To Finish Is To Win

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Endurance News -- April 2016

President's Letter
Vice President's Message
Classified Advertising

President's Letter: Horsemanship psychology

by Michael Campbell, AERC President

The following is a synopsis of riding psychology. Basic psychology is the administration and withholding of reward and/or punishment. What follows is a slightly advanced version of that. You may already be familiar with much of it. However, it is a reminder of how things work.

When riding on trails, we riders frequently encounter hikers, bikers and people in or on motorized vehicles. The general rule of thumb is that others yield to horse and rider. Not everyone knows this, but when asked, I usually tell them that it's because there are two minds involved with a horse and rider versus one mind controlling the bike or motor vehicle. It is the degree of cooperative attitude between those two minds that determines the quality of horsemanship. One of those minds needs to make decisions that the other mind is willing to trust. When both minds are not in synchrony, problems arise.

A few years ago, a group of friends were riding on a beautiful ranch. As they approached a fence line with trees and brush at the base of a hill, a turkey flew up suddenly from the brush, scaring the daylights out of the horses. The rider in front kept her horse's nose pointed at the turkey until it flew off into the trees. Behind these two was chaos. One rider was dismounted, calming her horse. The other two horses ran -- one with the rider and one without.

When the group collected themselves and the runaways, the rider without a horse declined to remount or ride again that day. That rider began to think that the horse couldn't be trusted (this rider eventually reconnected with the horse and they made a good team).

About 60 years ago, a psychologist named Leon Festinger published an elegant series of experiments demonstrating the three major components of an attitude:

-- what we think (cognition)

-- what we feel (emotion)

-- what we do (behavior).

When any two of these components agree, the third will soon follow. For example, if your horse thinks (cognition) that you are not paying attention to a dangerous log on the trail and becomes anxious (feeling) about that log on the trail, he is likely to shy or spook (behavior) as he approaches the log.

By contrast, if your horse thinks you are attentive and trustworthy, his anxiety about unknown objects is lessened and his behavior is cooperative with your cues. He passes the object with a calm demeanor.

Likewise, if your horse spooks unexpectedly at some unknown object, your emotional reaction may be one of fear or frustration. If that emotional reaction is expressed in your behavior toward your horse through unduly aggressive correction or anxious failure to correct, then you are likely to develop the attitude that you can't trust that horse.

This can develop into a negative cycle. You begin to think the horse is inherently spooky, you are anxious and fearful when you ride him, your behavior is excessively harsh or tentative. You ultimately decide that you can't trust that horse and ride less and less.

You mistrust your horse. Your horse understands that your behavior is inconsistent and becomes anxious when you ride. The horse begins to doubt your ability to control the situations you encounter on the trail and your ability to correct him fairly, so he relies on his own reactions to unusual situations.

Since the horse is a prey animal, his first reaction to most situations is one of fear so he continues to shy or spook, perhaps even more than in the past. Your horse mistrusts you.

The best horses and riders exude an attitude of mutual trust and respect. This starts with the rider's belief that he or she can make better decisions than the horse. That belief produces safe, clear and fair decisions when riding. Those beliefs and decisions (behavior) result in a calm (emotion) attitude even in the presence of scary logs on the trail.

As a herd animal, the horse is a willing follower of a strong leader who is calm, confident and makes good, fair decisions. So, with time and repetition together, the horse and rider become a good team with mutual trust and respect for one another.

The psychology is thus: the rider's belief controls his behavior which controls his emotion and produces a confident attitude. This, in turn, reassures the horse who subjects his behavior to the rider's cues, creating a calm, trusting attitude in the horse. Repetition and consistency are essential.

The rider's confident attitude is confirmed to himself and his horse through repetition of behavior: calm, firm insistence on compliance with the rider's decisions. When your horse shies or spooks at an object, you have to calmly and firmly insist upon approaching the object again and again until the horse can examine it without distress. Likewise, when your horse is ignoring your cues for speed or direction on the trail, you firmly correct him until he is attentive to your requests. That correction may be through tight circles or backing until the horse is calm enough to attend to your cues.

At this point, many of you are thinking, "That's just common sense. I already do that." Then good for you. You are probably already a pretty good horseman and find it easy to partner with almost any horse. You probably got that way through miles and miles of training and endurance rides. But, I'd bet a week's worth of wages that there is something your horse does that you wish he would do differently and you just haven't gotten around to correcting it.

This is a brief outline of the psychology of horsemanship. This article is too short to cover all the details and variations of ours and our horses' multidimensional behavior. But it may remind you of basics that you already know. These principles work with all relationships, not just horses and riders. With spring and a new ride season underway, my hope is that Dr. Festinger's work will support you and your horse through a safe and successful ride season and career.

Vice President's Message: Feedback on some propose changes

by Lisa Schneider

In my February article, I listed several proposals being considered by the board of directors and asked for feedback. We received a lot of emails and Facebook posts with informative comments.

Many thanks to all who expressed their opinions; all letters were forwarded to the entire board and I personally read all of them.

Many people commented on their fear that these ideas might "dumb down" the sport or lower the bar, thus removing the challenge.

Any time the board is considering something new, a lot of thought and research goes into it. I want to reassure everyone that if any of these proposals are implemented, they will be well thought out. There are no plans or wishes to "dilute the sport" in any way, shape or form.

President Michael Campbell appointed a special ad hoc committee to handle these and some other related issues. This committee is chaired by Susan Garlinghouse, DVM, and is made up of a good mix of riders, ride managers and vets. Their focus will be mostly on loss of rides and associated issues, such as loss of trails, membership retention, ride manager/volunteer burnout, and the mileage controversy. Here are the feedback trends for each proposal, along with a sampling of pro/con member responses.

1. Add a new division for trail riders. The overwhelming majority is against adding a new division for trail riders.

"New division for trail riders is a good idea. CTRs have something like this and it appears to be appreciated. This type of ride is an excellent introduction to the sport and not intimidating." (MA)

"I am very much against adding a formal, recognized "trail ride division." I understand aging bodies. I myself have an ill body that isn't competition-worthy at any distance at the moment. My husband and I renew our dues every year to support AERC and the sport of endurance riding -- trails, mileage awards, welfare of the horse, clinics to teach new riders about the sport. Trail riding is something I enjoy, but AERC is not a trail riding organization. I support the current format of Intro/Fun Ride, but not for miles or points." (MH)

2. Redefine "endurance" to start at 40 miles instead of 50 miles. The overwhelming majority is against changing the definition of endurance. "Please do not redefine endurance. Rides of at least 50 miles are endurance as defined by our founders and we should not abandon that. If we have a need for 40 mile rides, let them be run under the limited distance (level 1, whatever you want to call it) rules, but not endurance. Let's not lower the bar. If everybody could do it, it wouldn't be an attractive goal for those of us that like to stretch ourselves while keeping our horse partners happy and healthy." (AJ)

"A better solution would be to loosen the national control and allow more flexibility to the regions and ride managers. People in each region understand their rider population, terrain and weather conditions, and constraints. What works in one location does not work as well in others. . . . My conclusion is that ride managers need more control of their rides and how to conduct them in a manner that is safe for both horses and riders. If this means shortening the distance or whatever, then that is what is needed to help AERC grow and prosper. Why not let them do it?" (LF)

3. Develop a trail rating system that takes into account elevation change, technical trail, and weather. While many people said the concept of a rating system is a good one, the impracticality of developing an objective system was acknowledged.

"A trail rating system would be informative. But I do not want to see times altered to accommodate trail." (JR)

"I think a trail rating system sounds good but would be too difficult and an extra burden on RM. Difficulty can change from year to year depending on the weather. What is easy for my horse might be difficult for your horse. A better system might be ride reviews. The office, or a volunteer, could email a short survey after the ride and those results could be on the website. Kind of like Yelp for endurance. Links to the reviews could be listed with the information on the ride calendar." (SC) 4. Create a new mileage division in the gap between limited distance and endurance (36 to 49 miles). The majority said this is not what they wanted. "This might be a good idea as an alternative [to redefining endurance to start at 40 miles]. This might make it possible to do rides in places with less space, and make it possible to use more technical trails." (FL)

"Are there a great many riders clamoring for distances between 35 and 50 miles? To me it's the difference between one loop, and not worth making an extra level or division in between." (EC)

5. Offer stand-alone LDs. Split reviews on this one.

"Possibly a good idea. I'd also suggest that in conjunction with such events to hold a seminar on how to move up in distance." (CE)

"If they become an event by themselves, I think that the competitiveness will rise, leading to more racing." (MG)

"Ride day can be a hectic day, so a good deal of the camaraderie experienced at rides would be lost, since the mingling and hanging out is generally done the day before and the night after a ride. But coming in, riding and going home doesn't leave much of a community experience, especially for the back-of-the-pack riders that come in with most if not all of the other riders gone and impatient volunteers that want to pack up and go home." (AJ)

Some general comments:

"Own the distance and quit wincing when people whine about the classifications and divisions; own our tradition. Celebrate the challenge. Don't give it up before we have a chance to get there." (SE)

"Let's not lower the bar. If everybody could do it, it wouldn't be an attractive goal for those of us that like to stretch ourselves while keeping our horse partners happy and healthy." (AJ)

"‘To finish is to win' is our motto; there's a whole group that have no interest in racing, they're simply out there to finish. Being mid-pack is more frequently a choice, not the incapability of hurrying up when needed." (JS)

"We all ride this sport for different reasons, have different abilities and have different goals. But in the end, we all share the bond of trails, horses and time in the saddle." (GF)

The ad hoc committee hit the ground running by meeting at the convention and will be giving regular progress reports to the board. I want to stress that nothing is changing (if at all) without a lot more work.

Happy Trails!

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