To Finish Is To Win

American Endurance
Ride Conference

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Endurance News -- July 2021

President's Letter
Vice President's Letter
Education Update

President's Letter: Endangered species: large animal vets

by Nick Kohut, DVM

A couple of months ago I wrote about the decreasing number of horses competing in various sports in the United States. This month, I would like to address the shortage of large animal veterinarians throughout the country.

Speaking personally, within three years, my predominantly large animal practice will have gone from employing nine full-time veterinarians to only three full-time and one part-time veterinarian. Three retired, two left to pursue full-time small animal service, and one relocated out of state when their spouse (a small animal veterinarian) took a new job.

e have been aggressively trying to hire this entire time, with little success. Almost every other large animal practice in my surrounding area is in the same boat. A recent survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association showed that in 43 states there were less than 0.4 applicants available for every job opportunity in that state (large and small animal combined).

In general, my profession is not a "young person" profession. The median age of male veterinarians is 51.5 years of age and female veterinarians is 40.8 years of age. Please take note that I stated the median age. That means if you look at the graph of these ages from the youngest to the oldest, the middle of that line is the median.

When you actually see the graph of male veterinarians in 2019, it shows the largest concentration were between 57 and 60 years of age. Now add in that, based on one survey, 67% of large animal veterinarians are male, and you begin to see part of the problem. We are aging out.

The majority of graduating veterinarians are pursuing careers in small animal services. There are multiple reasons for this to be happening. There are fewer and fewer family farms across the country. It used to be common for large animal veterinarians to have grown up on a farm. Fewer farms means fewer children with direct exposure to farm animals and horses.

The average student loan debt for veterinarians who graduated in 2019 was $183,302. That equates to a monthly repayment of over $2,058 on a standard 10-year repayment term with a 6.25% interest rate. Looking at ZipRecruiter (maybe not the most accurate source), the average starting salary in 2021 for a small animal veterinarian is $83,479 a year and $53,633 for a large animal veterinarian.

A number of small animal practices are now owned by national corporations who can not only afford to offer much higher salaries, but they also can provide great benefits and rather large signing bonuses. Add in the existence of exclusively small animal emergency clinics, and most of these job offerings come with no nights, no weekends, and no holidays to work.

More money and a chance to have a life outside of work—is it any wonder why there is such a move to small animal services?

How is all of this going to impact our sport? Will it be harder to find veterinarians to work our events? For control judges, will we need to look outside the box? Will they need more money to compensate what they are giving up from missing work? Only time will tell.

Vice President's Letter: How to avoid the dreaded race brain

by Michael Campbell

We humans love competition, whether as spectators or participants; whether in sports, politics, academics, social skills or . . . almost anything. We love to see who is faster, stronger, smarter, etc. We have awards and kudos for all kinds of accomplishments, even from birth. How much did that baby weigh? When did he/she take his/her first steps? Sports and grades have us competing from the earliest grades in school.

But why are we this way? Why are we so enthralled with competition?

The most obvious, and perhaps the simplest, answer is that it's good for our self-esteem. Strong, positive self-esteem keeps us motivated and functioning well in life. We all like to know that we're good at something. The most basic psychological principle is that reinforcement increases the probability of a response. Human societies reward success to increase the probability of successful behavior that is good for us all, and competition weeds out the less successful behavior.

This starts when we are very small and our parents tell us what a good boy/girl we are for eating our peas or getting dressed by ourselves. Competition helps us select more successful strategies over less successful strategies in business, government, sports and almost all aspects of our lives.

Early in my tenure on the Board of Directors, I made the mistake of commenting about "endurance racing." A wiser member pointed out that AERC stands for the American Endurance RIDE Conference, not the American Endurance RACE Conference. What you notice about the difference in these words determines what you focus your attention on at our events, winning versus completing.

Our motto is "To Finish is to Win." Our bylaws, rules, committee designations and veterinary control examinations all emphasize the welfare of our horses. But it's easy to forget that when you realize that you have a chance of finishing in the top ten and winning a bucket.

Race brain happens when you forget our motto; when your attention is focused on winning/placing rather than completing on a sound horse. When you get race brain, you may increase your odds for temporary success, but you also increase your odds for long-term disaster, such as an injured horse.

I was riding with a friend on one occasion in south Texas. We were just trotting along and about a half-mile out from the finish line the friend said, "Let's race." I pointed out that the finish line didn't have a long runout before the camp, only a couple hundred yards. My friend said it would be okay and convinced me.

So, the last quarter mile, we began to gallop, riding hard. I don't know what happened to my friend, but my horse didn't want to stop after the finish line and kept going into the camp, even jumped a cattle guard.

We were lucky. No one got hurt, but I learned a lesson about race brain.

At another ride, on the last loop, I was trotting along, and knew I was in the top ten. I had been alone for several miles and was pleased to see another friend up ahead. I called a greeting to her and she turned and looked at me with an expression of horror. She took off like I was the sheriff coming to get her for robbing a bank. Another victim of race brain.

Early in our endurance careers, many of us allow our attention to wander from the ride to the race. We're new to the sport and all our previous learning has us focused on winning. Most of us have known a new rider who rode too hard in their first rides and the horse didn't last long in the sport.

As we mature in this sport, we begin to value a high completion rate over top ten finishes. We begin to relearn and remember that the R stands for Ride, not Race or Race Brain.

Education Update: You can help keep our trail systems safe

by Jennifer Niehaus

Some of us are fortunate to have riding right out our back doors, while most of us riders depend on our nearby community trail systems for conditioning our equine buddies. Our trails need to be safe and well maintained, and if they are multiuse areas we need to get along with everyone out there using them.

In the last few years ranger staffing in our parks has dramatically decreased. The need for us to help with maintenance has never been more necessary. We also must emphasize positive relations with the existing staff. So here are a few things that we endurance riders and our talented horses can provide our communities with, out on the trails:

1. Do you belong to a local riding club? Can campouts or trail maintenance days be scheduled as a group effort? The more the merrier!

2. Do you have a horse that could be part of a local Mounted Assistant Unit? It's amazing how valuable it is to everyone on the trails when we are out there handing out maps, passing out an extra water bottle for a dehydrated hiker, or letting a small child pet a soft muzzle. The park rangers also appreciate the occasional snapshot emailed to them of downed trees or other hazards they can address before anyone gets hurt.

3. Do you want a side occupation/volunteer gig such as belonging to a Search and Rescue team? Endurance horses are extremely valuable in this as they are fit, have excellent night vision, can provide off-road logistic transportation and are quiet in case people's voices need to be heard.

4. Are there local mountain biking or hiking clubs? I'm sure your community has them. Even if that isn't something you do, it's still really important to just simply give them a call and let them know you're a rider who enjoys the trails too and you would love to participate on their trail maintenance/clean-up days along with them.

5. Pack those pruners! I'm sure you have a nice sharp pair lying around that can come in handy when encountering low branches on the trail. Be sure to bring them along with you.

6. Be an advocate for saving the trails in your communities. Keep an eye out forwhat is coming up in the local planning issues, land easements and residential areas regarding trail access. Being on a council for recreation is also a great way.

7. Lastly, it's so important to fill out the volunteer hours trail log sheet on the AERC website. The information used by the data is eye-opening to agency leaders and members of Congress on what we contribute in our sport. I am sure there is in a myriad of other fantastic ideas that some of you already do to contribute in your communities. It's really important to have all these good people in our parks staff, other trail users, and local clubs knowing that we can help them and function together for the betterment of the entire community.

When an endurance event needs to happen, we have more people that are willing to be on our side. Extra support can make everything run a whole lot smoother and much more fun.

So try to be mindful when you are out using those trails—how you can you and your horses help? It is great experience for our horses to stand while you prune a branch or talk to a hiker.

If we all do our part as individuals, we can truly be powerful as an organization.

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.