To Finish Is To Win

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Endurance News -- July 2017

President's Letter
Vice President's Message
Classified Advertising

President's Letter: The long (and short) of it

by Paul Latiolais, AERC President

In the early 1950s, when Wendell Robie took up the challenge from a Montana cowboy that was posted in Western Horseman, Wendell said, "I know 90 miles of tough trail" when referring to the Western States Trail. The trail may have been lengthened when it became an annual event, but we can't be absolutely sure. The trail has changed over time, not being quite the same trail from year to year, especially in the early years.

Charles Barieau measured the distance by surveyor's wheel in the 1990s and certified the distance as accurate. Being a surveyor, Mr. Barieau would know, as do I, that "accurate" is a relative term in the technical world. Measuring by wheel on a trail requires technical expertise and not a little estimating as you account for rocks and roots.

I'm not trying to pick on Tevis. It's a tough trail. It has always been a tough trail. I hope to be able to finish it one day. My point is that we have always had rides with distances that aren't precisely 100% of the stated length. There are rides on the shorter side, and on the longer side.

First of all, no ride is equal to any other ride. They are all different. A rider who rides 2,000 miles in one region does not ride the same miles as a rider who rides 2,000 miles in another region.

Even in the same region, riders aren't typically riding all the same rides. One will have ridden more miles, while another rider will have had more elevation change or worse weather or be subjected to more or less humidity, heat or cold. I have completed more than one endurance ride in the snow. I did not get anything special for that.

I take that back. The toughest ride that I ever completed had lots of elevation change, snow, sleet, rain and howling wind. My horse kept trying to turn sideways against the wind on the narrow mountain trails. I was worried about completing in time, because I had to go so slow. When I got back to camp with mere minutes to spare, I had six inches of ice water in my boots, water down my front and sleeves wet past my elbows. I had come in first, because everyone in front of me had quit. It was a 25-mile ride.

Any attempt to level the playing field for all the different rides would just lead to more complaints and more pressure for conformity. One of the things I love about this sport is that I am riding very different trails in different conditions at every single ride. I don't want conformity; I just want to ride all day long in beautiful scenery and get a t-shirt to prove that I did it, or a mug. I like mugs too.

Our 2016 survey showed that respondents wanted their mileage to be accurate, but they didn't want ride managers to have to submit further verification of mileage measurements. So I am not going to command the regional directors to be mileage police.

Of the many other points I could make about this, I want to make this one important point: AERC does not put on endurance rides. AERC is a sanctioning body. We are like a "franchiser" of endurance rides, and are dependent on ride managers. Of course, ride managers do not necessarily see it that way, because of all the rules we make them adhere to. Nonetheless, ride managers are the people responsible for rides: they hire control judges, clear the trails, purchase awards, rent portable toilets, and spend their own money to make the rides happen. And, yes, ride managers are responsible for the accuracy of their mileage.

If you don't like how a ride is run, then you vote with your four-footed animal. Don't ride the ride.

Don't get me wrong, I am not the least bit afraid of long or tough rides. I don't ride fast horses, so if I were to finish a 50-mile ride in under eight hours, I might think there was severe under-measurement of distance. But if I can't finish a ride in the time allowed, I am not going to be happy about that either. I have ridden more than one 25-mile ride that I would vow was actually 30 miles, and that cut into my post-ride get-together time.

I have a friend who has put on rides for more than two decades. She claims that she could put on a 100-mile ride in the Northwest that was every bit as tough as Tevis. I believe her. Her 25-mile ride is harder to finish than her 50. The only reason that she doesn't put on such a ride is because she thinks that no one would come ride it.

That may or may not be correct. I like to think that our members appreciate a challenge, and are not afraid of a tough, true 100-mile ride, like the new Van Duzen Doozie in Northern California. (Read more about this ride in the Ride Managers' Forum.) The historic rides like Tevis (I won't name the others for fear of accidently skipping one or missing one that someone thinks should be there) are special. Tevis is the only ride I have attended where the men outnumbered the women. I am not sure what that says, except to underline its unique nature. And even the historic rides have changed over time to meet the requirements of their audiences.

Successful ride managers give riders the experiences that riders want: a well-run ride on a good trail. Ride managers want to be successful. I am going to do my best not to second-guess the many decisions that a ride manager has to make to put on a successful ride.

The things I care about are the safety of horses and riders, and that everyone has fun to the fullest extent possible. So get out there, ride your horse and have some fun. And remember to thank the ride managers and volunteers who make it possible.

Vice President's Message: Whoa

by Susan Kasemeyer

Over the years I have owned many horses. I ran a horse breeding and boarding operation with up to 30 horses in residence. The biggest rule at my farm was that there were two people who came there who were not to be injured: my farrier and my vet. Should that happen, it could impact their ability to make a living and I was determined they would not be hurt at my house. Recently I attended the beautiful Biltmore ride in North Carolina and I hate to say I saw more unruly horses there in the vet check (VC) than I have seen in many years.

Sometimes the vets (oops, control judges)would send them out until they were under better control and other times they would continue with much more patience than I have.

Our control judges (CJ) are an essential part of our rides. They should not have to train your horse. Standing still for the CJ to check gums, guts and all other vitals are definitely part of your training. Also your horse should move out (notice I did not say trot, we have a lot of gaited horses in the SE) in hand without hazing in any way.

Another reminder: the horse should also behave for the volunteers -- pulse takers, timers, those who mark the horse numbers, etc. They can help you move through their stations quickly but only if they can do their jobs safely. This year I know of two control judges who have been kicked. One of those got it on his new knee that had just been replaced. So far I know of no volunteers that were hurt (but probably because they just refused to be knocked around).

Please make your horse behave and if you are lucky enough to have crew, remind them.

This next one will probably upset some of you, but if you are not able to "trot" your horse yourself, have the person who will do it for you along with you in the vet check. Walking up and saying, "I need someone to trot this horse" is way too much. In my opinion, that is not the job of a scribe or another control judge.

Last (I promise), at the start of one distance at Biltmore I heard a commotion and saw a horse running and bucking and a rider crumpled on the ground. After a moment, the horse was captured and I walked over to where the rider was being cared for. One of the first things I heard her say was, "He bucks. . . . He never had a rump rug on before."

Bingo. The first rule of endurance that I repeat often is never do anything for the first time at a ride. A ride is never to be the first time someone pushes a horse's gum, puts a stethoscope on any part of a horse's body or a number on their butt.

On the plus side, Biltmore was bigger and better than ever and the river stayed where it belonged (and that is a story for another day). Susan

Trails Post: Reflections on the International Trails Symposium

by Greg Jones, M.D.

After 20 years of casually following reports about the National Trails Symposium (now the International Trails Symposium) without attending, actually being there was interesting on multiple levels. Rather than try to pass on specific pearls of wisdom from the various talks I attended, I shall focus on some more general points from the ITS that I think members of AERC need to understand in our efforts to preserve equestrian trails access.

My understanding (or perhaps misunderstanding) is that the Symposium was founded as an event to bring together and educate trail enthusiasts. That is certainly not what it is today. About 85% of the participants were employees (most being paid to attend) of government agencies and nearly all of the presentations were directed at that audience. Even the evaluation forms we filled out for the various sessions included the question "I can take the information provided and apply it to my workplace or job function."

This is not a bad thing, but it is reality. When Gene Wood kicked off the modern equestrian trails advocacy movement in 1998, one of the greatest needs was to educate government agencies and land managers on a wide variety of trails issues. From that perspective, it is a very good thing that this conference has become a great source for officials to learn and network.

All of that leads to my first conclusion about the ITS: while it is essential for AERC to have a regular presence at this event, it is equally important for our members to engage with events more directed at us, such as the National Equestrian Trails Conference (next to be held in Phoenix, Arizona, November 2-4, 2018).

I was also impressed with the impact of AERC on the Symposium. ITS chair John Favro used to have a mobile tack shop that went to AERC rides in the Northwest when his wife Susan was competing in endurance. It was also evident that Trails and Land Management Committee Chair Monica Chapman's efforts to build relationships with various agencies are paying off. She is now recognized by many key players, and even looked to by them as a resource.

Interestingly, as an equestrian, I was also impressed with what a minority we are. This was way beyond numbers. It was often an exercise in being a minority, right down to being patronized and treated like a token participant. This is a reality we must understand and even seek ways to use to our advantage.

Another general area that impressed me was how values that trails enthusiasts have promoted for decades have been embraced by urban communities. A tremendous amount of time at the ITS was spent on urban trails. These are incredibly valuable routes, but mostly nothing I would define as a "trail."

This is a double-bladed sword. These urban projects definitely draw more people and support to the general trails world, but also suck up much of the attention and money. They often compete directly with traditional forest trail projects for grant money and government budget allocations. It is foolish to think that these urban paths will be used by even the most casual equestrians except in very rare instances, but politically they can be very helpful in generating more support for trails funding.

Despite the prominence of urban paths, there was also talk of the value of natural experiences and our cultural heritage of enjoying open spaces. We need to emphasize that even as endurance riders, we are primarily interested in a natural experience. We are in the backcountry to enjoy wildlife, both plant and animal. The wildlife encounters that horse riding affords us are unique and a stark contrast to those using bicycles and motorized vehicles to access open spaces.

The importance of money is the most obvious truth displayed throughout the various ITS sessions. Every agency and organization engaged with trails is strapped for cash and seeking money wherever it can be found. If we can help find financial resources it will open doors, and others know this too. Those others are using their numbers to effectively influence trails policies in every way imaginable.

We are a small group within a poorly organized segment of the trails world that others generally regard as a quaint dinosaur. Many see us as a nuisance that is expensive to accommodate and a fringe group they can't relate to. Even in my home state of Kentucky (where the horse industry is as important as steel used to be to Pittsburgh) we have been struggling for 25 years to get the state tourism cabinet ( to promote horseback riding comparably to their efforts promoting bicycle and ATV use.

The problem is largely one of awareness. (I did attend a session on promotion/advertising that has several ideas rolling around in my head.) But during the trade fair at the ITS there was only one display that had a line, and it had a line all day long. Thanks to Edith Conyers of the Back Country Horsemen, there was a horse and a mule that people could pet and photograph. Our mounts are our best ambassadors!

Because we are so few, everyone in AERC needs to help preserve our trails. To overcome our handicaps (numbers, disorganization, myths and such) we need to exploit our advantages: our experience, our contacts and influence, our passion and our equine partners. Above all else, we need to live the axiom: "The rules are made by those who show up!"

Dr. Greg Jones is the AERC Kentucky State Trails Advocate and was the 2016 Ann Parr Trails Preservation Award recipient.

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