To Finish Is To Win

American Endurance
Ride Conference

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April 2015


Clinics and New Members

By Susan Garlinghouse, DVM

Before updating the membership on doings within the Education Committee, it only seems fair to first give credit and a heartfelt thank-you to Patti Stedman, the outgoing committee chair and driving force behind the current upswell in education projects within AERC.

Patti can very accurately be described as a true Force of Nature, not unlike a hurricane or tsunami, just with better fashion sense and organizational skills. As such, it is not a surprise that her considerable energy and talents were instrumental (if not largely responsible) as the impetus behind the original Endurance 101 and Beyond the Basics clinics, also organized with the assistance of Dinah Rojek and Art King, DVM.

Although the Education Committee is currently being deluged with requests for assistance and resources in facilitating new clinics, the concept of seminars presented outside the venue of a sanctioned endurance ride was originated and carried out by Patti several years ago as an independent, self-started project.

As a result, new and renewing memberships are noticeably higher in Patti's Northeast region (followed closely by the Northwest, which also boasts an impressive education and mentoring program within its regional group).

The entire idea of introductory and hands-on clinics for new endurance riders and ready-to-move-up riders has gained momentum throughout AERC, with clinics being organized in increasing numbers throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Which brings me to Where Are We Now. Recently, the AERC Board of Directors approved an initial $5,000 budget for the express purpose of assisting in clinic efforts. The committee is currently working on guidelines and procedure for financial assistance for clinic facilitators and will have that information available on the website in the near future.

The intent of funds will be to act as a loan to organizers to help with the up-front costs, including procuring clinic space at venues requiring a fee; transportation costs for out-of-area clinicians; and supplies, such as groceries, copier costs, and so on. The intent of these funds is not a free grant, but as a loan which would then be repaid (if possible) after the event and after admission fees have been paid by attendees.

Sound like a losing proposition? Here's some encouraging news -- of the several dozen organized clinics in which AERC has been involved in the past year, virtually all of them have broken even financially, and many actually turned a tidy profit. All of them have been attended by a gratifying number of new riders interested in the sport and wanting to learn more, and learn it the right way. Many of the recent clinics have been sold out, with a waiting list.

Short of organizing a clinic yourself, how can you help with the effort to bring (and keep) more riders into our sport? Check out the list of upcoming clinics on the AERC website and ask any local clinicians in your area if and how you can help -- just as with an actual AERC ride, a successful event is organized by a manager, and then actually carried out by volunteers.

Help with setting up, preparing food and drinks, answering questions during break-out sessions, providing hands-on demonstrations (showing how to trot out a horse, use a stethoscope and what goes into a crew bag are hugely popular subjects) and escorting during practice rides are all enormously useful.

Got a specific and relevant skill, like human or equine massage, yoga or saddle fitting? How about "how not to look goofy in ride photos"? All were recent presentations at clinics, wildly successful, and often hilarious.

Not near a clinic? Ask if you can sponsor a door prize or items for attendees' goody bags. Put together some "green bean" ribbons on clothespins for the newbies to identify themselves at their first ride as "Hey, I'm new here, how about some help or a friendly hello?"

Ask for follow-up info on attendees and then make contact with them after the clinic to help answer more questions, arrange a practice session or help them prepare for a ride. Even just a "welcome to the sport" contact can make a big difference.

Not available on a clinic weekend? See if you can go put up some flyers at the feed and tack stores in your neighborhood. Help stuff goody bags or call local vendors to ask for donations -- feed companies often have samples of performance feeds, horse cookies or human snacks that are all gleefully received by new riders. Sometimes all it takes is a call or polite email to get unbelievably generous donations of tack, ride entries, gift certificates for hoof boots and other serious swag.

Best of all -- go out of your way, just a little, at an AERC ride to make these new riders feel welcome. Show them one or two little pearls of wisdom for setting up their camp and maybe invite them over to your rig for a bite to eat and some socializing.

I'm not alone in doing so and, at one recent Pacific Southwest ride, we had a dozen new-to-the-sport people partying at our camp. Everyone had a terrific time, we all made new friends and we all had lots of new people to have fun with on the trail the next morning.

This trend in educating new riders isn't about "dumbing down" the sport for the sake of new members. This is about guiding and mentoring the "keepers" and helping them learn things the right way to the benefit of all of us. In attending over a dozen regional clinics as a clinician, I was stunned at how consistently I heard comments from newbies that they feel intimidated, out of their league or just plain isolated and alone trying to enter the sport (or move up in division).

Many have all the essential tools and potential they need to enter the sport and rise through the ranks, but won't, just because they aren't having fun during the learning curve. The riders that already have potential distance horses are out there, and they want to come give our sport a try.

So now all we have to do is keep that enthusiasm going in the right direction, make sure their first events are successful and fun, and help them get as thoroughly addicted as the rest of us. If ever there was a "it takes a village" concept, this is it.

Don't underestimate the value of offering encouragement and cutting them just a bit of extra slack during expected mistakes on the trail. As much as we might not want to admit it, we were all there once, too. I, for one, can list a long litany of incredibly dumb things I did out of ignorance before I learned the hard way.

Who knew I shouldn't have tried something new -- in my case, new undergarments, blue jeans and rubberized English riding boots -- all at the same time and for my first 50. Can you say, "Pass the Desitin, please?"

We've all made mistakes, so let's remember those painful moments and see if we can't help someone new get through their first ride (or their first season, or their first 50 or 100) without mishap.

They may not end up with as many my-scars-are-better-than-your-scars stories, but maybe let-me-tell-you-about-the-awesome-first-ride-I-had stories are just as good, or even a little better.