How does an event run?

How does an event run?

While most of us appreciate that running an event is a huge task, not many of us truly understand exactly what the unwavering dedication and hard work of organisers, all of their team and volunteers looks like.

Also being new to the sport – whether that’s as a competitor, parent, owner or volunteer – can seem daunting; there are new rules to learn and regulations to follow all within the pressure of a competitive environment. But getting involved with the sport could be one of the most rewarding, fun and interesting things you ever do, and earlier this month Sophie Tunnah went along to one of the free Access All Area days put on by British Eventing Training & Education to find out how she could get more involved with volunteering.

Sophie wrote a detailed blog of her day which can be read here, but we take a look at some her highlights from the day.

Sophie found out about Access All Areas in an email from BE and made a last minute decision to book on to it at Belsay Horse Trials, which took place last weekend (2nd – 3rd June); “I’ve often thought about fence judging as I know a couple of people who do it and seem to really enjoy it. After all these events simply would not run if it was not for the volume of volunteers that give their time, effort and enthusiasm.

“Our first stop was with event organiser Laura de Wesselow. The first thing that struck me about Laura was her passion, enthusiasm and inspiration to continually make the event better and better each year.”

Heading to the dressage arenas, Sophie got to speak to dressage steward Jean and her team where the “ladies chatted through how they organise their stewards for each arena, how the scores are collected, and we even discussed the new rules” and “how the dressage arenas were set out, something that I had never really thought about before!”

Getting competitive

Along with speaking to volunteers the day brought them into the lorry park where they got to talk to competitor Douglas Edward about his preparations and the rider’s perspective on eventing.

“Douglas talked through his fitness regimes with his horse; and how he works on building their cardio work up in the weeks and months around their competition plans. It was refreshing to hear that he considers the horse’s fitness not only from whether they have the cardio ability to go around a course, but whether their tendons and ligaments are also prepared for the stress and strains of the higher levels.”


It’s unlikely that too many riders have stopped to notice the cross country start box and just how much goes on in there. Along with being responsible for getting competitors underway and accurately timing their rounds “any complaint against cross country times are investigated, each fence judge makes a note of the time that you go through each fence, and that the start box is responsible for understanding how long it takes to get from the final fence to the finish line.”

Course design

After an introduction from cross country course designer, Adrian Ditcham, the Access All Area attendees got a guided course walk with the chance to ask questions throughout. “I was lucky enough last year to do a Q&A with Adrian but I was excited to meet him face to face. Adrian talked through some of the points on the course that aren’t always considered by all riders and I could have spent all day with Adrian and would love to gain more insight into what goes into creating the cross country tests at various different events.”

At fence four the tour stopped to catch up with some of the fence judges and Sophie got to discuss some of her own concerns about getting involved herself; “I worry about missing a competitor’s number as they fly past or need to oversee a particularly tricky fence and figure out if a combination cross their tracks when all doesn’t go smoothly,” but after talking to the passionate couple, Sophie’s concerns were soon eased; “there is no need to worry about getting it wrong as there is so much support around the event should you need it.”

Going into the event control box

“If you’ve never done so, just take note of the concentration that is taking place inside the control box next time you walk past.” Cross country control is a hub of intense focus as the team oversee everything that is happening out on course; “everything is centred around the plot-o-board – a large board sitting in front of the commentator with all the fence numbers on it with each fence sponsor underneath – one of the team has radio control with the fence judges, and the other ear with the vet, doctor and event control.”

Don’t underestimate the scorer!

Another quiet space full of activity is the scorers, and Sophie got a run down of how scores make it all the way from dressage test to the final placings for more than 500 competitors throughout the weekend, commenting that “It’s a well-oiled operation for sure!”

Stealing a few minutes of the event secretary’s time

Back to the secretary’s tent to steal a few minutes with Amanda, who “had taken the week off work to ensure that everything was prepped just as it should be,” the team ensure everything is organised from the first competitor pulling in on Saturday morning through to the last one leaving on Sunday evening.

Volunteers are vital

Incredibly, Belsay needs over 150 volunteers each day, and Sophie’s time there gave a real insight into the reasons; “over the few hours that I was guided around this fantastic event, I really saw just why – from the cadets that are pole picking and manning the cross country crossing points, to efficiently collecting the scores and sheets from all over the site, to bringing food and drinks to all of the other volunteers at various points throughout the day. Every single volunteer is completely vital.”

Rounding up her experience, Sophie said; “The afternoon really inspired me to give volunteering a go, whether it is fence judging, dressage writing, organising slips in the control, scorers or start box, I’ve seen just how important an extra pair of hands really can be.”

You can read Sophie’s full round up from the day over on her blog.

How to get involved

Finally, Sophie’s advice on getting involved: “If you see an Access All Areas course advertised at an event near to you, I’d 100% recommend signing up. It’s a really great way to see the event from all perspectives, and as a past competitor, it definitely highlighted how much goes into producing an event.”

See more details about the different volunteering roles and how you can get involved.