Wowed at the World Equestrian Games

I am one of those fortunate women whose husband also enjoys horses. Okay – don’t hate me for that.   But because of this shared interest, we get to do a lot of things together that many of my other horse friends don’t share as couples. When we found out the World Equestrian Games (WEG) would be held in the U.S. for the first time ever in Kentucky, it was an easy decision that we would attend. I had to be a bit more convincing when I suggested we volunteer to support the Games. After a year’s coordination with the volunteer staff, we received our assignments as Horse Inspection Stewards, scheduled to support Reining, Endurance, and Dressage.As we approached the fourth place we had been told to park at 5:00 a.m. on Sep 24th, we decided our real mission as volunteers was to “work out the kinks in the system.” A sense of humor always helps in these situations, and it was a warm, dark morning, with very few people in the Kentucky Horse Park. We sported our Ariat-provided cobalt blue Competition Support Volunteer uniforms and credentials, which we had picked up on Day One, and looked as if we knew exactly where we were going. We were scheduled to support Reining, which the WEG describes as “a Western sport that displays the precision and style of horse and rider.”

We wound our way to the Reining barns and met up with some other Competition Support Volunteers and the head Federation Equestre International (FEI) Reining Steward, Eric. Success! Eric politely informed us he didn’t need us for at least another hour, and to just relax. So, we relaxed while observing the early morning routine of the grooms, trainers, and exquisite equine reining athletes, mostly American Quarter Horses.

As the events came to life, we reconvened with Eric and many more “official” FEI Stewards and began to work. Our jobs were to help the FEI Stewards with whatever they needed, assist with the set up and take down of the arena we’d be using to inspect the horses for soundness before the competition, and help direct horse and human traffic. The horses began entering the arena, by country, alphabetically, and by number, within teams that had more than one entry. Each rider “jogged” its horse along the specified course, leading the horse from the ground, while the FEI Stewards carefully watched looking for any lameness issues. By the time the horses had arrived in the arena, they had already been reviewed in the waiting line by other FEI Stewards and checked for appropriate paperwork. This inspection phase was all about the horse; a good thing, in my opinion.

Being up front on the ground I unfortunately also witnessed the agony of defeat, on more than one occasion. In one particular instance, when a young female British reiner broke down in sobs after her horse failed inspection, I couldn’t help but empathize with her. I realized how heartbreaking that must have been following the years of training, anticipation, and belief she had in her horse and herself. I’ve watched competitions for years and years, and never considered that aspect. While volunteer work isn’t always glamorous, I’ve found that no matter what I’ve volunteered for in the past, I’ve seen a perspective from an angle that I would not have seen otherwise. This was just one of the lessons I learned from this particular volunteer experience. Endurance and Dressage offered their own lessons, but more on that later.

As for our horse Lucky, and my theory in the last blog that he was reflecting my frustration, I’m happy to report that I was right. (Of course, I am the judge of this…so….). Next, I’m going to go try a modified reining pattern, and judge how we would have done at the Games. That is, of course, after he passes inspection.


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