Most of the time, I like social media. (Obviously. I’m a blogger.) The vast majority of my friends are out of town or out of state, so things like Facebook allow me to stay in easy contact with them (well, so does texting), and theoretically, it is nice to be able to create “groups” for like-minded people to gather and have discussions.
Except when discussions degenerate into hysterical, name-calling, mud-wrestling, argue-fests. Which happens quite a bit on some of the endurance groups, especially this time of year, when a large part of the population is snowed or mudded in and looking to take off a piece of someone’s hide in frustration. (It’s not just ponies and dogs that get spring fever.)
It’s not a pretty picture, and doesn’t give a great impression.
So I’ll come right out and say it: If you’re considering endurance, or want to dip your toes in the water of the sport, stay away from the Facebook groups. Not only is there a ton of unnecessary drama that will leave a really bad taste in your mouth, it is often a case of “ask ten people one question and get 13 different answers.”
(I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, that maybe they don’t realize how they’re coming off sounding online, since they’re otherwise perfectly pleasant people to talk with in person. And then other people are just as belligerent and argumentative in person, so it’s not always a case of “lack of social media social graces”. )
While there is very little “there is only one way to do things and this is the correct way” in endurance, that myriad of information overload can be intimidating, overwhelming, or confusing. Also consider: we have approximately just over 5000 AERC members. There are almost 12,000 people that participate in one of the “main” Facebook groups. That’s a pretty big difference, even taking into account that some people may not have renewed a membership, or ride but don’t have a membership. So that means there are probably people on there who are also new and seeking information, as well as the handful of “internet experts” who feel obligated to dole out information despite the fact they don’t even have a ride record.
So, know thy source when gathering information, or deciding whose advice to take. There can be some really good advice to be found (which is why I still lurk on these groups), and I have an ongoing Word doc of “tidbits of advice to save” for individuals whose experience and approach I like and respect.
AERC itself offers some very good “how to get started” information, located under the “Education” tab on aerc.org, and of superb value: the Mentor program. They give email addresses and locations, so you’re able to contact those individuals with everything from an email question to a more involved “can I ride with you” type of mentoring.
Those are the official AERC mentors. You might also know someone local to you that you can approach, who takes you under their wing and introduces you to the sport. Not everyone advertises as a mentor, but most of us are willing to answer questions when someone expresses an interest in our sport.
(And I’m going to preemptively say that I’m best suited for giving advice on how to do a lot of conditioning, attend rides very infrequently, and quite a bit of “don’t do what I did.” Most days, I still feel like I need a mentor, but I’ve been fortunate enough to be friends and acquaintances with a lot of people who are way more experienced with endurance than I am, and they take my picking of their brains and information gathering with good humor. I may be experienced with horses and riding in general, but many days, I still feel like I’m splashing around in the kiddie pool when it comes to endurance.)
I say this, not to scare people off, but rather, to prevent them from being scared off — social media seems to bring out the snarkiness, especially this time of year — so please, please, if you’re an aspiring endurance rider, don’t judge an organization by its Facebook groups. Make personal contact with individuals, reach out to a mentor, come attend a ride and get a feel for it, and you’ll find that we’re, overall, a fun bunch of people who love our horses, exploring trails, and pushing ourselves to go a little bit further.
EDIT: I also want to add a belated edit that not all of the groups out there are bad. While I’m not really an active participant in many of them (I tend to lurk, and save my social interaction or very small groups, or in person), I’ve gotten some very good information and found helpful, kind people in some of the more specialized groups, such as the “Zonies” group targeted at AZ endurance riders, just as one example. So Good People are out there…even on social media. ;)