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Endurance News -- February 2015

President's Letter
Ride Managers' Forum

President's Letter: The Search for "Right"

by Michael Campbell, AERC President

Last year at the AERC convention, the AERC Board of Directors passed a motion titled AERC Notice to FEI. The motion expressed "growing alarm" in AERC over drug violations, fractures and fatalities in international endurance events, especially in Region VII, which comprises mostly Middle East countries.

The motion expressed concern over poor enforcement of FEI rules by some officials and that some officials appeared to be favoring certain competitors and member countries. The board resolved to evaluate changes in FEI on an annual basis with an eye to "measureable progress" in resolving the documented deficiencies.

Even before AERC notified FEI of its concerns, other countries had lodged similar complaints. Most notable was Belgian Chef d'Equipe Pierre Arnaud who was quoted saying that endurance could be banned if FEI failed to address horse welfare concerns. Mr. Arnaud was subsequently expelled from the FEI endurance technical committee last May.

Specific concerns include horse deaths during or after endurance competition, leg fractures and metabolic failures that were not fully reported to FEI officials and were apparently concealed from the media.

There have been whispered rumors that some FEI officials allowed completions of lame horses owned by prominent FEI supporters, a documented ringer case where one horse started a ride with a rider who finished on a different horse, and doping accusations with performance-enhancing drugs. A prominent FEI supporter's trainer was found to have illegally imported such drugs to Great Britain. That supporter hired a prominent British Lord to investigate the matter and the supporter was exonerated.

Five courageous French veterinarians expressed concern following the Compiegne ride in May 2014 that "concealment, cheating and deceit are a mode of operation." These veterinarians called on "other players in the world of the horse" for assistance, "especially regarding doping."

To further complicate matters, one of the wives of Sheikh Mohammed Makhtoum (a prominent FEI supporter who essentially paid for FEI headquarters in Lausanne) was elected president of FEI, creating an obvious conflict of interest. Princess Haya considered running for an unprecedented third term but bowed out of the race. In response to the initial complaints, FEI formed the Endurance Strategic Planning Group (ESPG) to evaluate the rules and procedures and to make recommendations to FEI for revisions. The ESPG completed their work in April of 2014 and the rule changes were implemented in August.

So, what does all this mean for AERC?

A relatively small percentage of AERC riders compete in FEI events, especially at international events. But those riders are dedicated horsemen and horsewomen and the level of their sacrifice for international competition reflects their level of devotion to the sport of endurance riding. They are proud to represent the USA in international competition and we are proud of them.

In passing the motion last March, the AERC Board of Directors essentially stated its concern for horse welfare and demanded a level playing field for our riders. At the same meeting in March 2014, the AERC Board of Directors passed an Equine Welfare Motion to improve the safety and well-being of our horses. Later in the year, the board passed rules implementing the items specified in the original motion. AERC is determined to minimize horse fatalities and preventable injuries and to do so in a transparent manner. We urge FEI to follow suit.

As the board prepares to, again, address FEI concerns, there has been much exchange of opinion on the AERC Facebook page. Many writers suggested that AERC withdraw from FEI-sanctioned events. But the original motion did not call for such withdrawal. It stated that the AERC board would evaluate the FEI situation looking for "measureable" improvement. That is the process in which the board is currently engaged.

The board will receive a report from the AERC International Committee prepared by Chair Meg Sleeper, VMD, with the assistance of previous Chair Michele Roush, DVM, and with input from U.S. Chef d'Equipe Emmett Ross. These are AERC members of unimpeachable integrity.

I have no doubt that the board will get an objective view of changes in FEI functioning in endurance from them -- the good and the bad. I expect that report to be made available to AERC membership in an upcoming issue of Endurance News.

In addition, I have written the presidents of the AERC equivalents in several other countries for their input and impressions. I will report those responses to the board and to the membership.

There is no intent to punish Region VII or to torment our own international competitors with threats. I suspect that many in Region VII are deeply embarrassed by these scandals.

The board, representing AERC, wants to help build endurance riding on the world stage in a productive and sustainable manner that remains true to the values of horse welfare and fair play for all competitors. This is not a quick and easy process.

I am confident that there will be considerable disagreement on the board and among our membership. I ask that all involved in this process be respectful of one another's differing opinions and have faith that we are all striving to do that which is in the best interest of our sport so that everyone may enjoy it throughout the world. There are no personal agendas in this matter.

AERC will not avoid or cave in to the mistreatment of horses or to corruption. AERC will do what's right.

Ride Managers' Forum: Communication is Key

by Jan Stevens, Ride Managers Committee Chair

The single most important thing that a ride manager must do is communicate with the riders. Some of us are good at standing up in front of a crowd at the ride meeting and telling the riders all about what they are going to see on trail, their start and hold times for the various distances offered, and whether or not there will be hot coffee and donuts the following morning by the camper that serves as an office. While this is a good thing (don't get me wrong) we must also communicate well in advance of the people bringing their chairs over to listen to our "pre-ride speech."

Recently I posted a query on the AERC Facebook page asking riders to tell me the top five pieces of information they would like to see from ride managers before they would consider entering their ride. Needless to say, I received a lot of input on the subject (Facebook has a way of bringing people out of the woodwork). Fortunately the posts were positive (not something that always happens on Facebook).

Basically it all boiled down to the need for ride managers to provide a website and/or a ride flier that outlined the basics. I figured as much; however, when I started doing some research on the ride calendar on the AERC site I found some shocking information. Of the 129 rides that were currently sanctioned, I found that 36% had website links listed, 17% had ride fliers available for download, 5% offered both links to their website and a flier for download, but 42% offered neither.

I do realize that many of the 42% that had nothing listed will eventually offer "something"; however, I did find it surprising how high the number was. I will say though that one thing I found especially nice was that all of the rides had a map link to their location.

One thing that I did find rather interesting (not in a good way) was the number of rides that listed as their location as a landmark or a street address, but left out the all-important city and/or state in which the ride is located.

The number one thing that the riders wanted RMs to provide information on was anything and everything dealing with the base camp conditions:

-- Will the campsite support large rigs for driving around and parking?

-- Are there limitations on space for horses? (Do horses have to be tied to the trailer, placed in panels, or is there enough space for a 20-acre electric fenced paddock?)

-- What amenities are available (showers, porta-johns, shade, electric hook-ups, corrals/panels for rent, etc.)?

-- Are there any special rules about camp (dogs, weed-free hay, fire pits allowed, does manure and/or garbage have to be hauled out, etc.)?

-- When does camp open and close?

-- Are there going to be vendors and/or ride memorabilia for sale?

-- What can the riders anticipate the weather to be like? (At our Fort Howes rides in the Mountain Region, plan for anything and everything -- in the same day.)

The next item that seemed to take precedence was "the trail." Riders are interested in knowing what your trails are going to be like.

-- Are the trails rocky, sandy (how deep), flat, hilly, roads (what type), elevation change, cow-trails, open meadows, and everything else in between.

-- One person asked if at a multi-day ride if the trails were going to change -- one day might be an easier set of trails vs. another.

-- What types of obstacles might one encounter (bridges, water crossings, cows, Bigfoot, snakes, etc.)?

-- How are the trails marked (glow sticks at night, GPS, flagging, etc.)?

-- What type of hoof protection do we need to ride your trails (pads, shoes, barefoot, etc.)?

-- How long are the various loop lengths?

-- What should a rider expect for trail speed (subsonic or supersonic)?

-- Is there a trail map or GPS coordinates available prior to going to the ride?

-- What about cell service in case of an emergency?

Hydrophobic people, avert your eyes. Water deserves its own paragraph, though short. Is there going to be water in camp, on trail, distance between water on trail, the source of the water, potable, non-potable, hot, cold, frozen, or falling (oh, that's the weather thing)?

And for those who are directionally challenged, the fourth most popular request was for directions to the ride site. While some posted that all they needed was a physical address to plug into their TomTom, Siri, Mapquest, Cortona, or backseat co-pilot, we know that some rides (our ride included) need a very clear, concise, step-by-step, and drawn out (with pictures) set of directions to their base camp.

In addition to needing directions, riders want to know exactly where the base camp is so that they can calculate the distance from their home to the ride site. Riders also would like to know what they're getting into concerning the road into camp. Is it 70 miles of one-lane, washboarded gravel with hairpin turns at an 8% grade?

While you're giving directions to the basecamp, throw in some information on where the nearest "town" is for routine stops (fuel, food, propane, ice, grain, and tack). Another important piece of information to include would be directions to the nearest human and equine hospitals (just in case).

Tying in importance with directions to the base camp was food! Will you have a food vendor? Do you have meals provided? What are your menus? Coffee? Donuts? Room service? Riders also were keenly interested in knowing about the vet checks and holds:

-- How are the vet checks run? Are they in camp? Out of camp?

-- Length of holds?

-- Should they pack a crew bag or two?

-- How many vets are going to be there?

-- Who are they?

-- Will there be treatment vet(s) on site? Who are they?

-- When is vet-in?

-- What is your volunteer base like?

From here we went to the general ride management questions:

-- What distances are offered?

-- What additional sanctioning (besides AERC) is offered?

-- What are the fees? What fee payment types do you accept?

-- Do you have registration deadlines?

-- Who is the ride manager? Has he or she managed rides before?

-- How long has the ride been going on?

-- What do you anticipate the entry numbers to be?

-- What paperwork is required for the horse to travel there (health certificate, Coggins, brand inspection, etc.)?

-- What paperwork do you require for entry (entry form, releases, registration, etc.)?

-- What is the ride schedule (registration, vet-in, ride meeting, start times, cut-off times, camp open/close, meals, etc.)?

Whew! After 77 posts to the AERC Facebook page (and 2.5 hours of deciphering the information, thanks to my daughter Jennifer), there you have it. While this seems like a lot of questions for ride managers to answer, most can run through this list and quickly answer nearly all of them right off the top of their head. Utilizing what AERC has to offer (links to websites and/or ride fliers on the calendar page) is easy and free! Providing the riders with the information they need isn't rocket science, we just need to do it.

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