To Finish Is To Win

American Endurance
Ride Conference

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Ensuring Success as a Junior Sponsor

By Randy Eiland

Is your junior ready to ride the distance? Does your junior have the right attitude to finish the distance? And does your junior have the appropriate horse to ride?

These are equally important parts when sponsoring a junior rider. Age and attitude are almost synonymous. How do we know when our junior is ready to ride the distance? Is there an age when a junior is suddenly ready to become an endurance rider? Is there a height and weight factor we should be aware of, much like we see at carnival rides? What is an attitude?

There are no across-the-board answers to the above questions. Junior riders know when they were ready to ride the distance -- many have helped at rides or crewed for their "soon to be sponsor" and are thoroughly familiar with the basics of endurance competition. Some are "horse crazy" with a natural desire to ride all day long. However, regardless of experience or background, each child knows when they are ready to move from being a crew to being a rider.

I don't believe in the 6-, 8-, or 10-year-old factor. I have seen children as young as 5 be very successful at riding the distance, and I have seen children as old as 12 having a miserable time. If the parent/sponsor listens to their child, they will know when that child is ready to ride an LD or endurance distance. If you push the junior too hard, I can almost guarantee you will be in store for a miserable time for all the hours you are in the saddle.

Sharing a long distance ride with the child who wants to ride all day long can be extremely rewarding -- there are so many lifetime experiences you can share and remember. Conversely, sharing a long distance ride with a child who is whining, crying, complaining, and sometimes screaming will introduce you to more mental pain and suffering than you ever imagined possible on the back of your favorite horse. Judge the child, not the age. Let the child make the decision for you as to when he or she is ready.

Of course, no child will be ready to go the distance unless they are mounted on the appropriate equine. In fact, as a ride manager, the most consistent mistake I have seen related to juniors is the parent/sponsor over-mounting the child.

There is a truism in riding with a group, and it matters not if the group is two people or 10, you can only go as fast as the slowest animal. For the junior rider, slow is good, especially in the junior's early riding years. Slow doesn't necessarily translate to "old horse" or last place finish, but it does mean an equine that has a brain, has trail experience, has confidence but likes to follow, and can be controlled by the junior. It really helps if the animal has a nice personality and bonds with the junior. I have seen many juniors on slow horses that finish top 10; slow is more of an attitude than miles per hour speed.

The mistake that parents/sponsors sometimes make is deciding their junior has outgrown the slow animal. Often that decision is made without input from the most important person, the junior. If you listen to your junior rider, you will know when they have outgrown their horse. Just because the junior is riding confidently, is finishing well, and is having fun, is no reason to "move them up" to a faster, more competitive horse.

In fact, that is the biggest mistake you can make. Remember, the idea is to have fun, especially for the junior. Fun doesn't mean top 10 or first to finish -- and it especially doesn't mean the parent/sponsor can finally ride faster! Fun means the junior enjoys what they are doing, has a connection and bond with their mount, learns and enjoys the accomplishment of finishing on a sound and fit animal they love.

The interesting thing I have observed over the years is the "slow" junior horse that becomes faster and more competitive as the junior gains experience and becomes a better horseman. I have seen numerous slow junior horses that became consistent top 10 finishers as their junior rider became more experienced.

On the other side, I have seen many junior riders who quit riding when their parent/sponsor moved them to a "better horse" before the junior wanted, or was ready, for that move. Just like most of us, junior riders bond with and love their horses -- don't alter that relationship until the junior lets you know they are ready for the change.

There is a kind of fine art to being a successful sponsor. It can be the most glorious quality time you will have with your child. It can also be the most miserable experience imaginable if you place your own objectives before those of your junior rider.

Initially you will have to learn to ride differently, be more observant, probably take care of your own horse, your junior's horse, yourself, and remind your junior to eat and drink. Even with all that responsibility, I think every successful sponsor, and successful junior, will tell you it is more than worth the effort.

Time to hit the trails.

2012-08-31 10:41:30