To Finish Is To Win

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Endurance News -- December 2021

President's Letter
Vice President's Letter
National Championship News

President's Letter: Hints to start the season right

by Nick Kohut, DVM

Tis past month I worked at four different events with "mostly" wonderful fall weather. The day and night prior to the start of the ride might be a different story. What turned into a real treat at these rides was getting the chance to interact with a number of first-time riders.

AERC has seen a nice increase in the number of new members compared with the past several years. My experience with these riders has been very favorable. They have been quite inquisitive, asking relevant questions concerning all aspects of endurance riding and were very attentive to the answers.

They took care of their horses, rode intelligently and, regardless of how they finished, they finished with a smile on their faces.

Do you know anyone who might be interested in endurance riding, but you are not sure how to help them get started? Maybe they do not live close enough to you for you to give them they help they need. There is a huge amount of information available to them on the AERC website. You can look under the Education tab for links to Mentors, Getting Started, First Ride, and a number of other great resources.

Or you can wait for the scrolling images to get to the Green Bean link. This group does an admirable job of keeping new members engaged in both riding and participation in the sport of trail riding. Of course, the easiest way to get all of this information is to go to the "New? Click Here!" link located in the upper left corner of the website just above the "Join/Renew" link. Everything I already mentioned and more can be found on this page. Check it out yourself, so that you can help others.

Remember that getting information about AERC is just the first step. Making sure that new riders actually make it to a ride and are made to feel welcome is the next step. During the ride meeting, when the manager asks the new riders to identify themselves, take a look around and go up and introduce yourself to as many as possible.

Consider hanging around for the new rider talk to share your knowledge. Celebrate when they come across the finish line (after you've taken care of your horse) and commemorate their accomplishment during the awards ceremony.

As we close out 2021 and start the new 2022 ride season, it's always tempting to toss the items used only for competitions in a box and forget about them until the spring. Resist temptation and take time to go through them and make any needed repairs or, if they're beyond hope, toss and replace them.

How long has it been since you replaced your helmet? Even if you have not suffered a fall, the life span of a helmet is only considered to be five years. Do you wear a safety vest with an air cartridge? The cartridges have an expiration date on them. How are all your leather straps holding up? Do you pack an emergency box for you and your horse? Do any of those contents need to be replaced?

Remember that safety should always be foremost on your mind.

"Every new season of your life will be an opportunity for you to learn and grow. Don't celebrate the good without celebrating the bad because they both work together to prepare you for the next season of your life." –Theresa Lewis

Vice President's Letter: More on the psychology of horses

by Michael Campbell

Last month, we talked about some of the species specific characteristics of horses which evolved to help them survive and how we use them in starting or otherwise training our horses. We reviewed the social needs of horses and the effects of eye contact in developing an appropriate relationship with your horse. These are behavioral characteristics that are inherited and typical of most every horse.

Another inherited characteristic of horses is the ability to learn and adapt to new situations. This ability involves a large degree of behavioral flexibility and has helped horses to survive and thrive in a variety of environmental situations for many thousands of years.

As you develop a relationship with your horse, he develops a need to please, or submit, to you as the dominant creature in his world. He learns that from you come all the things that keep him safe and healthy. You provide his feed and general caretaking needs as well as the appropriate limits for his behavior. It is the consistent setting of those limits that makes your horse a partner you are proud of at endurance rides.

Setting limits is another expression for discipline. But discipline doesn't only mean punishment. It includes rewards for appropriate behavior as well.

Many riders use food tidbits as rewards for their horse for appropriate behavior, such as picking up his feet for the farrier or accepting the bit without head-tossing. We also use petting or stroking of the neck when riding to signal approval to our horses. Positive events after appropriate behavior is positive reinforcement. We also use negative reinforcement (removal of negative stimulation after appropriate behavior) such as releasing pressure on the mouth when the horse lowers his head while we're riding.

As a simple example, suppose you want to use positive reinforcement to encourage your horse to come to you in the pasture when you call. So, you call and give him a bit of carrot every time he comes to you. It works pretty well. But one day, you don't have any carrots. You call, he comes but he's disappointed -- no carrot. If that happens several times in a row, he may stop coming when you call. By not rewarding him, you have extinguished the behavior. This process is called extinction. The horse learns, "Why bother, it doesn't work anymore."

This is a problem with a solution. When you reward your horse for some behavior every time he produces the behavior, it's called "continuous reinforcement." That's a good way to teach the behavior in the beginning of the process. But over the long term, you should gradually shift to "intermittent reinforcement." That is when you reward the horse every third, fifth, or even 10th time he produces the target behavior. This does not extinguish the behavior because the horse learns that eventually a reward will be forthcoming. This saves you carrots and continues to reassure your horse that you are in charge and know what you're doing.

I mentioned, above, the process of extinction. That is when a behavior does not produce any relevant consequence, like a carrot reward. But this applies to negative consequences, too. You may have heard of this as desensitization. Horses have a built-in fear of unusual stimuli.

For example, after harvest, I put a canvas sign on my front fence declaring "Hay for Sale." The first time I rode by it, my horse shied, just a little, away from the sign. When a breeze caused a corner of the sign to flutter, my horse jumped sideways 20 feet (I stayed on but just barely). I wanted to extinguish that shying/jumping behavior, so we spent the next 20 minutes going back and forth, closer and closer, to the sign until he was bored out of his mind with the thought of that sign. I extinguished his negative behavior toward the sign, i.e., desensitized him to the sign.

This can happen on trail, too. Your horse shies or jumps at some novel stimulus and your job immediately changes from "finish the ride" to "desensitize my horse." By doing that, you are teaching him how to live a calm life, responsive to his rider. If you do not take advantage of that situation to teach him, you just rewarded him for the shy from the unusual stimulus.

I've had many conversations over the years with friends about how horses and children are very similar. These same strategies of reward and extinction work with children as well as horses. Your parents probably did the same with you -- rewarded good grades, manners, etc., and ignored/extinguished inappropriate behavior.

You may be thinking, "Ignored? Heck, they punished inappropriate behavior." Punishment is a whole other thing. Punishment is a negative consequence of some unwanted behavior -- like when I swatted my daughter for running into the street in front of a car. In general, punishment should be used sparingly with children and with horses. A much better strategy is to replace the unwanted behavior with appropriate behavior by repetition.

For example, in the round pen, if your horse is running and cantering, give the signal for trot (I make a clicking sound). If the horse ignores your signal then use the lunge whip to keep him moving until he relaxes and attends to your signal, then offer a reward.

These are just a few strategies for taking advantage of your horse's inherited inclination to learn to adapt to his environment. You are the most important thing in that environment and your consistent signals and rewards set the limits for his appropriate behavior.

National Championship News: Welcome to Shenandoah County

by Emily Carrico

by Emily Carrico The Old Dominion is honored to host the 2022 AERC National Championship this June at the Old Dominion Ride base camp in Orkney Springs, Virginia. Before minds become laser-focused on ride specifics, we would like to introduce you to our "neck of the woods" and invite you to make your trip more like a visit, where you can enjoy the history, countryside, activities and people as much as we do.

Chances are your GPS will route you on Interstate 81 which bisects the Shenandoah Valley, flanked by the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Appalachian Mountains to the west. Traveling north or south, you typically exit the interstate at Mount Jackson ( Then you are presented with a choice: east or west on Mount Jackson Road. Either direction will take you to Orkney Grade which leads to Orkney Springs.

East heads into town. You can't miss Sheetz on the right. While it's a great choice for coffee, made-to-order food and clean bathrooms, make sure to check out Hottles Exxon Service Center across the street. While Hottles is tiny compared to Sheetz, they frequently have something that sets them apart -- on Saturdays in June the local fire department has been known to hold bake sales out of one of the bays (look up Mt. Jackson Rescue & Fire Department Inc. on Facebook). Bring cash. Snickerdoodles, cinnamon buns, angel food cake, peach pie -- a multitude of baked goods, so worth the caloric intake. Besides, it's for a good cause (and the calories will burn off on the trail).

Continuing east on Mount Jackson Road, the road ends at Route 11, or Old Valley Pike. Route 11, the Valley's original highway, parallels 81, past farms and through quaint towns. You don't need to travel far to find an interesting landmark or antique shop ( And even though it is no longer on Route 11, a visit to namesake Route 11 Potato Chips ( is a must.

Continuing on Route 11, a few miles south of town is Wissler Road. Turning west on Wissler Road takes you through Meems Bottom Covered Bridge, a 204-foot single span arch truss bridge that traverses the North Fork Shenandoah River (

Leaving Meems Bottom Bridge, use GPS to stay on Wissler Road and enjoy picturesque farms fronted by hand-laid stone walls and surrounded by pastural landscapes. Eventually you arrive at Mt. Clifton where you head west towards Orkney Springs.

Heading west from 81 takes you further from town. The road ends at Route 614. A left takes you to Orkney Grade. Right takes you towards several wineries: the Winery at Kindred Pointe, Cave Ridge Vineyard and Wolf Gap Vineyard. A little further north, outside of Edinburg, is Shenandoah Vineyards (, the second oldest active winery in Virginia, founded in 1976 by Jim and Emma Randel on land that had been in Emma's family since the mid-1800s.

Orkney Grade, which intersects with Route 11 in Mount Jackson, winds through the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, frequently paralleling Mill Creek. Mill Creek offers fishermen a variety of fish including both wide and small mouth bass, bream and blue gill (

About 10 miles out of Mount Jackson the road descends into the small town of Bayse, home to Bryce Resort ( Bryce Resort is a four-season resort and summer has several activities available to the public. Bryce Bike Park offers trails for every level of mountain biker. Lake Laura, visible from OD's base camp, offers swimming, paddle boating, canoeing, and kayaking. And center stage is Bryce's PGA Championship golf course designed by Ed Ault (

Near and dear to the Old Dominion is the Community Store/Pure Gas Station. Whether you need bags of ice, bandages, a plunger or a deli sandwich, the Community Store has been the OD's go-to for supplies since the OD moved to Orkney Springs. Even if you don't need anything, a trip to the store is always in order and wandering the aisles you are guaranteed to find something you want. The store has undergone management changes over the years but what has never changed is their hospitality and desire to take care of our riders. Next to the Community Store is Smiley's Kustard Stand (look on Facebook for Smiley's Kustard), providing the best soft-serve on a June day. Smiley's is worth more than one trip. There are several hiking trails around the village and Lake Laura (

Orkney Springs is also home to Shrine Mont Camp and Conference Center, owned and operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia ( The heart of Shrine Mont is an open-air cathedral built from local stone in 1925. The Cathedral continues to have worship services weekly.

The Shenandoah Valley is well known for its role in the Civil War. While legend hints that Shrine Mont's Maryland House was used as a hospital during the war (Shrine Mont says it was not), the valley is scattered with historical markers of documented history. Battlefields have been preserved for history and museums built to honor lives lost and lessons learned.

The Virginia Museum of the Civil War ( is south of Mount Jackson. The museum is built on the site of the Battle of New Market (May 15, 1864) and is adjacent to the Field of Lost Shoes.

Finally, if June becomes too hot and humid, you can retreat to the coolness of underground. Within 25 miles of base camp are Shenandoah Caverns ( and Endless Caverns (

We look forward to seeing you next June in Shenandoah County!

How far will you ride this year? Join AERC and we'll help you count the miles!

Endurance News is published monthly by American Endurance Ride Conference. Endurance News is sent without charge to AERC members as a benefit of membership in AERC. Subscriptions are also available to non-members for $40 per year within the United States, and $60 in Canada and Mexico. For those in other countries, subscriptions are available for $80. Single issues are $4 U.S.