Thursday, June 27, 2013

Endurance Rashomon

I literally haven’t touched my horse since the Sunday after Sunriver. I wanted to give him two full weeks off to process the ride and heal before we hit the trails again.

In the meantime there has been some chatter in PNER-land about Funder’s ride story and follow-up post. (Though I think more read the former than the latter...) As you may have guessed, her comments were not universally well-received up here.

PNER is like any organization. There are politics involved—backstories, old grudges, personality conflicts, historical context and nuance—much of which I’m totally oblivious to as a relatively new person. Unfortunately (?) the internet is a great place for people to air their grievances or retaliate publicly for all to see—forever. Then negativity overflows, devolves into he-said-she-said, divides our tiny club, and feeds more bad feelings. It’s the same lack of civility that made me leave the Ridecamp email group. It’s disappointing to see that attitude spill over into Facebook, where a lot of beginners congregate  to soak up our knowledge.

What must they think of us?

Do they want to be part of a club where the reaction to criticism is petty name-calling?

Look, not every ride goes perfectly for everyone. You guys know I had a crappy time at Bandit last year. It wasn’t exactly a secret. A big part of endurance blogging for me is telling my story—warts and all—so that beginners and aspiring riders know that everyone has crappy experiences from time to time. Horses misbehave, trail is iffy, people are under a lot of pressure and get snarky, rude and judgmental. (Seriously, that’s just competitions and horses. Anyone who has shown on the breed circuit, hunter/jumper, rodeo, dressage or whatever also sees the equestrian community at their absolute elitist worst.)

Blogging isn’t journalism. (I should know; my degree is in journalism but my day job is in social media.) When I write the blog, I’m telling about the experience from my perspective, as I experienced it. Sometimes I leave things out because I think they are boring, or too private, or I know that someone who was involved would be embarrassed to see it in writing. Sometimes I add my own commentary, hearsay and hindsight. As they say: Your Experience May Vary.

We’re all out there on the trail alone. This is an individual sport, and everyone’s internal monologue is different. Two people riding together may have opposite impressions of how it’s going. That’s the nature of the sport. Endurance is Rashomon.

So when someone says "that ride was perfect in every way, and anyone who says different is an idiot," it upsets me. Ride a mile in my stirrups before you call me names.

When I blog, I try to convey a sense of the full range of emotions you might feel as a rider in this crazy sport. Newbies take note: It isn’t weird to be frustrated, nor is it weird to be triumphant. You can be both at the same time if you want. Endurance isn’t all glory and good feelings—it’s also a lot of sweat, blood, tears, dirt, early mornings, late nights and money down the drain.

Absolutely, there are people who are going to disagree or take offense when I say it isn’t all rainbows and flowers. If you are one of those people, I’d sure appreciate it if you comment on my posts and tell me why I’m wrong. Defend your opinion. Start a dialogue. Teach me something about the way you see the world.

I promote this sport to every rider I meet because it changed my relationship with horses forever. It changed the way I see myself as a rider. It changed my perspective on all equestrian disciplines.

There is nothing else quite like it, even when it goes badly.

So why is it so frowned-upon to say so?


  1. As someone new to endurance riding (I'm still conditioning for my first ride), one of the best things for me is to see what goes wrong. I don't expect any book or blog to truly prepare me for every possibility, but knowing what other people have experienced, even if things went horrifyingly wrong is really helpful. If I just went by most of the books I read, I'd think every endurance ride was competently managed with a bunch of super helpful riders whose goal is to win but help me along the way and that I'll experience a life affirming moment when I victoriously cross the finish line because I read a book, so I'm prepared.

    I've been around horse competitions too long to believe that, but knowing that there can be negatives doesn't turn me off the sport. It just helps prepare me, so that my expectations are where they should be. That way, if my first ride is great, that's wonderful, but if it isn't, I know that it isn't necessarily because I'm an idiot. Sometimes no matter what you do, things don't work out, and that's OK. It seems to me that if you are really an endurance rider, an experience like what Funder had just makes you want to regroup and try again.

  2. Oh, hey, missed this one!

    Yeah, I knew I'd get unwelcome attention for that post, but it's exactly like you said. We gotta talk about the bad rides too, so we can change what needs to be changed. (WRT Sunriver, it was half my fault, and I've never tried to say otherwise.)

    And we have to set expectations for the riders who are even newer than us. When I was first starting out, I learned just as much from the "disaster" ride stories as I did from the really successful high-mileage bloggers, and I'm trying to return that favor by telling the whole world when I go wrong. ;)

  3. Mostly through riding with Brenda C, I'm learning more about the, hmmm, politics, of the endurance and PNER world.
    But for me, endurance still boils down to a few key things: Taking care of your horse (and yourself, I forgot that at Grizzly last year!) to maximize miles and enjoyment on the trail.
    That is all. Everything else is kinda straying from that, and is it really necessary to pretend you are still in high school and there is only black or white, and white is so out of season?