AERC Mentor Handbook

Endurance riding represents a wonderful partnership between horse and rider, but can present a steep learning curve to the uninitiated during the introductory phases, even for those experienced in other equestrian disciplines. One of the many benefits of American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) membership is the Mentor Program, created to help new riders get started and embrace the AERC motto of “To Finish Is To Win.”

Mentorship is a one-on-one relationship formed between an experienced endurance rider and another new to the sport who is seeking insight and advice on a range of relevant topics. New riders may differ greatly in the amount of experience they may already possess in other riding or athletic disciplines; in their short and long term goals within the sport; and the resources and time they are able to reasonably invest in meeting those goals. Likewise, mentors can vary in the extent and level of competition experience they bring; in the type and amount of assistance they are able to provide; and in differing personality and communication styles.


In general, most mentor-protégé relationships focus on preparing new riders for their first limited distance or endurance ride. In some cases, the relationship may continue on past the introductory phase to more advanced goals such as riding longer distances, at a more competitive level, or participating in multi-day events. At all times, the primary goal of both parties should be focused on the management of the unique stresses placed on endurance horses, with an eye towards avoiding injury or mishap to everyone involved.


The AERC mentor program does not guarantee success, nor is it meant to solve every issue or problem, but is one of several tools available to members seeking a safe and enjoyable introduction to the sport of endurance competition.


AERC believes that mentors and protégés will find their experience to be mutually beneficial. Protégés gain invaluable insight and advice on topics ranging from selecting an endurance prospect to conditioning, nutrition, riding strategies during the event and introduction to the infrastructure and rules of competition. Likewise, mentors develop their leadership, communication and coaching skills while “giving back” to the sport. For both parties, a successful mentor-protégé relationship often also results in lifelong friendships both in and outside the endurance community.


AERC mentors are not paid for their time; mentoring is their way of “giving back” to the sport.


A Successful Mentor Encompasses Several Roles, Including:

Coach. Help identify specific, realistic and attainable goals; provide feedback on the protégé’s strengths and opportunity areas; provide both constructive criticism and positive reinforcement to help the protégé build confidence both before and during their first season of competition.


Advisor. Provide the protégé with specific information regarding selection, preparation and management of the endurance equine. Identify and implement an action plan to strengthen the horse-rider team and overcome potential and existing obstacles; help the rider learn the critical “tricks of the trade” to engender safety and good horsemanship during conditioning and competition.


Navigator. Orient the protégé to the organization and flow of a typical endurance ride, including control checkpoints, pulse criteria and hold times; completion checks and Best Condition judging; educate the rider on the use of ride maps, mapping technology, trail markings, and judging terrain; how to avoid going off course, overtime and other common errors; facilitate access to additional information and education pathways from AERC and other sources; continue to clarify and redefine changing goals and objectives to stay on track.


Communicator. Offer the protégé new perspectives, encourage new ideas and progressive goals; encourage a two-way exchange of information through discussion, demonstration and practice sessions; listen and respond to concerns; provide encouragement and congratulations when goals are met or exceeded; facilitate additional learning pathways within the endurance community.

Once introductions have been made, the mentor and protégé should contact each other by whatever method of communication is preferred (in person, email, telephone, etc.) and spend some time getting to know one another. Learning about each other’s interests, goals, and personality will help establish a solid foundation for your mentorship. It is important to have patience in developing rapport and an effective dialogue. Just as success in the sport requires persistence and commitment to long-term goals, it often takes time for two people, who would otherwise be strangers, to build a productive and mutually beneficial relationship.


Before and During Your First Meeting, Consider These General Questions:


• What are the protégé’s goals within the sport, both short-term and long-term? If unable to meet these objectives immediately, is the protégé willing to adjust and redefine goals in order to meet them successfully?


• What are the protégé’s expectations of the mentor in terms of time commitment, depth of instruction and ongoing participation as their endurance career progresses? Is the protégé seeking a short-term orientation to the sport, or a longer relationship encompassing weeks, months or even years?


• What would the protégé like to gain personally from the program and from their endurance career? Increased self-confidence, achievement recognition within a strenuous sport, improved physical fitness, a larger circle of personal friends and contacts within the community, a closer partnership and understanding of their horse?


• What personal qualities other than just horsemanship skills do both of you bring that might benefit the relationship and in helping attain your goals and objectives?


• What factors are most likely present an obstacle in meeting goals—time constraints, physical challenges on either horse or rider’s part, financial limitations, work or family commitments? What is the protégé willing or able to do to overcome obstacles and setbacks?


• What are your concerns moving forward in the mentoring relationship and in the sport?


• How should progress be measured?

The most effective mentoring relationships are based on a foundation of trust and confidence, where the protégé feels safe to openly share his or her goals, objectives, and concerns. While every mentoring relationship is different, the following general guidelines are essential for success:


Have Realistic Expectations. Both parties should understand and agree on their expectations for the partnership. Self-awareness is important, and both the mentor and protégé should identify and agree upon what they are able to deliver and what they would like to gain from the program. Spell out these desires to each other, determine realistic goals and discuss any potentially unrealistic expectations or goals. Mentors can use their knowledge of endurance riding to help manage the protégé’s expectations of what can be accomplished short-term and which objectives may take longer to reach. Mentoring pairs should avoid unrealistic expectations, such as swift advancement in both speed and distance. While the definition of success within the sport may vary greatly between individuals, the protégé should work with their mentor and remain open to adjusting their initial goals if needed to maximize their chances at both short- and long-term success.


Share Responsibility for the Relationship. Both the mentor and protégé need to take ownership of the relationship. Neither should assume it is the other’s sole responsibility to initiate and arrange meetings. Significant energy and time is required of both parties to create a successful mentorship.


Establish Concrete Goals and Develop an Action Plan. The mentorship should be focused on learning and development with clearly stated, reasonably attainable goals. Set clear objectives and benchmarks at the outset and review them frequently, as they may change over time. This can be as straightforward as jointly selecting an appropriate ride schedule or setting up a conditioning program for a new horse. Regardless of the form the plan takes, the plan should build in regular progress checks to adjust to the unexpected changes that invariably occur when dealing with horses.


Communicate and Respect your Partner’s Time. No relationship can succeed without clear communication. AERC strongly recommends that mentors and protégés clearly communicate expectations early in the relationship. Make this discussion a priority for the first or second meeting, email or phone call, so that each party understands the responsibilities to which they are agreeing. Show respect for your partner’s time by confirming meetings beforehand and always promptly advise the other party of delays or rescheduling needs. Both parties should anticipate what they would like to discuss in advance of each meeting and be considerate of any time constraints.


Keep an Open Mind. Both parties need to be willing to communicate openly and honestly and exchange ideas and information to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Remain open-minded and flexible as your relationship evolves. Both parties should be willing to offer criticism in a constructive and optimistic manner, as well as encouragement and positive reinforcement. Both mentor and protégé should make an effort to consistently show appreciation and respect for the other’s input and ongoing efforts.


Protégés Must Take Ownership of Their Endurance Career. While mentors may help to identify and develop the necessary plan for success, remember that it is up to the protégé to implement the plan. Protégés need to invest significant time and effort to advance towards and achieve their goals. It is important to remember success does not come immediately and that attempting “shortcuts” often results in disappointment and injury to either horse or rider. While the mentor can be a valued guide, the ultimate responsibility for the protégé’s progress, health and well-being of their horse always belongs to the protégé. Keep in mind that if it doesn’t work out, it is quite all right to seek another mentor.

Attend a ride as a spectator or, better yet, as a volunteer. The experience will give rise to a multitude of questions that might not come up otherwise.


Ask lots of questions. If not sure about something, clarify so you can avoid mistakes. Mistakes will happen, but it’s much easier to learn from others’ mistakes.


Take riding lessons. A balanced rider helps the horse tremendously, especially over longer distances.

AERC has dedicated tremendous resources to the ongoing education of new endurance riders and many useful articles have been written to address the most frequently asked questions. The AERC website contains a wealth of information for further reading.


Refer to the Education tab in our menu for details on getting started, preparing for the first ride, what to expect at vet checks and much more.


The Rider’s Handbook can be found online at: AERC Rider Handbook.


The current AERC rules and regulations can be found online at: AERC Rules.


These publications are also available in hard copy from the AERC office by calling 866-271-2372 or emailing

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