inside the warm up rings on foot. Out of concern for safety. Meanwhile, at USEA events - even in the xc warm up where horses are literally galloping and jumping - trainers and crew can be right next to the fences.

This position is also one spent mostly on your feet, tho I suppose it wouldn't be hard to do it seated as well. And you have a lot of interactions with the riders.

Personally I like this role a lot - esp in the jumping phases - bc the atmosphere and energy is always really cool. Obviously some riders are the businesslike pros on their client's rank novice horse or whatever. But for the most part it's a bunch of amateur riders just like you and me, experiencing all the jangling nerves and feelings of excitement/dread leading to those last few moments before GO TIME. Idk. It's a cool place to be at a show imo.

jump crew is a great way to get up close and personal with the action, without really having to pay a whole lot of attention other than grabbing rails when they fall. also great for seeing the local pros make the rounds, like Boyd here with one of his prelim horses
Jump Crew

Jump crew is a little bit of a different type of role, in my experience. It's another one best done with a buddy, and can offer a lot of down time between falling rails for just chatting and observing, so it's good to sign up with someone you like talking to haha.

It's also a bit more active than the roles I've already written about. The job is pretty simple: pick up dropped rails, and quick. And don't get run over while you're at it haha. Then be on hand to reset all the fences (also quickly!) in between divisions. The judge will ensure all the heights and spreads etc are within the limits, but the crew will at least getting everything roughly in place.

In this role, you won't spend a lot of time interacting with riders. But depending on where you position yourself around the ring, you might get to listen in on the judge's commentary haha. Overall, it's a kinda mindless job. You don't need to keep track of time, points, riders, or anything like that. It's active without requiring much attention - kinda the opposite of jump judging on xc.

Depending on your preferences, this is a pretty solid role. Definitely one I would do again (probably prefer it to jump judging, tbh, plus you see more action). It's also useful to get familiar with setting fences for different levels -- another way to show yourself that, "hm maybe that's not so big after all!"

moar scribing tho! this time for a Young Event Horse event during the jumping phases. would 100% do this again!
Scribe

Scribing is another good introductory type role, especially at the lower levels. This is predominantly a role needed for dressage or the dressage phases at events, but I've also scribed in the jumping phase of Young Event Horse qualifiers and in the conformation phase of the Future Event Horse East Coast Championships.

As a scribe, your role is to write down the judge's scores and commentary on the appropriate test sheets. How intense or relaxed it is depends a bit on what level is being judged. From my experience, you really don't need any prior experience to scribe for dressage tests through first level, or eventing dressage tests through novice. As the levels go up, tho, the scores come faster and it's useful to have practice with common shorthand terms so you can keep up.

I've signed up to scribe a lot, thinking it's a great way to observe interesting classes. Like the YEH and FEH classes, for instance. Realistically, tho, the whole reason a scribe exists is so that the judge can observe haha. Meanwhile the scribe usually has their eyes on what they're writing.

Still tho, this can be a really educational role. Especially depending on your judge. Many judges like to provide additional commentary, or explain what they're seeing, or what they'd want to see. In this way, it can almost feel a little bit like a private mini-clinic with the judge haha. But then again some judges are kinda cranky crusty old fussbuckets so..... Yea haha.

But if you're comfortable writing extensively for long periods of time and appreciate volunteer roles that can be done seated and out of the elements, this is usually a pretty good bet. Legible handwriting preferred but not required lol.

it was cool helping out in the vet box - esp getting to meet some equine legends like Lauren Kieffer's Veronica!
Vet Box

The final volunteer role I want to mention is the vet box. This is a position that's only generally needed at FEI events -- it's required for CCI divisions and optional for CIC -- or at long format 3-day events, where competitors complete the roads and tracks and steeplechase endurance phases in addition to standard cross country.

I've only done this at an FEI event - MDHT's CIC 1/2* earlier this summer. The gist is that a whole bunch of volunteers are on hand in the "box" immediately after the cross country finish line to help facilitate the care and recovery of each horse. Particularly, horses get their temperature-pulse-respiration (TPR) checked at intervals until they're cleared to return to stabling.

Meanwhile, grooms and riders are stripping tack, sponging and scraping, taking out studs, and generally debriefing with their teams on how the ride went.

The event's main vet, who would have checked in all the horses when they arrived into stabling a few days prior, leads this team. Volunteers break into groups with a stethoscope, thermometer, and scribe to handle the barrage of incoming horses. While there are no prerequisites for this role, you should probably be comfortable with at least the idea of taking a horse's temp.

It's a nice active role, with a consistent rhythm to the day as horses come off course in a steady stream. It's also a really neat atmosphere - the exact opposite of the warm up ring haha. It felt like a "behind the scenes" look at how teams care for these FEI horses, and I loved being a fly on the wall listening to everyone recount their rides.

Personally, it wasn't actually my favorite role. Maybe I would feel different among the lower level amateur divisions at a long format event vs the FEI classes, but it felt like an environment ripe for "big fish"syndrome and lots of name dropping haha. I'm probably not likely to sign up for this role again at another FEI event, although I'm glad I experienced it at least once.

***

all the interaction with judges can be really interesting too, even if it's not always easy to watch all the action while scribing
There are also tons more volunteer opportunities beyond what I've mentioned above. Like running scores - either on the golf cart out on xc, or back and forth between the dressage judges and the office for instance. Or actually working in the office, tabulating scores or handling the paper work side of things.

Plus naturally there's a whole 'nother world of work that goes into getting these events off the ground well ahead of when any riders even set foot on the grounds, like painting jumps or setting up the rings or decorations etc etc. And some of that CAN be found on the USEA volunteer portal too, if you're interested in them.

Bc basically.... yea it takes a village to run an event haha. And most places are seriously grateful for volunteers, complete with providing meals and snacks, swag like t-shirts, or even "bucks" toward schooling or entries.

volunteering is a great way to sneak in some excellent spectating too!

Have you ever signed up for any of the positions written about above, or think you're likely to do so in the future? Do you prefer any one job over another? Why? Or are there any jobs you definitely don't like doing? Like personally I have exactly zero interest in managing the start or finish clocks haha, don't ask me why.

Do you think you'll spend more time volunteering next year? Or less? Or is it one of those things that's hard to make time for, or that you'd rather be riding yourself? Or maybe you only volunteer bc it's compulsory to be eligible for year end awards?? Lol no judgement here!

36 comments:

  1. I really enjoy volunteering. Almost more than I do competing. For my endurance events I'll continue to do my timing as I'm getting quite good at it and like a ring steward, it's pretty critical to keeping things moving and helping the riders know when they are done in holds or need to have a pulse checked.

    I think I might try and get out to do some scribing or jump judging at my local events but when I tried to contact some to see if they had any roles they needed help with I got radio silence, so I'll have to do a bit more digging to find contacts for that.

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    1. oh man, that's seriously frustrating about not hearing back from organizers.... idk why that is such a big problem, but it really is. around here esp at the smaller local events we have a lot of sorta old school volunteers who have been doing things a certain way for a very long time, and are not always interested in changing, or allowing new people in. so they make it almost impossible to get involved, but then always complain about how they need more help haha. idk. it's an issue for sure.

      that's one of the reasons i love the volunteer dashboard so much bc it completely gets around the access issues for new volunteers who might not otherwise know who to talk to. hopefully more and more events and venues will adopt use of the volunteer portal!

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  2. I like being ring steward best as well. It keeps you busy but in a fun way. I also found that I enjoyed scoring this year which is something I never thought I'd like!

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    1. we had a lot of down time during the Young Event Horse rounds, bc apparently baby horses can be tough to wrangle on a schedule, who knew! lol.... but so i ended up scoring most of those tests as well as doing the scribing. i liked that, but not sure i'd want to be squirreled away in an office doing it too. maybe tho!

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  3. I did dressage score running at the Fork and enjoyed it. It's so hard to volunteer for me- events that need volunteers are all 2+ hours away from me so if I'm traveling that far, it's typically to ride!

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    1. yea i hear ya. i routinely travel 1-1.5hrs each way for volunteering (loch moy, waredaca, plantation, etc), and it can be a lot. it's still great to get all that experience tho, especially since so much of it relates directly to how i feel and what i do once i'm *in* the saddle too

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  4. glad you had so many opportunities this year it has been fun to read about them :) Keep on doing!! I feel like i am in a silo here ;) HA I MISS it up there. SO Many events ha

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    1. oh man, i honestly can't imagine being any where else now after having been so spoiled by everything Area II has to offer!!!

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  5. This is a really good informative post! I can never volunteer because the weekends I have free I need to be home working on my farm. BUT I always go out of my way to thank them, and also host my own shows and appreciate every volunteer that gives me their time.

    So thanks for what you do!

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    1. ha thanks! gotta always thank the competitors too, without them there's no show at all! ;)

      but yea it really can be hard to find the time to get out there. that's why it was so useful for me to sign up so far in advance, i could just block that time off my calendar and be more prepared to work around it. probably i should have included more detail in the post above, but some of these jobs are shorter than others. dressage scribing for instance is usually just a morning job, for those who want to get out but have limited time to give.

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  6. I usually volunteer at dressage shows, since events here are usually a solid 2 hour drive. It seems like I always get assigned to be ring steward, which is a job I like! I've always volunteered as the show secretary (hideous, would never do again for free), scribe (totally fine), and test runner.

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    1. oh man, the secretary job is so so so important, but also yea not one that i'm even close to wanting to do right now haha. it's a thankless job! even as a competitor, i always feel kinda guilty when i'm sending 8,000 emails to a secretary asking this and that or changing things at the last minute....

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  7. I used to be show secretary and compete- which was crazy. Now if I show I volunteer for the small jobs that always need doing but that I don't have to commit to (like get coffee for the judge, find a competitor etc, spell while someone takes a pee break). If I'm not showing I like to volunteer- my two favourite jobs are announcer and ring steward. You get to see a lot and be part of the action. I have scribed but I hate not being able to watch!

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    1. oh man yea for sure i can't imagine doing a big job on the same day as competing myself. often at our home shows they offer discounts if you volunteer after your rides finish, but even then it can be a little too much haha. but definitely agreed - when i'm not riding i really like being around in a more relaxed capacity!

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  8. I really loved being a XC jump judge, would like to try a few of the positions you've mentioned too. I volunteered at a hunter jumper show once and it was not a great experience (just wasn't a lot of communication on where I should be etc) but I'm open to trying again at maybe a different venue. Volunteers make the equestrian world go around :)

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    1. yea it's tough when the organizers don't have everything all together or aren't very helpful or welcoming to new volunteers. it can be a real problem, honestly. but glad that you enjoy the jobs themselves! hopefully a different venue will prove to be more fun!

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  9. I think my favorite volunteer jobs have been scribing, ribbon lady, and office person lol

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    1. i haven't done much office stuff bc i'm always worried i'll get sucked too far into too many directions lol - but maybe not!

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  10. I love volunteering!! Thank you for taking the challenge seriously! My favorite is stadium jump scribe. I love watching the rounds, talking with the judge and at every event I’ve worked I got to meet the course designer and talk to them about what they wanted out of the course. Love it. Xc judging bores me but I’ve never done it with a friend so maybe that is what I’m missing.

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    1. i like watching stadium rounds too - tho i haven't scribed for a show jumping judge before. might be one to check out! course design is definitely something i'm interested in too, hopefully will get more opportunities there in the future.

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  11. It sounds like you get to have a go at so many diverse jobs! Here we have to provide a helper to compete and most of the jobs are XCJJ, and not too much oppourtunity for much else.

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    1. oh man, i don't know what i would do if it was required to have a helper to compete here. i'm almost always either by myself, or with friends who are also competing. we all help each other, but we all also have our own horses to attend to and virtually never have grooms or crew or anything.

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  12. That's great that there is a web portal that helps connect volunteers to shows. It is super hard to find volunteers to help out a lot of the time. I've actually burned (burnt?) myself out on volunteering and am taking a huge step back.

    I was on the board of directors for 3 clubs, helping get sponsors for a 4th, show secretary, steward and scribe for others. It left me no time to ride or show myself. I did learn a lot, especially at the larger shows. I think my favourite job is scribing at QH shows for trail, reining and western riding. It's a great chance to learn from the judges.

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    1. the web portal is AWESOME and completely revolutionized my experience as a volunteer. with just a few clicks i can sign up for volunteer opportunities at almost all the major venues around me, and for really big events too - or the low key starter stuff. definitely much much easier than trying to dig up contact information for organizers at each individual venue. esp bc you don't even really need to *know* all the venues or show opportunities, it's all right there and searchable on the website haha.

      but yea tho, i definitely hear you on the burn out. sometimes i think about getting involved in a more formal capacity for my local association, but there's so much infighting and politics and ppl who do things this "way" bc that's the "way" it's always been done or whatever... and definitely can be a huge time suck haha. but the one-off positions at events seems to suit just fine!

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  13. My husband and I volunteer at 2 events, one schooling and one recognized. We are jump judges at the schooling event and sit in a tower to look over multiple xc fences which is loads of fun but takes a bit of coordination between us, so its a good thing we get along.

    He is the warm up steward at the recognized event (2 years running) and loves that job. He loves interacting with the riders. For that event, I've been the combined finish line timer and last jump judge, and last year I was assisting the starter.

    The cool thing about that event, The Mars Essex Horse Trials is, it was brought back after a hiatus of 20+ years. And 20+ years ago, I was the finish line timer. So coming back and randomly being given that job again was quite the coincidence!

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    1. oh wow that is really awesome! i know it was a pretty big deal when they opened the trials back up again - and so cool that you have been able to get involved again with it!! i've always been a little nervous about handling the start or finish clocks, idk why. so i've avoided that particular job. but yea, like your husband i really enjoy getting to interact with the riders - something so cool about that atmosphere!

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  14. I really like score running. When I did it for dressage, I could stop next to the judge's booth, watch the arena and listen to the judge. I got all the educational benefits of scribing, but I was actually able to look up instead of at the score sheet. For XC, I like score running because I will go and stop by each jump and watch how different riders handle it. It's the same educational benefit of jump judging, but with all the jumps instead of 1 and it's a bit less boring than straight jump judging.

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    1. i can definitely see that about score running - and i know some folks who always like to sign up for that job for exactly those reasons too! i've never done it but maybe one of these days i should sign up!

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  15. I've XC jump judged, which was good but a bit boring. I am sure more experienced jump judges get the more interesting jumps.

    I have also scribed for SJ, which was great. I got to watch a LOT of rounds go from Starter - Training, and when you're a SJ scribe, you get to watch the action more than Dressage scribing. It was great to see how different riders/horses tackled my worst phase.

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    1. i keep waiting for all my volunteer experience to translate to being assigned to more interesting jumps but... so far, no dice haha. and actually, if anything, what i'm learning is that esp at the lower levels, most jumps really are pretty straight forward. i always walk my courses like, "oh this one is spooky" or "that one is big!" but when you're jump judging, you kinda see like, uh actually virtually all the jumps are extremely jumpable haha

      and yea the sj scribing sounds like a good one too. i tend to prefer roles where i can be on my feet for at least some of it - so i think i'd do sj jump crew again before wanting to be a scribe. you can see just as much but get to move around a little more

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  16. what a great round up of ways to event! I have scribed and jump judged a bunch, but agree that warm up steward can be really fun too! I kind of wish I had been with you at the vet box, I don't have much tolerance for name dropping (I just really don't care enough to engage) and am curious about what was being said. I am REALLY good at rolling my eyes, lol

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    1. HA! how about this - if you make your way to the maryland area for an fei event, i'll promise to sign up to do vet box with you and we can roll our eyes together ;)

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  17. I love this summary of all the things one can volunteer to do! Thanks for letting me live vicariously through you this year. =)

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    1. haha but of course!! one of these days tho we have to get you back out to an event, in one capacity or another!!!! it was too much fun last year ;)

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  18. I loved this recap! I had more fun grooming for and helping the barn kids at shows this year than I've ever had showing myself so I have signed up for a couple more next year, where I'll just go for the weekend and help wherever help is needed. I appreciate this post because I've been a little nervous to volunteer for some of the jobs you listed because I wasn't entirely sure what they entailed. Sounds like they are all doable and great learning experiences!

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  19. I think I've said this before, but my favorite job is golf cart driver :)

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