Equestrian sport cannot function without an army of willing volunteers – and while there were concerns that the impact of Covid-19 might leave the sport short, nothing could be further from the truth. H&H finds out how changes owing to the pandemic is bringing volunteering into an exciting new era...
New technology and events running behind closed doors are bringing volunteering in equestrian sport into a new era, with potential new recruits told there is no time like the present to get involved.
Currently, volunteers have some of the few front-row seats to watch live sport.
Extra days to cater for entry numbers, social distancing measures and new technology have led to a new look to volunteering and – for some events – more new faces.
“We had the most phenomenal response from volunteers and were almost oversubscribed, which was lovely,” said Anna Buntine of Bede Events, which organised Aske (11–12 July) on the opening weekend of the sport’s restart and has since held unaffiliated eventer trials.
“People were marvellous and really keen to get out. We’ve had a few new ones, which is always nice. We are very fortunate to have a database of around 600 to 800 people, but we always welcome more!”
Mrs Buntine added they are working with volunteers to ensure everyone feels safe and nobody is in a role where they feel uncomfortable.
“The most important thing is that people feel comfortable, they feel safe and that we are safe,” she said.
Before sport restarted, Bede kept in touch with its volunteers through frequent Zoom quizzes. Now, it has moved to online briefings and drive-in kit collection points, which have proved popular and eased time pressure. They have also moved from buffets and bun runs to packed lunches.
“They are slightly longer days, even though we are restricted on numbers, as riders are all running on two-minute intervals across country. That means we aren’t finished before 6–6.30pm, and I don’t feel I can ask people to volunteer [for a whole day without giving them something to eat].”
Sarah Skillin, who helps organise Little Downham, said the sport “would not function” without volunteers.
“We ran six days of sport in two weeks and had no trouble getting volunteers – normally I would have a bit of a last-minute panic that I didn’t have an arena party, for example, or people would drop out,” she told H&H.
“People have been so flexible and especially helpful. The current situation has brought community spirit to the fore. Our volunteers are really passionate about what they do. Everyone has really pulled together with the mindset of ‘We are going to get this done, get the sport up and running and do it well’.”
Ms Skillin added that new technology, including video briefings, online deployment information and the cross-country app (news, 9 July), have worked well and save time.
Like Bede, Little Downham worked with people’s preferences to ensure everyone felt safe, happy and valued.
“We had two volunteers who were happy to be paired up to fence judge – they sat outside two metres apart with their picnics and had a lovely day,” she said.
“Other people who wanted to come, but are looking after shielding parents, so said please could we not put them with anyone else – and that is also absolutely fine. They had a lovely time as well.”
Aston-le-Walls director Nigel Taylor told H&H the venue has seen quite a few younger volunteers as well as more riders giving up time.
Rider and owner Tess Bishop helped at Aston and Tweseldown and frequently volunteers at other venues.
“I really enjoy it and it gives you a better appreciation as a rider as to what goes into running an event,” she said, adding she felt “very Covid-safe”.
“Luckily, this is a sport where you don’t have to get near anyone. Eventing cannot run without volunteers and people think someone else will do it, but if you don’t, who will? It’s always a very social day and it’s good to give back to the sport.”
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