To Finish Is To Win

American Endurance
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Endurance News -- 2014 Yearbook/March 2015

President's Letter: It's All About the Journey

by Michael Campbell, AERC President

This yearbook edition of Endurance News honors the accomplishments of AERC members from the past year. They are examples to us all in how to ride and care for our horses over many, many miles. They are reminders of the values that have endured through our sport since its beginning.

A longtime AERC member and former AERC president, Stagg Newman, recently commented about the founding values of AERC. He pointed out that the early members valued horsemanship above winning any prize that AERC could offer. He also reminded me that the original rules of AERC barely filled a single typewritten page. Of course, as AERC grew and developed, we refined and revised our rules to resolve the various disputes that our members confronted.

Our most recent rule book is well over 10,000 words long, and that doesn't include the rider handbook, veterinary guidelines, ride manager handbook, various committee guidelines, our bylaws and a variety of other printed and video material that shape our organization and our sport. A law professor I know likes to say that "for a good man, you don't need many rules. For a man determined to do wrong, you can't make enough of them." With that in mind, I think it's remarkable that AERC has survived over 40 years without requiring ever more rules.

We've come a long way, baby. (Our first office was in Julie Suhr's kitchen.)

But, it is horsemanship, not rules, that have supported the evolution of AERC these many years. I have known judges and riders and veterinarians of many other equine sports. They may or may not like endurance riding, but they almost always readily admit that equestrians of other sports do not know nearly as much about equine anatomy and physiology as endurance riders.

Ask your local rodeo champ, dressage queen or eventer about the suspensory ligament, electrolytes, heart rate recovery, cannon bone diameter or wind puffs. They may look at you as if you were speaking another language. Ask them about the use of omeprazole, hyaluronic acid or the importance of calcium uptake. You know or have access to information about all of these things more readily than riders of any other sport.

Our Green Beans are in the process of learning about these things; they have begun a journey (come to the convention and you'll get an earful).

On to behavior. Experienced endurance riders can easily identify lameness and tell you which foot is injured. Experienced riders recognize the slightest change in their horse's attitude. They try to understand the cause of the change and evaluate how it may impact their horse's ability to go out on trail.

Recognizing subtle behavioral changes takes time and experience. Recognizing by the look in your horse's eye that he is eager to go or just doesn't feel quite right is a learning process that you can't get from a book. Knowing whether your horse is going because you asked him to or because he is herd-bound requires very personal experience and interaction with your partner.

Horsemanship is more than just skilled riding or horse management. It is a learned ability, but nurtured with a passion that grew within you from the time you first saw a horse. It begins to develop exponentially as you develop a personal relationship with your horse; as you begin to realize how that horse trusts you and depends upon you for meaning in its life just as your horse gives meaning to your life. You may think of it as an intuitive awareness of your horse's needs, but it is a deeply entrenched knowledge and thirst for more knowledge to meet those needs as part of your own fulfillment as a rider. It is something that never stops growing, because, as a horseman, you know you have never quite mastered horsemanship. I wrote in December of the covenant of the horse. This is that covenant -- when you begin the journey to horsemanship.

Our predecessors founded AERC on the principles and values of horsemanship -- not just skilled riding or remarkably fit and talented horses. A true horseman recognizes and values these principles wherever he or she sees them around the world. Language barriers fall before the mutual respect among horsemen.

The founders of AERC wisely avoided monetary prizes that could corrupt the covenant between a horse and a horseman. Horse ownership and participation in equine events is expensive, but the relationship between a horse and horseman is priceless. The economic model of the racing industry does not serve the horseman well. Our founders recognized this.

Horsemanship is not an end, it is a journey.

At our annual convention, we will honor the accomplishments of riders across the country. It is my hope and prayer that each of them has begun the journey of horsemanship. The jacket, blanket or plaque has a monetary value. Your relationship with your horse cannot be bought or sold. It is a free exchange between you and your horse. Take the time, develop the experience.

AERC is in transition; somewhere between a club and a business. As we struggle with our identity, let us recall from whence we came. Our heritage is not rules and procedures or winning any prize. It is about horsemanship.

AERC and endurance riders can survive with more or fewer rules. Endurance riding cannot survive without horsemanship.

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.