Each month Equine Online will interview a different volunteer from around the country. This month Emma Hurrell spoke to Linda Huitson (Taranaki) about her involvement with pony club, what she has learnt from volunteering and the time she sneezed on William Fox-Pitt.
Name: Linda Margaret Huitson
Occupation: Receptionist at Taranaki Base Hospital Ward 3A
How long have you been riding for?
I’ve been riding for many years since I was a child. I’ve just bought a new pony to do dressage and showing on. Her name is Dragonwyck Flamenco and she is a 12 year old black welsh crossed english riding pony.
Tell us about your history of volunteering.
I’m the Head Coach at Stratford Pony Club and I also coach at Hawera Pony Club. I’m a C plus to B certificate examiner for NZPCA, a level three Equestrian Sport New Zealand cross-country judge (working towards level two) and the Taranaki Area Pony Clubs secretary for 12 years. I’ve been a jump steward at Puhunui, Richfields, Kihikihi, Waeranaga and with Leamington and Cambridge Pony Clubs before moving to Taranaki from Cambridge. I helped out with the Inglewood High School Dressage team (my girls were riding in team), helped at a river cross at an endurance ride the girls were riding in. I’m also a Level 5 dressage judge and have helped out as a writer. I’ve volunteered at Horse of the Year for around seven years.
How long have you been volunteering for?
Since the girls started riding 30 years ago.
What made you want to become a volunteer?
I wanted to give back to the sport that helped me get started with horses.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
To see the smiles on the riders faces as they get around a cross-country course. Also knowing I was there to help pony club riders learn and pass their certificates.
Why do you think volunteering is so important?
If there were no volunteers there would be no Riding for the Disabled, pony club or competitions-volunteers are the reason these clubs and associations exist and move forward. At Horse of the Year one year no one would put their hand up to pick up show jumping poles in one of the rings and they were going to close the ring. Both myself and a friend volunteered and picked up poles for six hours so the riders could jump even though we didn’t know anyone competing- we just wanted to see the class go ahead. From my own experience it also kept my own girls very grounded as they headed into their teens they were more involved with their horses and going to shows then getting drunk, doing drugs or having boyfriends. Even when the sixth form ball came round they had entered a show and finished the night early in order to get enough rest beforehand!
What are some of the things you have learned from volunteering?
You really need to know the rule book and always have it handy at competitions. Stay relaxed, be fair but firm and don’t take on board pushy mothers! At pony club make the rallies fun and understand the different ways that kids learn (and don’t learn) – kinaesthetically, visually, or by listening to instructions. I have also learnt a lot from traveling around the north island and meeting a lot of interesting people.
Tell us about a memorable experience you’ve had while volunteering.
I was a jump steward on the Puhunui course and each year the organisers give the volunteers a meet-and-greet with the riders and allow them to walk the cross-country course with them. I was walking the cross-country course with William Fox-Pitt, Blythe Tait and Vaughan Jeffries and I could feel myself wanting to sneeze. I tried to back out of the crowd of people when I sneezed straight onto William Fox-Pitt’s sleeve! I wished the ground would open up and swallow me but he laughed and said that it was good luck and after the cross-country he won Puhunui. The other moment was when I went to Wellington Eventing to help out. At Paekakariki Queen Elizabeth Park they were short of jump stewards and myself and a few others volunteered instead of heading home to Taranaki. We were given a jump way out the back and it took us forever to walk there as I was on crutches. When we arrived our first horse did too so we were lucky it went clear and we could record it. Volunteering on crutches for nearly a year was hard but it kept me fit for surgery.
If someone wanted to become a volunteer what is the best way to go about it?
Approach your local pony club, RDA or equestrian group and find out more information first. If interested in volunteering at pony club, contact the Head Coach at your nearest club. Many pony clubs have lead-rein riders and a helping hand is good to take the place of the parent so that the child can learn without the mother or father stressing if things do not go right.
What would you say to people who are considering volunteering?
Be committed and be open to learning new ways of doing things. With dressage writing, know how to keep up with the dressage judges. You also need to be able to get up early and be at a venue at least half an hour before the event starts. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Are you interested in becoming a pony club volunteer? Visit www.nzpca.org/ to find a club close to you.