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.


  1. I agree that "hospitality" goes a long way in convincing new riders to stay...but the kindest, most welcoming ride in the world won't convince everybody. Sometimes, folks come to rides and don't have any fun for reasons beyond the control of ride management.

    That said, I extend an open invitation for a hot cup of tea to anybody who knocks on my camper door. If you come after 5pm (and I've finished my ride) there's usually some rum available as well!

    I've never figured out why people like to sleep in tents , either--if I don't have my camper with me, I bed down inside the horse trailer (after cleaning it out, obviously), which has a sturdy, waterproof roof that won't blow down in the middle of the night. I carry tarps with me to cover the windows, and it makes a roomy place to sleep with plenty of space for my junk and my dog(s). Warm, dry, quiet...and since I put down 12" of cedar shavings on the floor, then a tarp over the top of them, very comfortable.

  2. I agree that some rides just don't go right for some people. And sometimes you have a bad day or a pull and go home with a bad taste in your mouth. But I know that I—personally, as an individual—could and should be doing more to encourage people who are struggling. I just get into "the zone" when I'm out there, you know?

    I've debated sleeping in the trailer. The tricky part is access. I have the old two-horse style with the tack under the mangers, and there's no way to open and shut the doors from the inside. I could close everything except one escape door, but then I'm stuck with one door open. Maybe I could get some kind of interior sliding latch installed. Problem part two is that I have a stud divider that can't be moved, so the stall might be too narrow for my bed. These are not insurmountable, though!

    The solution I'm presenting to Brian is that I need a new trailer. :)

  3. As someone who is very interested in trying Endurance riding in the future (but will probably start with Competitive Trail)...I'm a bit curious.

    Do new riders usually have an "experienced escort?" Is this a common thing -- or just something that some people do and others do not? I am fairly trail savvy as I hike quite a bit -- so I guess I never planned on having an escort if I did decide to try a ride sometime...

    Some of the reasons I am drawn to this sport include a great love of the outdoors. I love camping (I've used tents, slept in my Pop-up camper, slept in my mom's travel trailer....and my favorite; right under the stars in the back of a Pick up...when the weather cooperates of course. If I were to try endurance tho- it would probably be bunking in the horse trailer for awhile for me...since my vehicle can only tow one trailer LOL). I also find it appealing to be out on the trail alone with my equine partner. I am a bit of an independant introverted person, so big groups of people -- while not unwelcome -- are sometimes intimidating to me. I do however relish the company of a group of people I know well :)

    At any rate, I don't have a horse at the moment I can compete with, so it's not in the cards right now for me. I have been thinking of voluteering to help out at rides I can learn some things and decide if it's something I really want to try before I sink my teeth in so-to-speak.

    I do greatly enjoy reading endurance blogs though as many of them have helped me get a picture of what things are like (both good and bad) and I would love to hear your input on these thoughts...

    Thanks :)

  4. I'm not sure how many do their first ride with an escort of sorts. I can only speak from my own experience.

    My very first attempt was a trail ride distance at an endurance ride. I went with someone who had some experience (by no means an expert), and I was glad to have her there to get me through registration and vetting in. The whole thing seems very chaotic at first just because there are crowds of people and horses all over the place.

    The girl I went with was doing the LD, so I started the trail ride alone, but as I was toddling along just trying to get my youngster to leave camp, Aarene happened along behind me. I felt a lot more confident about the "where" and the "how fast" part of the ride once I hooked up with her and Jim. It was also nice to have them at the completion exam. I didn't even know that I needed a completion exam since we'd only a trail ride. Without them, I probably wouldn't have done one!

    Experienced people are great for teaching protocol like that. :)

    My second ride was also at the trail ride distance, and at that one I was alone for 99 percent of it. Riding alone, I faced a few challenges. My youngster didn't know much about water crossings or pacing himself, and we really could have used a buddy to help with those things.

    Since those first couple experiences, I've been fine in a group or alone. Going alone, once you know what you're doing, is probably the more strategic way to do things. On the other hand, if you have a good friend or two along, it is nice to have conversations and pass the time.

    I'm not a particularly social person at rides. I get very focused and also very tired. You certainly don't need to be a social butterfly to have a good endurance experience. :)

  5. Ruth,
    Thank you so much for your reply. Although I know some things must be learned by doing them, I am trying to learn everything I can before I go on a ride.
    My current horse is a 23yr old Standardbred with arthritis, so he does "light" riding only -- but my car will be paid off in a few more years..and at that time I am hoping to bring another horse into my life :)
    Until then, I am trying to soak in what I can and get a "feel" for things so when the time comes, I won't be as likely to feel as intimidated by everything. Reading peoples' endurance blogs helps a lot (and as an upside, I enjoy hearing the stories)..
    I have located some rides in my area and hope to volunteer at a couple next year (and of course, find a nearby place to camp because I love that too).
    Thanks again! Carol N' Griff..

  6. Ruth,

    This is one of the most sensible things I've read from a distance blog in a long time.

    Common sense, it is a beautiful thing.

    A ride available every weekend? I can't imagine.

    Also good to know that I'm not the only LD rider out there living some kind of rider drama/change. Not saying I'm glad for your trouble, but it sure makes one feel less "lonely" out there. ~ E.G.

    p.s. So glad I discovered your blog :)