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.