In 2007, the first benefit horse show for LOPE was held. The Texas Horse Enthusiasts volunteers organized the event at a fun arena near our ranch. In spite of the blazing heat, over 100 horses came — and the show lasted until well after dark. Many volunteers came that day and put in a huge effort to make the show a success. Marilyn ran the registration table, handwriting the entries for hours. Judges like Jerry Lee and Kristi donated their time to carefully assess giant classes (some with over 20 riders) for ribbons, praise and riding instruction. In Kristi’s case, the latter even included gently coaching inexperienced young equestrians over their first cross rail jumps.
Many people donated silent auction items, ribbons and trophies. One especially large contributor was Leah, who sponsored the leadline class trophies and brought the most sought after auction items (her beautiful pottery). I was stunned by the number of horses, riders, volunteers and supporters who turned out for the event.
Two people especially stood out, though. Chrissy and her husband JD seemed to be everywhere. JD announced the classes, from sunup to past sundown, until his voice gave out — sitting on the announcer’s platform, which rose above the arena (as close as possible to the sun) without any air conditioning. Chrissy smoothed out every problem, from manning gates, distributing the prizes, hauling jumps, timing speed events and managing any and all bumps, snags and difficulties.
Chrissy and JD were the last to leave the show — I think it was after 9:30 pm. They also had been the first to arrive as well.
Every year since, Chrissy and JD have been heroes of the LOPE benefit horse show. Kristi, the intrepid judge from the first year, has also been a hero – bringing her expertise in horse show management and amazing capacity for hard work. I’ve quietly watched as this trio has put in huge numbers of man hours at each show — first to arrive, last to leave, truly taking on the show as their personal responsibility because of their big hearts and love of ex-racehorses.
And each year, it has weighed on me that LOPE has not been able to do much to help lighten their workload. We of course market the show and rally volunteers (like Sheila and Judy, our silent auction team) — and do our best to thank everyone as deeply and sincerely as we can. But the show seems to get bigger and more complex with every year – raising impressive funds, but also asking for more and more work from our volunteer heroes. After our 2010 show, someone said that they both love and hate the LOPE show. They love it for the result (all the funds they raise for the horses) and they hate it a little because of the intense work it involves.
Zack, a famous cowboy in these parts, once said, “Sometimes you just have to go and put your big girl panties on.” A colorful expression — and it has finally inspired us to do what charities are never supposed to do.
We’re giving Chrissy, JD and Kristi the year off from the show this year. They didn’t ask us to do this — but we feel like it’s time to let them enjoy the show instead of run it. As a charity, we often hear that you should never turn down free help – that seems to be one of the unwritten rules of the nonprofit world.
At the same time, volunteer burnout is also something that many nonprofits grapple with. Almost always, it seems like a few, outstanding volunteers end up doing the lion’s share of work. They become too valuable to not rely on them — and because they are the best, they always come through for the organization. Until the day they finally get burned out and exhausted.
To us here at LOPE, people like Chrissy, JD and Kristi aren’t only key volunteers. They are our friends, our supporters and our heroes. We’d like them to be part of LOPE for a long, long time.
So we’re giving them a vacation this time around (and a GIANT thank you) – and we’re going to figure out a different way to get things done this year. As a charity, sometimes you need to learn how to do more for yourself than always expect the same people to do all the hard work for you.
Zack would put it differently, of course ☺