From Endurance to Dressage
I have enjoyed volunteering at MARE, and have even signed up for extra hours to help with an Easter Camp during my Spring Break. I am somewhat regretting that moment of generosity. The time slot is four hours long, and MARE is a 40-minute drive from my house. I am sort of hoping that they get too many volunteers, and as a result, won't need me.
Last week, I did a terrible job of taking photos. The problem is that volunteers are supposed to leave their devices in the lockers because a distracted volunteer is a bad volunteer. I have been able to get away with keeping my phone in my pocket because I am discreet about using it, and both trainers know that I understand the rules. I don't check it for messages, and I know that any photos I do take must NOT contain any children.
For this visit, my tenth, I left with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. My policy, especially here in this space, has been if I don't have anything nice to say, I don't say it. I don't throw people under the bus. I don't attack anyone. I don't share photos of people doing dumb or abusive things. I tend to stay in my lane and write about what I am learning. I plan to stick to that philosophy, but in this case, what I learned doesn't necessarily reflect well on MARE.
On a typical Wednesday, there are two trainers, a barn captain, and one to three volunteers. Occasionally, like the last several weeks, the volunteer coordinator has also been on hand. This equates to four commanding officers and a couple of privates. With more generals than soldiers, the chain of command gets pretty confusing. You can probably guess where this is going.
When a volunteer arrives, she signs in, gets her name tag from the drawer, and then checks the board for her assignment. I typically arrive a few minutes after three even though the next lesson doesn't begin until four. That means I have half an hour or so for another task. This past week, I noticed that Trainer 1 wasn't there, but the volunteer coordinator was. Initially, I was to be the four o'clock horse handler for Haven. Trainer 2 told me there had been a change, and the volunteer coordinator was to be the horse handler so I was to be the off-side, side walker. A different volunteer was to be the near side, side-walker. Okey-doke.
I really don't care which job I have, so I saluted metaphorically, and dove back into the bin of bridles I had been cleaning for the past few weeks. A few minutes later, I was told that while I was the side-walker, the volunteer coordinator had some paperwork to do, so I was asked to tack up Haven which is the horse handler's job. Again, no problem.
As I was heading out to get Haven from the pasture, I saw that another volunteer already had Haven in the crossties. I gave some sort of startled exclamation, something along the lines of, oh, I must have misunderstood. The volunteer gave a similar exclamation, oh, I wasn't paying attention. I volunteered to bring in George for her, but she quickly handed me Haven's lead rope and ran off to retrieve George herself, Again, no big deal as I am just boots on the ground.
As we finished tacking up, George's handler asked which way we were to exit the barn to get to the arena. I pointed to my right and said we go that way. T2 popped around the corner and asked us to circle around the other way. I inferred that the route change had to do with the lake that was at the end of the arena. Since no one had come to relieve me of Haven, I continued in the role of horse handler and went where I was directed with the second volunteer following.
Almost immediately, the volunteer coordinator came rushing out and told us we were going the wrong way. I explained that T2 had asked us to use the drier route, but the volunteer coordinator insisted we turn around and proceed along the normal path. We both turned our horses around which put the other volunteer in the lead. I was wearing my tall muck boots, but she was wearing running shoes. The path in the opposite direction was covered with mud and water. She stopped, which I took to mean that she wasn't going to be able to lead George through without soaking her feet, so I moved to pass her on the right.
Suddenly, the volunteer coordinator gave a sharp warning about keeping two horse lengths between each horse. I tried to explain the situation, but she wouldn't hear it. She took the lead rope from me and proceeded to get both horses through the mud and water. I didn't stick around to watch. I surrendered, said no problem, and went back into the barn. I am not in charge, and I am not about to argue with anyone who is.
I was pretty annoyed by the whole situation. The path we were taking was wide enough for leading ponies, but not necessarily wide enough for turning and reorganizing. Had we proceeded forward as directed, we would have stayed on drier ground and arrived at the mounting ramp, albeit from the opposite direction. There was plenty of space at the ramp to circle around and bring the horses up to the ramp heading in the correct direction.
Since I wasn't the horse handler for the lesson, I shrugged it off and went out front to wait for my rider. As the side walker, my job was to fit her with a helmet and escort her to the ramp. Meanwhile, the volunteer coordinator waited with Haven off to the side of the ramp. I sat down at the picnic table and waited. As the minutes ticked by, it was clear that the student wasn't coming. After 15 minutes, T2 told the volunteer coordinator that it was a quarter after so Haven could be untacked.
After filling Smoothie's hay net as asked by T2, I asked the volunteer coordinator if she wanted me to untack Haven so that she could finish her office duties. I might have been feeling a bit pushed around already, but even so, I think her curt refusal of my help was personal. Again, I shrugged my shoulders and went back out front to sit.
Once the lesson was over, the horses were untacked and put away in the barn. I asked T2 if I should hang Smoothie's hay net, and she thanked me for filling it and said please do. As I went into his stall to hang the net, the volunteer coordinator asked if I knew how to hang a hay net. If I could have raised a single eye brow, I would have. There was a loop hanging down with a snap on it. Almost anyone with half a brain could put two and two together. I politely responded that I was good.
And then, the real drama started. Smoothie has been under the vet's care for an injury sustained a few weeks ago. T1 normally administers his meds, but since she wasn't there, T2 asked the volunteer coordinator to follow T1's instructions for the administration of the pills. Knightly also needs meds, so T2 asked the volunteer coordinator to ready those as well. Suddenly, there was a boatload of estrogen in the barn aisle. The volunteer coordinator didn't like T1's system for administering the medication and wanted to do it her way. T2 said that's what T1 wanted so that was the way it should be done.
As for me, I stepped out of anyone's line of site and let them work it out amongst themselves. Frankly, I wanted to just unpin my name tag and get the heck out of there. It was fairly easy to see that there doesn't exist a clear chain of command. The facility has an executive director, a volunteer coordinator, two trainers, barn captains for each shift, and a lot of volunteers. I think there might also be someone responsible for day-to-day financials. I imagine that this type of power struggle is pretty common in volunteer-based organizations. Everyone thinks she has the best way for things to be done.
As a volunteer who was only doing what she was told, I found the experience a little off-putting. In-house bickering is bound to happen, but the clients shouldn't see it, and neither should the volunteers. I am hoping things are a little more settled this afternoon.
If not, my schedule for Spring Break might just open up.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: