Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rant, as promised

Lately there has been lot of talk on the PNER and AERC message boards—and in the blogosphere, for that matter—about finding ways to increase endurance ride attendance/memberships/revenue. Basically, we’re seeing the usual panic that sets in when the economy tanks and business isn’t as brisk as it used to be. Horses are expensive. A co-worker recently told me about an article that estimated costs at $3,000 per year per horse—and that’s just for subsistence-level horsekeeping, not competition.

Most of us have had to economize in one way or another. That said, I think it is pretty much impossible to predict how an individual rider plans her season based on money alone.

I mean, if you look at me, 2011 was just one setback after another—bad weather, health issues and injuries (mine and the horse), variable fitness (mine and the horse), training setbacks, one really untimely ride cancellation during the EHV scare, selling one horse, buying another, and just having other obligations on some weekends. None of those problems had anything to do with lack of funds for entries.

Of course, I count myself in a lucky minority. I work a job with normal weekends, banker’s hours and plenty of paid vacation. It isn’t a hardship for me to take off a Friday to go to a ride. For someone like my husband, who works uncertain hours and days and has extremely limited vacation, serious endurance competition would be just this side of impossible. More people our age have his kind of job than have my kind of job, especially as companies continue to squeeze employees’ free time while they pay lipservice to the so-called work-life balance.

Some of the people in the PNER email group are talking about how hard it is to make choices from week to week about where to go when “popular” rides happen consecutively. They forget that we are incredibly lucky to live in a region where this is a problem.

For now at least, there are so many people willing to put on rides that we have a ride almost every weekend from mid-April to late October. Many of them are multi-day affairs. We can’t all go to every ride.

What would get me to go to more? Good weather. I know you can’t really control this one, but for those of us who sleep in a tent on the cold, hard ground, the weather is a big deal. I am only riding for one-tenth or less of the total time I spend at the ride.  It would be nice to have a modicum of comfort the rest of the time. Fear of the weather kept me from going to MRRT and Grizzly in the early part of this year—even though I had an extremely fit horse. Good weather made me wish I could have gone to Klickitat, Renegade, Bandit, and Foothills—even though Blue was nowhere near ready.

I don’t expect ride managers to start providing hotel rooms. But it might be nice, especially leading up to the early-season and end-of-season rides, to see people offering sleeping space in their LQ or camper to those of us who have to rough it. Even if you don’t have room for my horse, if you have room for me to get eight hours of high-quality sleep, I will pay you for your trouble.

Failing that that kind of hospitality, and failing a complete turnaround of Northwest weather (haha), the next best thing to attending more rides myself is attending the same number of rides and just bringing more people along.

I have tried to do my part with new people. I’ve ridden with more than one first-time rider. I think that we should confer sainthood on anyone who rides with newbies and juniors regularly. I’ve been lucky to team up with newbies who, for the most part, share my beliefs about what constitutes a good pace and acceptable horse behavior. But not every new rider is like that.

I failed one such rider this year. She had the goodness to haul my horse to HOTR, but I didn’t have the good grace to ride the LD with her. Heather and I had our own strategy planned out, and we (wrongly) assumed that our driver did too. I had a fantastic, top-ten ride on Otto that day. Yay for me, I guess.

Because here's the thing: That fantastic ride cost me an opportunity to help someone else feel the joy of completing a ride.

If I had been less selfish, I might have earned the sport a new devotee and made a new friend. Instead, my driver left the ride exhausted and bewildered. She skipped awards and went home as soon as my horse was rested enough to get in the trailer. It was only a matter of months before she was selling the horse she had bought specifically for endurance.

And to think, I could have prevented all of that if I had just looked beyond the end of my own nose.

I think that’s really the key to getting better attendance at rides. It’s not so important when or where the ride is conducted. It is important how the ride is conducted.

Ride managers and volunteers have a responsibility to make things as straightforward and easy as possible—especially for the first-timers. Frankly, a ride that is managed with first-timers in mind is easier for everyone anyway. Well-marked, well-organized and well-explained trails are a boon to everyone. Friendly, helpful people at registration and vet checks can be the difference between a good weekend and a bad one.

Experienced riders need to be prepared to stand in for the ride manager when they aren’t present. When we meet someone 20 miles out who is lost or hurt or confused or on foot, we need to slow down and as if we can help. We need to be prepared to explain how a vet check and hold work—potentially a million times. We need to shut off the adrenaline and remember that very little is actually at stake at any given ride. This isn’t the Kentucky Derby, and winning won’t make us millionaires.

But helping another person—making them feel wanted and appreciated—might save the sport. That’s what’s really at stake. If I want to be an old-lady endurance rider in 2045, I better be ready and willing to make sure there will be young-lady endurance riders here to mark my trails.

And yes, I will make sure I have an extra bunk for them in case of bad weather.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pre-rant rant

I had a rant—and I mean a full-on diatribe—ready for the blog last week. The web forums for PNER and AERC are both lit up on the subject of attracting more riders in the face of a bad economy, declining ride entries, blah blah blah.

And I was pretty well set to post it. But then all of a sudden it was Wednesday night, and I still needed to pack for my Annual October Seattle Vacation with Brian. And now I'm back in the Wallas, and all of the material for the November PNER newsletter is sitting in my inbox like a ticking time bomb.

Do I finish my blog post and ignore the (literally hundreds of) results and standings that I need to format? Should I wash the pile of laundry we accumulated in the city? Isn't it enough that I moved it from the suitcase to the floor? What am I, some sort of wizard?

The truth is self-evident. Internet forever!

Rant coming up in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why I’m not ready to ride Tevis

First, non-endurance friends, read here what Tevis is.

I’m not ready to ride 100 miles in a day (or even 90-ish, as they may have done this year). Putting aside all the concrete reasons that I'm not ready, including (but not limited to): Not having enough money for a trip to CA, not having a fit horse, not being a fit rider, never having ridden more than 30 miles continuously, not being a "morning person" and needing much more frequent bathroom breaks than a Tevis-winning pace will allow, I also am just too damn lazy. Let me illustrate.

I’ve copied 2011 winning rider Jeremy Reynolds’ schedule from ride day and compared it to my own schedule for the same Saturday. It puts my productivity in pretty harsh perspective.

6:30 a.m.
Jeremy begins the ride, cantering through darkness with a herd of fire-breathing elite equine athletes.

I am still in bed. 

7:30 a.m.
Jeremy arrives at Lower Quarry–East, averaging 10.1mph.

I am still in bed.

8:01 a.m.
Jeremy arrives at Franciscos–East, having already gone 20.1 miles in less than two hours.

I am still in bed.

10:21 a.m.
Jeremy arrives at Foresthill–East, having traveled 38.6 miles. He will now have a one-hour hold and vet check.

I am still in bed. (Do you see a pattern forming?)

11:24 a.m.
Jeremy leaves Foresthill–East.

I wake up 11 minutes after Jeremy leaves Foresthill. In those 11 minutes he has traveled about a mile. I have gone the 10 steps to the bathroom and back.

12:01 p.m.
Jeremy arrives at Chicken Hawk/Volcano–East, having traveled 42.7 miles.

I am putting frozen biscuits in the oven and frying breakfast sausage. I am still in my bathrobe. Brian is playing Call of Duty in his underwear.

1:22 p.m.
Jeremy is leaving Chicken Hawk/Volcano–West, having traveled more than half the ride distance—57.3 miles.

I am now wearing pants.

1:55 p.m.
Jeremy cruises into Foresthill – West. He is at 61.4 miles and will have another hourlong hold.

I am in the truck on my way to Heather’s to ride Blue.

2:58 p.m.
Jeremy leaves Foresthill – West.

Blue and I are at Bennington Lake. We are about 15 minutes into our ride.

5:22 p.m.
Jeremy arrives at River Crossing – West. He has ridden 83.4 miles today.

I am already back in the parking lot at Bennington Lake grooming Blue. I rode a few moderately paced miles of hills in ideal October-in-Walla-Walla weather (i.e., 70 degrees and sun with just the hint of a breeze).

I'm not a real endurance rider; I just play one in this blog.

5:50 p.m.
Jeremy arrives at Lower Quarry – West, 89.9 miles into his journey.

I drop Blue off at Heather’s and unhook the trailer. I zoom home to say hello to Brian and change clothes so I can go for a run.

7:01 p.m.
Jeremy cruises into the finish at McCann Stadium. He has been riding for 10.5 hours—longer than I have been awake—at an average speed just under 10mph.

I finish a 20-minute run (level, paved trail) at the same moment he crosses the finish line. I feel pleasantly tired.

I can’t imagine how he feels. And that’s why I’m not ready.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Two fantastic rides this weekend. Two very different rides.

Friday after work I was feeling kind of tired and irritable, which is the wrong frame of mind for taking out on the road for mileage. But I knew I needed to ride: Blue is getting F-A-T these days. I'm constantly tweaking his diet, but since he arrived malnourished, we haven't quite figured out what he needs on a day-to-day basis yet. So right now he's probably getting a bit more than he needs... grass hay, pasture, beet pulp, Life Design senior, and half a cup of flax seeds with paprika daily. Believe it or not, up until a few weeks ago we were putting Cool Calories and canola oil on top of that.

On the upside, Heather tells me that he has started frolicking in the pasture (i.e., tearing around like an idiot), so I think he must be feeling better than he was when I got him. I just keep telling myself that all that feed is going somewhere. On Friday, it went toward arena work.

I tend to get bored in the arena. To keep myself involved and to enforce some kind of structure on the ride, I played an episode of This American Life on my iPhone. The purpose is to keep my mind and body relaxed by distracting me just the right amount, while also making it clear when I have been riding for an hour. When the episode is over, we cool down.

I put Blue in the German martingale, and we began some very basic gymnastic work under light contact. Blue tends to stay bent to the left, so my goal that night was to get one good, even, consistently paced volte to the right. And I got it eventually.

The hour went by fast for me, because I was incrementally asking Blue to pull himself into some semblance of a balanced frame. We had moments, friends. It was a start.  By the time Ira Glass was signing off, we were doing neat figure-eights, flexed but not braced.

Blue and I both took Saturday off. My back was killing me (probably because I went for a run Friday night), and I spent most of the day flat on the floor listening to college football. When Brian got home, we went out on a date, which I only mention here because between dinner and the movie we had some time to kill. We went to a bookstore and Brian bought me this:

We didn't get home until well after 1 a.m., but I still stayed up and read the first 20 pages or so. Obviously Blue is no dressage horse, but the advice and some of the exercises that Becker recommends are within his ability now. And others we can work towards. Everything is focused on creating that lightness and oneness of purpose that makes riding so fantastic... on the rare occasion that the stars align that way.

And I have to say, Sunday was one of those days when things just felt great. I took Blue to the lake for a little alone time, just the two of us. I wanted to get him out and let him work at his own pace instead of trying to keep up with Bunny or thinking about how he could cut corners to get home.

Was it the weather? The day off? Some unconscious dressage-by-osmosis from the book? I don't know. But Blue and I were rock solid and full of energy. Nothing could spook him—not mountain bikes, dogs or deer leaping up from almost underfoot—not even Dean's horses calling to him as we bombed down the road next to Mill Creek. Blue attacked every hill with equine zeal, and I just focused on staying out of his way.

I wasn't GPS-ing, so I don't know what our actual speed was. And really it doesn't matter anyway. We were moving at a speed that made us both happy and got us home with plenty of daylight to spare.

Light skies, light hands and light hearts. It was a great ride.