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Endurance News -- January 2017

President's Letter
Vice President's Message
Trails Post
Classified Advertising

President's Letter: Balance and power in the new year and beyond

by Michael Campbell, AERC President

Every rider knows the importance of balance -- whether you learned it specifically in a lesson or on your own by experience. The importance of balance on horseback is to protect yourself and your horse. Heel, hip and shoulder in line. Solid core and strong thighs. If you are strong and balanced in the saddle, you decrease your likelihood of a fall and injury and you increase the confidence your horse has in you and himself.

Every rider also knows the importance of power or, more precisely, the importance of controlling the power your horse produces. Control of power is through hands and legs in conjunction with balance. Control passes from your hands to the horse's mouth, down the topline to the driving hindquarters.

These concepts -- balance and control of power -- are enduring models for individuals and organizations, societies and governments, for daily living and for life span. Socrates must have understood this when he taught "Nothing in excess." Balance is what preserves our society when we seek détente between conservative and liberal powers in our elections. The pursuit of balance brings the excesses of our youth to fruitful and prosperous maturity. Every healthy family has an appropriate balance of power (usually determined by the wife and mother). So, what could any of this philosophical meandering have to do with AERC and endurance riding?

My dear friend, Monica Chapman, recently sent me some reading materials on boards and leadership. This was information about how nonprofit organizations should be organized for maximum efficiency. AERC does pretty well with most of the items discussed in the materials. But the materials stimulated me to think about change and modernization within our organization.

Some of the modern trends in nonprofit boards include downsizing boards to make them more nimble and efficient. The average size of a nonprofit board in the U.S. is 16. Our board consists of 26 members. Would AERC function better in the future with a smaller, more nimble board? Maybe.

But the board we have now is very involved in the work of governance. The members rarely miss a meeting and never hesitate to express their opinions. The AERC board has a lot of powerful (and beneficial) members due to a strong work ethic. I'm skeptical about the need to reduce the board size, but it may be worth consideration.

Another idea is term limits for board members. This may be a trend, but I'm very skeptical about dismissing the vast experience of long-term board members. On the other hand, maybe a balance of youthful ideas would benefit AERC. We took a step in that direction when the board added Sarah Holloway as a youth representative to the board.

Still another trend is "exploring partnerships and collaborations." This is something that the board and members have discussed from time to time -- adding a competitive trail division or partnering with Ride and Tie. For the most part, AERC members are resistant to adding a competitive trail division (probably by merging with one of the national competitive trail organizations) due to the fear that it would dilute and weaken our more physically demanding endurance events.

However, such a collaboration could benefit both sports financially and politically by increasing the power and prestige of horse sports across the U.S. Such a merger could potentially double the membership of AERC and provide a stepping stone for riders who are hesitant to jump into endurance riding. The increased power could strengthen our voice in the preservation of and access to trails nationwide. Diluting endurance versus increasing balance and power? This one may be worth consideration in the future.

One of the trends associated with modern organizations is to "Be Fearless: Embrace change and be fearless about it." This trend is seen primarily in organizations that remain vital and vibrant in a changing, fluid society. As we get older, we see less the potential benefits of change and more the risks. I confess that as I near retirement, I'm more wary of business risks since I have fewer years to make up for any losses. But AERC does not necessarily have the finite time that I have and we all hope and expect that this organization will continue to benefit our progeny for many generations to come. We seek a balance between change and stability.

I have been accused of advising board members that they need not do what their constituents tell them to do. It's true. Instead, board members must do what they think, in their best judgment, is best for AERC. Constituents' feelings may change with the weather and no board member ever hears all the opinions of his/her constituents. But those constituents elected their board members to exercise good judgement on issues that affect the welfare and survival of AERC.

This was one of the standards of conduct of good board members in the materials that Monica sent. It does not mean that board members should disregard the concerns of constituents, but rather to balance those concerns such that a thoughtful and reasonable governance takes place.

We have an election of officers coming up at our next convention and we just completed a stressful election (no, not that one -- the Director-at-Large election for AERC). Our board will elect new officers and we pray that they will be guided by wisdom. The long-term welfare of our country was insured by the balance of powers in our Constitution. Let us seek balance in our lives, on our horses and within AERC. n

Vice President's Message: A different view of horsemanship

by Lisa Schneider

I grew up around horses and as a kid looked to trainers and older riders to learn how to treat and care for horses. I believed (and still believe) that you can learn something from everyone, even if it's what not to do.

Basic horsemanship skills are often taught in the form of warnings. "Don't walk too close behind a strange horse; she might kick," or "Warm up properly so your horse doesn't cramp up or pull a muscle in the cold." Horsemanship encompasses all kinds of dealing with horses and including care and equitation.

While attending a Centered Riding clinic taught by three-time world champion Becky Hart, I was very surprised to hear Becky say she still consistently takes riding lessons. Looking at Becky, I saw a very fit, very experienced AERC Hall of Fame rider who can knock off 100 miles under 10 hours without batting an eye, and she still takes lessons?! Holy cow, I hadn't taken an arena lesson in years, so I figured I'd better find a trainer who understood endurance and start brushing up on my equitation and basic dressage skills.

It took me a while to make this happen but I recently started working with a trainer who came highly recommended by an endurance friend (thank you, Nina).

For our first lesson, I wanted to be tacked up and on the horse warming up by the time the trainer, Steve, got to my place. Steve was early, so I started rushing a bit to finish saddling. Steve stopped me as I was girthing up because he noticed my horse was pinning his ears and swishing his tail. My horse was talking to me but I wasn't hearing him. So we started all over again with the horse untacked.

This horse tends to move around during the saddling process, not to a great extent, but he'd clearly had some bad experiences with either saddling or saddle fit, or both. I figured we'd work through it over time as he was already greatly improved since I'd gotten him a few months ago. But in 15 minutes, Steve had my horse so relaxed that I thought he was going to lie down.

Lesson 1: Take the time the horse needs before you even mount up. Since a relaxed horse doesn't waste energy that could be put to better use later on down the trail, it is in the best interest of the horse to keep him relaxed from the start.

Lesson 2: Each ride starts long before the horse is tacked up. Listen to what your horse is telling you during the tacking up process. Horses communicate volumes with their tail and ears. Steve often gets calls from people who tell him they need help with their "horse's issues." It was my rushing through tacking up that was setting off my horse.

Lesson 3: He said it's almost always the rider who has the issue and the riders who call him are looking for help with what really is their own weakness. I didn't even get on the horse until the last 15 minutes of the lesson because we worked on keeping him relaxed while grooming, tacking up and leading the horse around.

Lesson 4: The next lesson focused on how to keep the horse relaxed while riding in a variety of situations. We went on the trail and experienced lots of stimuli that can cause spooking, including runners, hikers, and being passed by speeding mountain bikes. In the past, the mountain bikes have been scary for my horse but he quickly learned to relax and so did I.

I had been anticipating his negative reaction and tightening up my whole body in preparation for him spooking or bolting. When I relaxed, so did he, since I wasn't telegraphing danger.

This horsemanship lesson was not exactly a confidence booster but it was a definite learning experience and I am kicking myself for not doing it sooner.

I have two new young horses, the ground is getting harder and I don't bounce as well as I used to, so my New Year's resolution is to improve my horsemanship skills. Happy trails!

Working together to save the Maah Daah Hey trails

by Angie Mikkelson

When I moved to North Dakota four years ago, I quickly began to scavenge the internet for places to ride. Here in ND there are miles and miles of rolling gravel roads and section lines between the millions of acres of farmland. However, I was hoping to find something more enjoyable than gravel roads.

I have lived in the Midwest most my life and heard of the Maah Daah Hey Trail (MDHT) in western North Dakota. I'd driven through the area on the interstate several times in my life and found the region to be beautiful and fascinating.

A quick internet search brought me to the trailhead at Sully Creek, near Medora. The MDHT is intimidating as it is so remote and most of the time there are very few people around. The 100% single-track trail runs from the CCC Campground just outside the North Unit boundary of Theodore Roosevelt National Park 144 miles to the trailhead at Burning Coal Vein Campground.

The trail mainly is on National Grasslands but also dips into parts of the National Park. There are many spur trails within the park boundary that branch off to make loops within the park for hikers and horseback riders.

Bikes are not allowed within the park boundary; because of this the Buffalo Gap trail spurs off the MDHT before and after the park boundary and creates a bypass for mountain bikers. Mountain bikes account for nearly 70% of the trail use on the MDHT. Horseback riders are at around 25% and hikers the remaining 5%.

The MDHT quickly became my home away from home. I drove to the trailheads weekly to discover more and more of the trail. It quickly became my favorite place to be. The trail terrain varies from grassy flats to very rough, steep, clay badlands buttes. You will find river bottoms, water crossings, wooded draws and rolling prairie.

The symbol for the trail is the turtle, adopted from the Lakota Sioux Indians, which symbolizes patience, loyalty, determination, steadfastness, long life and fortitude. The turtle shell symbolizes protection and its effigy is emblazoned on the posts that mark the trail. The posts are close enough together that you can always see one ahead, making it easy to stay on trail.

It wasn't long until I found #SAVEtheMDH, (, founded by Nick Ybarra. I learned from this organization that there were parts of the trail that were in terrible shape and the trail was underused, overgrown, washed out and, in some places, unsafe. Technically it is the USFS's job to take care of the trail. Unfortunately, with years of unusually high precipitation, the rise of the oil boom in western North Dakota, and no USFS trail crews, the MDH was in the worst shape ever and there was nobody working on it.

While #SAVEtheMDH is technically a mountain biking organization, they do more trail maintenance than any other and they make the trail better for all users, not just mountain bikers. I decided to join Nick and try to help the organization however I could. As of 2015 these diehard souls had put in over 2,400 volunteer man-hours improving the condition of the MDH for the benefit of all trail users using nothing but hand tools, weed whackers, and brush mowers.

One of my goals was to show the mountain bike community that we as horseback riders care about the trail and are willing to help too. Unfortunately, the two communities don't always get along. Horseback riders say the bikers are dangerous to share trails with as they don't stop or slow down and can put riders in an unsafe position with their horses. Bikers see horseback riders as diehard partiers who smoke cigarettes, drop their beer cans along the trail and, even worse, ride on the trails when they are wet, destroying them.

When our clay soil is wet, it's very slick. The horses slide around making slide marks and eroding the trail, then when it dries it's like concrete -- making it rough and difficult for bikers to ride.

Nick was very approachable. I wanted to know how I could help join the two groups. I took the information he gave me to our state's Back Country Horsemen group meetings and shared with the riders. Then took the concerns of the riders back to Nick to share with the bikers. Back Country Horsemen have since volunteered at work days and even helped at the annual MDH 100-mile bike race.

Together, even though we are separate organizations, we have learned to share the trail and to help each other with trail maintenance. This year I hosted an AERC endurance ride on the MDHT in October. We had 54 entries over two days of 50- and 25-mile rides. I am proud to say that with the help of generous sponsors like The Distance Depot, Riding Warehouse, Redmond, Hammer Nutrition, Woody's Feed and Troy Lee Designs helmets, the ride was profitable enough to donate money to both #SAVEtheMDH and Back Country Horsemen of North Dakota.

As the AERC North Dakota State Trail Advocate, I invite everyone to visit and ride the MDHT. I will personally come out and show you our amazing trail!

January 2017 Classified Advertising



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