Caroline Brown, 16, an avid rider and member of her local Pony Club in Cincinnati, is one of 5,000 volunteers who've signed up for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Monday night at a training session for volunteers, she breathlessly explained her desire to be part of the Games: "It's just all about horses, to be around the best of the best. I want to be like (the athletes) one day," she said.
Because she's younger than 18, her mother, Carrie, will be her official chaperone. Her grandparents Caroline and Maury Taylor of Huntington, W.Va., will join them as volunteers.
About 1,000 more volunteers are needed to help with the expected 300,000 spectators during the 16-day competition, according to Erin Faherty, director of volunteer services for the Games. The volunteers will work as competition judges, ushers, parking attendants and general information guides.
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Originally, officials estimated they would need 10,000 volunteers, but they cut the number to 6,000 because not as many tickets have been sold as expected. A ticket is required for each event a person attends, and 276,000 have been sold.
Maury Taylor is one of many volunteers who is retired. Others at the meeting Monday had volunteered at other events at Kentucky Horse Park.
It's not an easy gig. Each volunteer must commit to at least six eight-hour shifts during the Games, Sept. 25 to Oct. 10, and plenty of walking comes with the job. They will attend at least three training sessions, and they are not guaranteed a specific event assignment or the same hours as friends and family.
Volunteers must be at least 18 years old to work at the Horse Park (Caroline will work downtown at the awards ceremonies), and a background check is required. Faherty said about two-thirds of the volunteers are considered local, which means they live within 70 miles of Lexington.
Those outside that area have access to online training sessions.
There are perks. Each volunteer gets a WEG hat, two polo shirts, a jacket and a backpack to use as a uniform, which they can keep after the Games.
Meal vouchers and snacks are provided with each shift, and volunteers receive free parking on the days they work. The volunteer credential also acts a grounds pass, so volunteers may enter free when they're not working. The pass does not give volunteers access to the competitive events.
At the Volunteer Training Center on Fortune Drive on Monday night, Faherty provided information for about 200 people at the 14th general training session.
Her team is conducting a grass-roots campaign to let local civic groups and community members know that they can still volunteer. No cut-off date has been set, Faherty said.
"We are close to the goal, but we are not shutting off recruitment. We want to give locals an opportunity to volunteer because this is their back yard," she said.
Volunteers for the eight event competitions must have experience in those competitive areas. All those positions have been filled.
Still needed are general volunteers to take tickets or help people to their seats. Most of those volunteers will deal with the spectators, Faherty said. "They will all likely have to answer plenty of questions from the public."
To learn the answers to those questions, volunteers must attend three training sessions. The first one covers the fundamentals, such as terminology, volunteer dress codes and volunteers' roles.
At the second session, volunteers are divided into teams based on their assignments and trained for those roles.
The final training is venue-specific. Volunteers visit the area of the park where they will be based to become familiar with the space.
Volunteers bring friends
Yolanda Davis, a volunteer who will help judge the cross-country competition, said the Games has a large pool of potential recruits from which to draw in Lexington.
"Lexington folks are already mostly horse people, so you can draw off the community. There is a base of volunteers in Lexington already through the Horse Park and Rolex, so this is kind of an ongoing recruitment effort," she said.
Davis was a volunteer for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, and she has volunteered for the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event for the past 17 years.
Using local volunteers is a great marketing tool for the Games, said Davis, who added that volunteers are likely to invite friends to attend the Games if they feel they are a part of the event.
"I think allowing the community to volunteer saves WEG money, but it also helps bring in spectators," she said. "Volunteers are reaching out to friends and family and that brings in revenue."