The newest hot topic : Intro rides

I apologize in advance for any perceived “shooting off of my mouth.”  I am under-caffeinated, with a benedryl  hangover (allergies + benedryl taken at bedtime that hasn’t quite worn off).  I don’t set out to personally attack or offend anyone.

Ridecamp and the endurance blogosphere are lit up like a fireworks factory right now over the topic of “intro rides.”

To me, it seems very much like another spin on the LD vs Endurance debate…but what do I know?

My two-bit summary of what I’ve managed to piece together from all of my lurking: The debate is whether endurance rides should sanction 10-15 mph “short” rides as an intro for newbies or people really not interested in longer distance.  That seems to be the heart of it, at least.  There’s some spin-off suggestions of adopting more of a “competitive trail” model.

For what it’s worth, here’s my opinion as someone who is still very much an endurance newbie, coming out of a background of NATRC.

I like the idea of intro rides.  They’re fairly popular here in the SW.  I think at least half of the rides I’ve been to have offered some kind of intro ride.  Sometimes they’re wildly popular — the 12-mile fun ride at Man Against Horse always drew as many day riders as the 25 and 50 combined (usually 60+ the years I’ve been there).  I think the fact it was a poker ride probably helped…anything that involves gambling, alcohol, and horses is pretty much guaranteed to succeed in Arizona.

When I volunteered at the McDowell ride this past fall, an intro ride was offered.  I think we had maybe a dozen people sign up.  They got a mini ride briefing in the morning during the time period between getting the 25s/50s/75s out and when we expected the riders coming in off their first loops.  They had maps, their own ribboned loop to follow, and grease numbers to scrub off their horses butts if they wanted.  We had an experienced endurance rider leading the group, and they had the option of staying with her the whole time or riding ahead/behind at their own pace.  I think it was something like a 12-mile loop they did, and at the end, they had the option of doing the pulse-down/vetcheck routine.  And they got completion t-shirts.

I don’t know what it cost management to do this.  I don’t know if it was profitable.  It didn’t take a whole lot of extra time, because they went out on a loop that had already been marked as one of the loops for the 25, and timed in such a way they would be off of it before the 25s started on that loop.  I don’t know if it piqued any of the participants’ interest enough to move up to 25s.

As someone with an older-and-crunchy horse, I could see doing intro rides with Mimi.  I’m too scared to even ask her to do a 25 anymore…but mentally, she could benefit from still getting out and “competing” in her mind.  10-15 miles would be right up her alley.  Yes, I can do that kind of mileage in a training ride.  I’m not paying for the miles…I’m paying for the ride atmosphere you can never quite replicate at home.

However…I don’t think AERC should sanction these mini-rides.  Leave it open to ride manager discretion.  More sanctioning means more man-hours to manage tracking miles and participation.  More man-hours means more cost — more people to pay, more awards to fund.  Make money off of collecting the day fees, offer riders a hopefully welcoming environment, and maybe that’ll inspire them to move up to 25s…then 50s…and maybe someday, Tevis.

Or they’ll continue doing fun rides and management can continue to collect day rider fees off of them.

There is one area of this discussion I vehemently disagree with: The idea of creating more of a competitive trail-inspired division.  I come out of a background of 5 years of NATRC.  I moved to endurance for a reason.  For one, the people that say NATRC/CTR is growing: In what region???  I switched to endurance in part because we are losing rides here in the SW (NATRC Region 2).  We had one ride in my state.  Everything else, it meant traveling over to California.  I could drive the I-8 and I-10 routes in my sleep now.

With endurance, everything I’ve done, I’ve managed to do in-state.  200 endurance miles, another 200 miles’ worth of pulls, and 225 LD miles.  (50/50 completion rate…poster child for Endurance Rider Fail?)

And here’s the thing: I was good at NATRC.  I come out of a show ring background, both myself and my pony.  The obstacles weren’t really a big deal.  I got tired of all the rules and regulations.  Early on, I think it’s a great learning environment.  It teaches both horses and riders a lot of self-control and discipline.  It instills a good sense of timing…or at least, the way Dad and I would ride, it did.  We always tried to ride about 10 minutes ahead of midtime to accommodate any on-trail SNAFUs along the way.  And they almost always happened, so we rarely had to “hold back” in order to come in within the acceptable time parameters.

But eventually, the nit-picking really started getting to me, especially in the years that I had started doing endurance and was going back and forth between the two sports.  Maybe this was just a regional thing, but my biggest gripe was how the judges (the vet judges especially) wouldn’t judge my pony under her own merit, but instead, compare her to the Arabians.   They refused to see beyond her egg-beater trot, and we were constantly getting marked down for it, just because she didn’t have a big, floaty, Arab trot.  Endurance vets watch the horse as compared to itself.  Mimi was getting “A’s” for movement in endurance, because the vet was looking at Mimi and how she should be expected to move, not comparing her to 16hh-floaty-trot-runaway in the next vet lane over.

Yes, I know that a lot of that is because of the nature of the sports: NATRC is a subjectively judged event, designed to look for reasons to take points away, and endurance is a race, won or lost on your own merit, with vets in place more for controls than anything.  Maybe I can just chalk it up to burnout over years of being subjectively judged, and now preferring something in which I have a bit more personal control over my success or failure.  (In theory.)

And that turned into a personal rant.

But my point is, I do not want to see AERC turn into the “rules for rules’ sake” organization.  We have enough of those.  If it floats your boat, go join NATRC or any of the other CTR organizations.  If you want the “controls” of NATRC without the dog-and-pony show of the obstacles, ride the “Distance Only” division.  You’ll get the miles without quite the same level of scrutiny.  And in the 12 years I’ve been involved in the distance riding world, I’ve seen very few people that happily co-exist within both organizations.  (Speaking from a SW-area, AERC to NATRC perspective.  I know there are different CTR organizations on the East Coast that are different from NATRC, and a lot of endurance riders back there cross-train in both.  I’m just speaking from what I’ve seen…there aren’t a ton of people in my area that do both endurance and NATRC.  But that’s a whole other can of worms.)

And I think ACTHA is a whole different breed.  It’s more of a trail trials than a distance event.  Probably good introduction for a young horse.  If they’re familiar and comfortable with the trail obstacle thing.  I’ve never done an ACTHA ride, so can’t really comment, other than what I’ve learned from friends who have done one.  But I have priced one out, and as a one-time thing, it’s just as expensive as doing a one-time endurance ride.  The ride itself is cheaper, but where they get you is the mandatory membership: Even if you don’t want to be a member, if you just want to do one ride to see what it’s about, they add on the $35/year membership.  AERC’s non-member/day-rider fee is cheaper ($15?) and doesn’t obligate you into membership for a whole year.  Yes, the yearly membership for ACTHA is cheaper…but there’s something about being obligated into membership that I might not want that just doesn’t sit well with me.

Do I have a solution for this latest debate?  Not particularly.  I think optional intro rides are a good idea.  I don’t think AERC should move into sanctioning them.  You can’t be all things to all people — that just doesn’t work.

And unfortunately, a lot of this has nothing to do with whether or not a certain distance is offered or not.  A lot of it has everything to do with the one thing we can’t really control: The suckitude of the economy.  That’s why I’m not riding.  I can’t afford two horses, and my loyalty is to my pony.  Keeping her is more important than being able to compete.  I don’t have a trailer, so even if intro rides were offered, I have no way of getting to them on my own.  There are no other endurance riders around me.  The other people at the barn have no interest in being endurance riders, or even intro-ride riders.

I personally kept my membership so I can keep getting my copy of Endurance News, for one, and for two, every so often I get lucky and someone loans me a horse at a ride, so it would be nice if those miles actually counted.

But off the top of my head, I can think of several endurance friends I know that aren’t riding, mostly due to the economy.  And there’s nothing we can do about that…if the money flat out isn’t there, it doesn’t matter how many distances, divisions, or incentives you offer at a ride: It won’t make a money tree magically appear in someone’s backyard.

Okay…morning rant over.  Don’t know how many cans of worms I opened or figurative trash cans I kicked over.  I hadn’t originally intended on “going there”…and I know a lot of what I talked about is clearly just personal issues…but personal issues are what make up the base of what motivates and directs us.

And with that, I’m going to go to the barn and torture my pony with a bath.  As Funder told me, “Pictures, or it didn’t happen,” so I am planning to take before and after pics of my filthy pony.

The ‘L’ Word

No, not ‘love.’  The other one.
Loyalty.
Are horses loyal?
It took me quite a while and a lot of thinking out loud before I figured out my opinion, which is:

Yes, with some stipulations.

I don’t think it’s the same kind of loyalty as given by Man’s Best Friend.  Most dogs are unconditionally loyal and loving, or have allegiances that are easily won by the right bribe.  It’s usually food.  I think they have a pretty simple, “You did something for me, therefore I love you” outlook.
Food and bribery might work to get a horse’s attention, but I also think that it’s the food that they love, not whose hands are delivering it.
With horses, it’s something different.  It’s an allegiance won out of respect and trust.
My pony will come running to anyone that rattles the right feed can.  Doesn’t mean she likes them or will give them the time of day once the food is gone.  (And she usually doesn’t.)
But she willingly comes to me, no treats or bribes required, knowing that coming to me almost always means work.  And she does it.  Happily.
To me, that says, “Loyal.”
The things she’s done for me…I’ve asked her to do stuff I probably have no right to ask.  And she does it.  Because I believe she trusts me.  I’ve tried very hard not to ask her to do what she can’t do, or to put her in a situation that breaks that trust.
My reward is that I can trust her to do what I ask.
The end result of that sort of trusting partnership is a mutual respect.  I don’t let her get into bad situations, she does her best to take care of me.
That sounds pretty loyal.
Maybe I’m just anthropomorphizing (Yes, I just used that work before 7 o’clock in the morning.  Never mind I had to look up how to spell it, and I have a hard time actually saying it…), but loyalty is one of those qualities I hold in very high regard, so maybe this is just my wishful thinking impressing that upon my beloved animals that are such a huge part of my life.
If that’s the case, there could be far worse things in this world to be delusional about.
Or maybe, to some degree, I’m right. 
(Mimi, please keep this in mind next time we part company and you’re deciding whether or not to leave my pathetic butt on the ground and head for the hills or not.)
Your thoughts?