That’s the bell going off for round whatever-illion of the never-ending “Endurance Versus Limited Distance” debate on Ridecamp and other email lists and forums. Around the country, many people are starting to experience weather that encourages indoor hibernation, which in turn leads to sitting in front of computers and snarking, for lack of anything better to do.
This time, from my understanding, it started with a restructuring of points for 100s, which turned to talk of combined mileage recognition (lifetime accumulated miles of both LDs and 50s for a horse), which in turn has degenerated to the good old favorite topic of debate that crops up every winter…LD vs. Endurance. Half the talk makes my eyes glaze over, mostly because it’s points and mileage and stuff I’ve never concerned myself with because I’ve never ridden that competitively, and the other half makes me cringe because it’s starting to get nasty. I’ve been an AERC member for six years now, and I’ve seen this debate…hmmm….annually, with a few minor rounds cropping up here and there during the year, just to keep people in fighting-trim.
Sometimes, I suspect it’ll never truly end.
As someone who has done both 50s and LDs, I can understand both sides of the argument. Neither side is all wrong or all right. I’m sure I’m going to manage to inflame some people along the way, but to me, it’s a pretty simple concept: Calling yourself an endurance rider is a privilege, not a right, and it is something earned through an extraordinary amount of work and time. This is not to say that conditioning for an LD isn’t work. For some people, it may be their own personal equivalent of training for a 50, and this isn’t meant to diminish a personal accomplishment. But the bottom line is, 50s are more work and therefore earn the title of “endurance.”
In the AERC bylaws, endurance is defined as “events 50 miles and above.” This gives us a baseline and standard of performance. 50 miles is not easy. Maybe to those riders whose miles are hitting quadruple digits and above, 50 miles starts to become commonplace. But for someone who doesn’t even have an endurance mileage patch yet, the idea that a 50 mile ride may someday seem “easy” is a thought to be marveled. Per Webster:
endure: to last; suffer patiently; tolerate
By its very name, “endurance” is to be celebrated as something that has been worked for and earned. Let’s face it: It takes a lot of work to get a horse 50-mile ready, and then keep them there. It takes time, dedication, and then a bit of luck tossed in there for good measure.
And the fact is, not all horses can do 50 miles. I did some teeth-gnashing during Tevis weekend, wondering how these horses can be 17+ and still able to even think about competing at the Tevis level — and some of them finishing — when my 18-year-old pony is retired from even LD competition. She was a 50-mile horse at one point, and I’m so proud of every one of her 200 miles that she earned, because it was a lot of work, and she was a very unlikely endurance horse.
But the blood, sweat, and tears that we poured into training and conditioning gave us the right to call ourselves an endurance team for the three years we competed. “Endurance” is a title that is earned through a lot of hard work and time…being able to call yourself an “endurance rider” is not something to be given out lightly…it’s a recognition of the effort that has gone into getting to that point.
At the moment, I’m not an endurance rider. I’m a competition horse-less rider who will call myself whatever kind of rider I am on any given day I can snag a horse from somebody. Right now, I’m a mostly-arena rider who “trail rides” on the streets around the barn. When I’ve been fortunate enough to have somebody loan me a horse, then I’m a distance rider again. But until I am riding 50s again, I am not an endurance rider. I’ve done endurance in the past, but I’m not now…and to call myself an endurance rider is doing a disservice to anyone who is actively riding 50s and putting in the time and effort.
I started AERC by doing LDs. I did three years of LDs before my first 50, and have continued to do them since. I still enjoy LDs, and quite like the fact I can comfortably walk in the days to follow. Three of my LD rides have been on new or unfamiliar horses, and it was reassuring to know that if things went all pear-shaped, I only had to deal with it for 25 miles.
I’ve heard the adage that, “Any horse can do a 25.” Respectfully, I disagree. I know plenty of horses that are unsuited for any kind of outside trail work, let alone 25 miles, maintaining an average speed of 5mph. That’s something I won’t even ask Mimi for anymore.
As I stated earlier, for some people that are physically unable to ride for 50 miles, or have a horse unsuited for 50 miles, or lack the time to train, whatever the reason may be, to them, an LD could be a huge personal accomplishment. And I’m not trying to devalue that or take that away from anybody.
But it comes down to this: Individual situations aside, 25s are not as much work as 50s. Period. End of story. Therefore, LDs should not be elevated to the same level as endurance. You cannot have the same amount of recognition for half the amount of work.
Let me say again: I do not have a problem with LDs. I want to see them continue. We need LDs to bring new people into the sport. Most people are intimidated by the idea of riding for 50 miles right off the bat. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important for more experienced riders to take an interest in LD riders. Make them feel welcome. Offer assistance or be a mentor.
It makes me sad when I hear LD riders say they feel “unwelcome” or “ostracized” because of the distance they’re riding. If that’s the case, then shame on you, endurance riders. I personally had a wonderful introduction to the sport. My very first LD, I was fortunate enough to be camped next to a very, very experienced endurance rider. Patty took me under her wing, answered questions that I didn’t even know I had, and made me feel welcome the entire weekend.
At another ride, an experienced endurance rider corrected my self-deprecating attitude of “only doing the 25.” Their response? “It’s still an accomplishment. That’s 25 more miles than most people ride.” (And after the last ride I did, I was glad it was “only” 25 miles! I was out of shape and not sure I could have made it 50.)
I admit I don’t go out of my way to mentor…heck, I feel like I still need a mentor some days. But I do try to be welcoming at rides. I might not have my electrolyte protocol down to a shareable science…but I can probably tell someone where the registration and check-in table is located. The only way AERC is going to continue to grow as an organization is if we make people feel welcome and bring them into the fold…and that often happens through LDs as the first stepping stone. And once people get hooked on LDs, it often opens up the possibilities of doing 50s.
I probably opened a giant can of worms with this topic, but it’s one that isn’t going away any time soon. Not that it needs to go away…a little healthy debate is what keeps thing interesting and innovative, but it also can’t be allowed to tear apart our organization.
I feel that keeping LD and endurance separate when it comes to recognition is for the best. It’s not fair for endurance riders who have put the time and energy into conditioning to have an LD horse and rider be elevated to the same level. And LD riders that want to be called “endurance” riders should have to put forth the same amount of effort and energy to earn that title.
To call one’s self an endurance rider is a title that is earned, not given. You have to work for it…and I look forward to working towards the next time I can call myself an endurance rider again.