Before I launch into this blog, let me just stress that these are purely my opinions and that I am not speaking on behalf of any society or organisation that I may be involved in. I think it may also be the first opinion piece I’ve written in this blog, but it has been playing on my mind for some time so here goes.
Horse sport in the UK relies mainly on goodwill and volunteers. This is particularly true in terms of the minority disciplines. The same will apply to many sports, but as an example, in my sport Endurance GB has one full time member of staff, it pays some individuals for their specialist skills on a piecemeal basis (eg vets and farriers), and absolutely everyone else is a volunteer. Everyone. From the entire Board of Directors to the ride organisers to the local group committees to the gate openers. From these volunteers, we run a full national calendar of over 70 competitive rides each of between one and five days in length, and I’d guess around twice as many local pleasure rides. Each ride day needs 10, 20, 30 volunteers. And that’s not including all the work that needs doing in between rides; maintaining websites, keeping an active social media presence, writing newsletters, advertising events, liaising with landowners, writing articles for local publications, organising social evenings and training days, etc etc etc. Add it up. That is a lot of people working their guts out behind the scenes for absolutely nothing so that you can have a good time. Most of those volunteers have full time jobs, families, caring responsibilities, and maybe even their own horses (!) but somehow they manage to keep juggling all the balls in the air simply because they like to see you have a good time.
Volunteers are human beings. Sometimes they may drop the ball. They may not do things as quickly as you think they should. They may forget something. They may make a decision you disagree with. The internet is a double edged sword; as a ride organiser it is really heartwarming to read all the lovely comments that appear online after your ride, and it really does make it all worthwhile. But the internet also makes it very easy to criticise. Please remember when you post online complaining that “they” haven’t done x, y or z, that “they” are not an anonymous entity, they are human beings. “They” may be absolutely exhausted from all the work they do and may be crying into their coffee because of what you have written. Your comments may be the one thing that tips them over the edge meaning that they give up volunteering altogether. Volunteers have feelings.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t provide negative feedback if you feel it is warranted. Of course you should. But please, please, please think about how you do it. Make it constructive and suggest positive improvements. Direct it at the right person rather than plastering it all over the internet. Offer your own services to help make things better. Tell them what they are doing well as well as where you think they can improve. Appreciate the difficulties they may be facing. Say thank you.
Without volunteers at all levels, we have no societies and we have no sport. Look after them.