Adventures of a Novice Horse Show Manager

This volunteer discovered the ups and downs of organizing a dressage show. Written by Jamie Greenebaum for Dressage Today.
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This volunteer discovered the ups and downs of organizing a dressage show. Written by Jamie Greenebaum for Dressage Today.
Learner show manager Jamie Greenebaum |

Learner show manager Jamie Greenebaum |

I've been to dressage shows. I've seen how smoothly they go. How hard could running one be? I've volunteered as a scribe and sat in a booth, watched the rides and taken notes. I learned you have to be able to spell, and that legible handwriting (forget neat) is preferred. I've been a runner at a New England Dressage Association's show in the rain. I learned the importance of having waterproof materials covering you from the very top of your head to the very bottom of your feet. I have seen ring stewards lounging about in lawn chairs. The office people always have the answers. How hard could it be?

At the Charles River Dressage Association's (CRDA) Spring School Show, I volunteered to help in any way I could. I was going to manage a CRDA show later in the season so I was "on deck" at this show. Since the show manager, Pam, was competing in the afternoon, she said she could really use my help when she left the show to get her horse. The rings were set up, the program set, the ride times were printed in the program, the riders had their assigned numbers, the judges and scribes were in their booths, the ring stewards kept things moving, the office was staffed, the scorers were, well, scoring. How hard could it be?

Before Pam left to get her horse, we discussed which of the volunteers had to leave and who was going to replace whom. Sounded great. All was set. Organized. Everyone was covered. Plus there were experienced volunteers around, all ready and willing to help in any way needed. I was not alone. Before Pam left, we changed the rings from small to large arenas. How hard could it be?

I learned that volunteers are the lifeblood of running a dressage show. The ring steward had to leave and the volunteer lined up to take over has not arrived. Why did the ring steward have to leave? Family wedding? Maybe if I made a phone call or two, I could get that inconvenient family commitment changed? Not a problem, I filled in. The scorer was leaving. Why? Her ride was going. "I can give you a ride home," I thought. "Where do you live? Delaware?" Not a problem, I filled in. The office staff had to go. Why? Their ride was leaving. "I can drive you all home." Not a problem, I filled in." But I learned quickly that the horse show manager cannot fill more than one job.

Jodi quietly walked up to me and asked what could she do. I was out by the ring steward who had to leave now. "How about ring steward?" Just then someone else said, "You only have one scorer!" Jodi gently suggested she would be better utilized as a scorer and went to the office. Now all I needed was a willing volunteer to take on the ring steward position. As I looked around the show, I found myself sizing people up in a very different manner. They were all potential volunteers! Who did I know, recognize or feel I could just walk up to and ask for a few hours of their time on this beautiful day? Johanna miraculously appeared and became the afternoon ring steward. Nancy and her daughter, Stephany, filled in as ring stewards at the warm-up ring. I learned all you have to do is ask--again and again and again.

The musical freestyles were coming up. There was the sound system, the tapes, the riders. Kelli competed in freestyles, she knows all about these things. She could help. I learned the importance of delegating.

The afternoon classes were going smoothly. I took a few minutes to wander into the office. I sat. Suddenly I got the feeling that things were going too smoothly. I'd better go out and check the rings. There was a holdup in Ring 2. A rider, on his way around the ring, had stopped at the judge's booth to engage in conversation. Who ever heard of such behavior! Doesn't he know there is a schedule and that you don't talk to the judge? Now the judge was leaving the booth and heading my way. We were running late. Doesn't the judge know that judges don't leave their booths? I heard someone say, "Jamie, a decision needs to be made." What, another decision? Turns out the test, an eventing TOC test, had to be ridden in a small arena. Pam wasn't around.

I asked Larry if he had a clue how to change the ring. "Sure, did the set up this morning, won't take anytime at all," he said. I marshaled volunteers and the ring quickly shrunk, while I held Larry's horse. I warned him that at the end of this class, I would need him again to enlarge the ring. Then I checked the class lists to see if there were anymore of these TOC tests that need to be ridden in a small arena. Of course I find that Ring 1 has a whole class of them. So I make another decision! Switch the judges and hence the rings! Gather Larry and volunteers and enlarge, what is now Ring 1, back into a large arena. I learned how to change a small arena into a large arena into a small arena into a large arena. I learned when you switch judges and rename rings, you have to remind the judges to hold onto their whistles or bells.

We were running early in Ring 1. The next rider for Ring 1 wanted to wait for her official time, and the other riders in that class were not even mounted. So Ring 1 had a break. The rider appeared at her class based on her watch. Her time. Time. I wear a lovely watch. It has a big hand and a little hand. No numbers. It gives me the idea of time. The suggestion of time. I learned at a dressage show, the show manager needs to wear a large digital watch that has to be synchronized with the official time and the judges' watches.

I spent a fair amount of time during the show trying to find the owners of two cars parked in the trailer area. I learned to notice what cars the judges drive. I learned when you go into the PortiToi you need to leave your water bottle, program, papers, pens, tape recorder, camera, hat and sunglasses outside. I learned that people are generous with their time. I learned what learner means! And I also learned that next time I will bring a set of Navy-issue binoculars to read the number on that horse in the FAR ring; equip all the volunteers with those little ear pieces and wrist microphones worn by the Secret Service; bring four rolls of toilet paper. How hard could it be?

This article was prepared by the editors of Dressage Today.