Juniors and Young Riders are very welcome in endurance riding. Many rides offer special awards for young riders, and national and regional endurance and limited distance awards recognize junior riders each ride season.

Some definitions:

Junior riders are those who are 15 or younger as of the first day of the new ride year (December 1). Rules specific to junior riders are found in the link below.

Unsponsored juniors: Some junior riders are eligible to compete in the Senior Division, provided they are 14 or older and have completed 500 or more miles in the AERC rider program. A letter from a parent or guardian must request unsponsored junior status from the AERC office. Please contact the AERC office for more details.

Young Riders are riders ages 16-21 and unsponsored juniors. These riders are eligible to compete for the Kathy Brunjes Young Rider award. They will ride in the Young Rider division and compete against others in their division in the standings.

Each month Endurance News has an article on Juniors and Young Riders. You are welcome to submit an article for publication about your experiences as a junior rider.

Junior Awards: To learn about the various awards available to juniors, click here: Junior Awards.

Junior Scholarship: The Anne Ayala scholarship is awarded yearly and is open to AERC Juniors and Young Riders in good standing from their high school senior year through age 21. Applicants must have a minimum of 500 AERC lifetime miles, an unweighted GPA of at least 3.0, and apply before the deadline. See the Scholarship tab below for information about the current scholarship application process. (See below for details and application.)

Junior riders who would like to contact someone knowledgeable about junior endurance riding are welcome to contact a member of the Junior Committee (see Committee Page).


Questions and Answers for Junior Riders

By Alina Vale


Q. At what age am I no longer a junior?

A. If you are not yet 16 at the beginning of the ride season, then you are still a junior for the rest of that ride season. The official AERC ride season begins on December 1 and ends on November 30 of each year. However, juniors that are 14 years old and have accumulated at least 500 miles can request permission from AERC to ride in the senior division.


Q. Who can sponsor me?

A. A sponsor is a rider 18 years or older who agrees to stay with the junior at all times during the ride — including entering and leaving all vet checks at the same time — and not be more than one minute apart at the finish. If your sponsor is pulled at a vet check, you will notify ride management and get a new sponsor. A good sponsor is fun to ride with, is familiar with the trail, knows the junior and their horse’s limitations, and can educate the junior about the sport and proper horse care.


Q. What should I wear and what kind of tack should I use?

A. Comfort for horse and rider is the most important factor for determining what clothing and tack to use for an endurance ride. Stretchy riding tights, jeans, chaps, and shorts can be seen at rides. You could wear boots with heels, or running shoes if you want to get off and jog with your horse.


Layers of shirts and jackets will be important depending on the location and time of year. All juniors must wear an approved helmet! Some riders also wear gloves or a waist pack.


The horse can be outfitted in any English, western, or endurance-type saddle that fits correctly. Many types of saddle pads, girths, breast collars, cruppers, bridles, bits, martingales, splint boots, and saddle packs are available.


Make sure all your tack is adjusted properly and in good repair, and avoid using anything for the first time at an endurance ride.


Q. What kind of horse can do an endurance ride?

A. While any breed of horse or mule may compete in an endurance ride, Arabian and half-Arabians are by far the most common. Many Thoroughbreds, Mustangs, gaited horses, mules and Icelandics, and many other breeds, that have done well also.


Horses must be 48 months old to do a limited distance ride,  60 months old to do a 50-mile endurance ride, and 72 months old to do a 100-mile endurance ride. It is important to start with a healthy and sound horse and follow a proper conditioning schedule to build your horse up to an endurance ride.


Q. Do I have to have my own horse?

A. While most endurance riders compete on their own horses, some people have extra horses available. If you demonstrate you are a proficient rider and will take great care of the horse, and can help with conditioning rides on the weekends, you might be able to compete on someone else’s horse.


Q. How much time do you have to finish?

A. The normal cutoff time for a 25-mile ride is six hours, in a 50-mile ride you have 12 hours, and a 100-mile ride must be done in less than 24 hours. Exact maximum ride times are listed under Appendix A at the back of the AERC Rules and Regulations booklet.


Q. Is endurance riding hard on horses?

A. Endurance riding can be demanding, and horses are pulled from the competition if they display any signs of lameness or metabolic problems. Most riders care very deeply about their horses and will sacrifice one ride so they can continue to compete on their horse in the future. Some of the top endurance horses have thousands and thousands of miles under their belt, and are still going strong.


Q. How does the ride start?

A. An endurance ride start can be quite exciting and scary depending on how many riders there are. Many rides have “shotgun starts” where everyone can take off at their own speed. Some rides have controlled starts where riders must stay behind a designated point rider, who may be instructed to trot for the first mile before letting everyone loose. It is often a good idea to start after the large pack at your first ride as you don’t know how your horse will react.


Q. What are the courses like?

A. Depending on the location, the ride might include forests, sandy beaches, mountains, deserts, and other types of terrain. Trails can be single-track, jeep roads, mountain paths, dry river beds, and sometimes manicured bridle paths. Some rides are flat, some rocky, or technical and steep with switchbacks — make sure to enquire beforehand so you and your horse are well prepared and safe. The course is marked (often with ribbon attached to clothespins on trees) and you should be given a map.


Q. Why should I do endurance riding?

A. Because it is fun for you and your horse! It is great conditioning and training for other events that you participate in. Your mount won’t tire out in that demanding cross-country phase of a three-day, and won’t think of spooking at the obstacles in a trail course anymore.


You will become a better rider and learn many ways to take care of your horse. You will earn great prizes in the junior division for completing each ride and accumulate points and miles for year-end awards. And you will get to meet other great juniors in the sport!


We hope to see you on the trail.

Juniors: Rule 10


10. All Junior riders in both full and Limited Distance rides, whether they are AERC members or not, must be accompanied by a competent adult (18 years or older) sponsor throughout the competition. Junior and Sponsor must ride together at all times, including entering and leaving all vet checks at the same time; the only exception being that at the finish a Junior may finish within the same minute or within the one minute on either side of the sponsor’s finishing minute.


10.1 A Junior is a rider who was under the age of 16 as the first day of the ride season in which the ride is held.


10.1.1 All Juniors, sponsored or un-sponsored, must wear approved safety helmets (Approval by AHSA, PCA, ANSIZ90.4, or Snell).


10.2 Junior riders may participate in AERC competition only with the written consent of a parent or guardian. This consent shall imply:


10.2a. Acceptance of all AERC rules, particularly the ability of a Junior to substitute a sponsor during a ride as allowed by AERC rules and regulations; and,


10.2b. Prior consent to any emergency medical treatment or aid.


10.3 An AERC member 14 years or older who has completed 500 miles or more in the AERC rider mileage program may ride un-sponsored, but will compete in the senior division.


10.3.1 Such un-sponsored young rider must have on file in the AERC office a letter by parent or guardian which consents to and requests un-sponsored status.


10.3.2 The AERC office will then provide a letter for this un-sponsored young rider verifying 500 miles in AERC rider mileage program, which letter must be presented to ride management at check-in or earlier.


10.3.3 Management may choose not to honor the “un-sponsored young rider” concept and require all persons under 16 years of age to have sponsors.


10.4 The sponsor must be a competent adult (18 years or older) and must be duly entered as a competitor in the event and sponsorship must be documented on the Junior entry form complete with sponsor signature, at the time sponsorship begins.


10.4.1 Junior and/or sponsor normally may suspend their sponsorship agreement only at regular stated checks and then only with the knowledge and consent of ride management, and management’s documentation of the change when it occurs. Sponsorships may change between checks only in the event that either competitor or either competitor’s mount is unable to continue safely to a checkpoint. In the event of an emergency and in order to remain in competition, the Junior who is in last place and whose pre-registered sponsor is pulled, and there are no other qualified sponsors to follow, the Junior may be sponsored by an un-entered qualified rider through the completion of the ride, with ride management and ride veterinarian approval. He would receive last place junior points. This emergency sponsor will receive no credit for mileage or points. The Junior may also be sponsored by an adult on foot from the last veterinary check with the approval of ride management.


10.5 Infraction of the sponsorship shall result in either the sponsor and/or the Junior being disqualified.


10.6 AERC points must be submitted and recorded per the above regulations independent of ride management’s local ride rules governing Junior and Senior riders.

Safety Considerations Come First for Junior Riders

By Shannon Loomis, DVM


My goal in riding with juniors is to make it as safe as I can without making them feel afraid to be on the horse. I do not spend thousands of dollars on fancy equipment, but I do spend where it is needed for safety.


Helmet. For instance, I ordered a helmet for Morgan last spring but after looking at photos from a couple rides, I realized that it was too big and listed to one side. Instead of adding padding to make do, my husband and I decided the safest thing was to take her to a large trade show and try on helmets until we found one that fit perfectly. The way she is growing, it won’t take her long until she is in the larger helmet anyway!


Safety vest, boots, half chaps. Both Morgan and her little brother, Christopher, ride in safety vests. They have Ariat Terrain boots (hard to find in kid’s sizes but I lucked out and found them at a clearance sale — I bought this year’s size and the next year’s as well!) and lightweight half chaps.


Saddle. Morgan used to ride in a cheap Western saddle that we tweaked and adjusted for endurance. She pretty much outgrew it last year, so Christopher is riding in it now. Now she has an Australian stock saddle that was fitted for her and Star. My only problem is that it is too heavy for her to untack herself, though she can carry it to the tack room once it is off.


Stirrups. Both saddles have peacock safety stirrups. I carry an extra set of rubber bands in my pack, as every once in a while one decides to “ping!” off to who-knows-where.


Water storage. We attach small Camelbaks to their saddles cantles. Water bottles are difficult for young juniors to manage while on a moving horse (and I am the one who has to get off and pick them up) and the backpacks can get very heavy. But youngsters can get dehydrated easily, so I feel better knowing the water is easily accessible without weighing them down.


Horse. Finally, and to me the most important, Morgan is on the most experienced horse possible — Star is in his 21st year of distance riding. If he hasn’t seen it, chances are, it isn’t out there. And even though he is very very willing and listens to his rider, he will occasionally put his foot down and refuse to go through something. When he does that, we know that the trail isn’t safe and we need to find another way.


Star always has one eye on the trail and is very careful about where he puts his feet. Once at a competitive ride, Quest and I were leading the way around a guard rail at the side of a road crossing. At the base of the last post was a large hole that the ride manager was kind enough to mark extensively with orange spray paint. Quest and I walked around it. Morgan was singing and watching the road instead of the ground. The ride manager, who was watching the scene, said just before the hole Star paused, tilted his head so he could look at the ground and he very carefully rounded the hole and continued across the road behind his buddy.


I also try to make the competitions as fun as possible. We sing and talk. Morgan is usually in the lead and enjoys the trail, making up games and stories as she goes. Since she is still so young, I am in charge of her ride card and map, and keep track of time. That way we avoid the panic and problems that can ensue when small children are left in charge of water-soluble pieces of paper! She cools down and vets in her own horse.


While she can be stubborn and head-strong at times on the trail, Morgan is truly a joy to ride with. She doesn’t argue about pace, though she does occasionally chime in with requests. She doesn’t complain about long hours in the saddle in the rain or hot sun, though I have had to occasionally donate my rain jacket to the cause. She has enough miles under her belt to know what to expect on a ride and is very tolerant of my idiot horse, Quest, even when it means she gets foisted off on another sponsor (thank you, Mary and Kim). Morgan truly is the best trail buddy ever.

Ensuring Success as a Junior Sponsor

By Randy Eiland


Is your junior ready to ride the distance? Does your junior have the right attitude to finish the distance? And does your junior have the appropriate horse to ride?


These are equally important parts when sponsoring a junior rider. Age and attitude are almost synonymous. How do we know when our junior is ready to ride the distance? Is there an age when a junior is suddenly ready to become an endurance rider? Is there a height and weight factor we should be aware of, much like we see at carnival rides? What is an attitude?


There are no across-the-board answers to the above questions. Junior riders know when they were ready to ride the distance — many have helped at rides or crewed for their “soon to be sponsor” and are thoroughly familiar with the basics of endurance competition. Some are “horse crazy” with a natural desire to ride all day long. However, regardless of experience or background, each child knows when they are ready to move from being a crew to being a rider.


I don’t believe in the 6-, 8-, or 10-year-old factor. I have seen children as young as 5 be very successful at riding the distance, and I have seen children as old as 12 having a miserable time. If the parent/sponsor listens to their child, they will know when that child is ready to ride an LD or endurance distance. If you push the junior too hard, I can almost guarantee you will be in store for a miserable time for all the hours you are in the saddle.


Sharing a long distance ride with the child who wants to ride all day long can be extremely rewarding — there are so many lifetime experiences you can share and remember. Conversely, sharing a long distance ride with a child who is whining, crying, complaining, and sometimes screaming will introduce you to more mental pain and suffering than you ever imagined possible on the back of your favorite horse. Judge the child, not the age. Let the child make the decision for you as to when he or she is ready.


Of course, no child will be ready to go the distance unless they are mounted on the appropriate equine. In fact, as a ride manager, the most consistent mistake I have seen related to juniors is the parent/sponsor over-mounting the child.


There is a truism in riding with a group, and it matters not if the group is two people or 10, you can only go as fast as the slowest animal. For the junior rider, slow is good, especially in the junior’s early riding years. Slow doesn’t necessarily translate to “old horse” or last place finish, but it does mean an equine that has a brain, has trail experience, has confidence but likes to follow, and can be controlled by the junior. It really helps if the animal has a nice personality and bonds with the junior. I have seen many juniors on slow horses that finish top 10; slow is more of an attitude than miles per hour speed.


The mistake that parents/sponsors sometimes make is deciding their junior has outgrown the slow animal. Often that decision is made without input from the most important person, the junior. If you listen to your junior rider, you will know when they have outgrown their horse. Just because the junior is riding confidently, is finishing well, and is having fun, is no reason to “move them up” to a faster, more competitive horse.


In fact, that is the biggest mistake you can make. Remember, the idea is to have fun, especially for the junior. Fun doesn’t mean top 10 or first to finish — and it especially doesn’t mean the parent/sponsor can finally ride faster! Fun means the junior enjoys what they are doing, has a connection and bond with their mount, learns and enjoys the accomplishment of finishing on a sound and fit animal they love.


The interesting thing I have observed over the years is the “slow” junior horse that becomes faster and more competitive as the junior gains experience and becomes a better horseman. I have seen numerous slow junior horses that became consistent top 10 finishers as their junior rider became more experienced.


On the other side, I have seen many junior riders who quit riding when their parent/sponsor moved them to a “better horse” before the junior wanted, or was ready, for that move. Just like most of us, junior riders bond with and love their horses — don’t alter that relationship until the junior lets you know they are ready for the change.


There is a kind of fine art to being a successful sponsor. It can be the most glorious quality time you will have with your child. It can also be the most miserable experience imaginable if you place your own objectives before those of your junior rider.


Initially you will have to learn to ride differently, be more observant, probably take care of your own horse, your junior’s horse, yourself, and remind your junior to eat and drink. Even with all that responsibility, I think every successful sponsor, and successful junior, will tell you it is more than worth the effort.


Time to hit the trails.

AERC members from senior year through age 21 are invited to apply for the Anne Ayala Scholarship. Applicants must have a minimum of 500 AERC miles and an unweighted GPA of at least 3.0. Other requirements and application instructions:

2024 Scholarship Application

Applications must be received by the AERC office by February 1, 2023.

Updated 9/8/21

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