Saturday, November 19, 2011

Endurance Riding: Mileage! Points! Awards! Oh My!

Friday November 18 2011

I recently discovered that it's official: JOSE AND I WON A 2nd PLACE AERC AWARD!!!!!!!!!!!

This momentous occasion coincides nicely with all the talk lately on the AERC forum and Ridecamp on about mileage and the sport of Endurance riding, and what exactly is "Endurance," and the recognition and awards associated with the sport.

There have been lively discussions on what actually defines the sport of Endurance. The AERC bylaws in 1974 said "The term endurance riding is defined as an athletic event in which the same horse and rider cover a measured course (usually 50 to 100 miles)..." Rides under 50 miles (i.e., 25 to 35 miles) are called "LD" or "Limited Distance." That brought about some elitism, or perceived elitism by some riders, though we all know that some days, just saddling up your horse and riding down the block and back on a blustery day on a goosey horse constitutes the most bravest form of endurance there is. The entire membership does agree that we are all slightly crazy to do what we do, whatever the distance we ride.

There was a recent proposal to combine LD and Endurance miles (in addition to keeping them separate), for "career mileage, only." According to a post by an AERC Director, "It
would, on a few rare occasions, allow an equine that is very close to reaching its 5,000 mile plateau (and the accompanying 5,000 mile blanket) the opportunity to use any LD Miles it had to count towards the total gross mileage. It has been suggested that, if AERC did combine mileage, the blankets or other similar recognition could include verbiage on any award to be one of the following, "5000 Endurance Miles" or "5000 Combined Miles"."

That proposal created A LOT of opinionated discussions, and brought up the subject of awards. A quick look at a list of AERC annual awards includes:
• Career Endurance and Limited Distance mileage awards for horse and rider;
• 17 National Awards for riders, horses, or both;
• A myriad of Regional Awards (for each of 9 Regions) for horses and riders and both - and in each, for each of 4 Senior weight divisions and a Junior division.

These can be in the form of certificates, plaques, patches, jackets or vests, horse blankets.

Some people prefer to keep the sport of endurance along the lines of its original form and purpose; some people prefer to reach out to a broader spectrum and attract new members by combining mileage and adding extra awards. Some people feel we already have way too many awards handed out. Some people think we don't have enough, and the more awards the merrier.

I say: Endurance riding should be fun. It should be a challenge for you and your horse, one you can accomplish successfully and safely while HAVING FUN. Here in the US (and Canada), Endurance IS fun. It is a family sport. It is a sport where you can choose a myriad of goals for yourself and your horse. You can ride 50 miles by yourself. You can ride 25 miles with a big group. You can ride 100 miles with your 5-year-old kid. You can ride with a Raven. You can ride 25 mile rides forever and never choose to ride further. You can ride only 100 mile rides. You can ride multi-day rides. You can ride just to see some spectacular country. You can ride to win rides in your region. You can ride just to finish and to accumulate miles for yourself or your horse. You can try to chip away at Dave Rabe's 53,000 miles (good luck with that!). You can ride almost 4000 miles in one season. You can ride one 25-mile ride a year or one every 10 years. We'll still say Hi and We're Glad To See You Again when you come back. You can aim to win the Tevis Cup and Haggin Cup in the same year. You can aim to make the US Team and represent your country in the World Equestrian Games. You can participate in endurance here however you want.

In most countries of the world (excepting Australia and Canada), you do not have those choices. In most countries of the world, endurance is not something one would call "fun." It is a business, and your goal must be to win. You don't get 12 hours to complete a 50 mile ride and you don't get 24 hours to complete a 100 mile ride. You can count the number of multi-day rides in all the other countries combined on your toes. You don't have horses who regularly go 10,000 miles, or 5000 miles, or even 3000 miles. They are lucky to go 3 years, and then it's always fast.

In the US we don't care what you wear or if your horse is brushed or if you wear a 3/4 inch heel on your polished boot, or if you have a collared shirt on (unless you choose that option, which is a choice you have here!). When it comes down to it, we really don't care what distance you prefer to ride, or if you don't move up to longer distances, and we don't really care how many miles you have. As long as you just ride. And if you can't ride any more, you're still an Endurance rider. Endurance as a whole is not as snooty and pretentious as other horse sports, mostly because we aren't all trying to win and we have so many different goals we can aim to accomplish. It's really about the horse, and horsemanship, and it's about FUN. And if it's not about fun for you, that's also your choice, here in the US. I say, the more people who can enjoy and appreciate this sport and their horses at all levels and distances, the merrier.

And in the US, we give awards for a lot of things. And this year, for the first time ever in 12 years of riding endurance, I'M GETTING ONE OF THOSE!

But to be more concise: Jose and I finished second in the point standings (I don't even know what points are! And I don't care!) in our weight division (out of 4 weight divisions) in our Northwest division (out of 642 members), out of 9 US divisions and 5328 total AERC members, out of 312,631,171 human beings in the US of A. Not really a big deal if you look at it that way.

To those people who regularly get awards, another vest might not mean that much. But to me - someone who rarely (more like never) is in the running for an award - it will always remind me of 720 miles on my best pal Jose, many hoofprints over fabulous country; hot days, cold days, sun, rain, wind, thunderstorms; laughs and tears; great friends; windburn, sunburn, tiredness, tirelessness; a wild joyous sense of good fortune and delirious freedom and a few wild gallops thrown in for fun. (Did I mention Endurance was fun?)

Sure, I could have gone and gotten my own vest and had my name and Jose's name embroidered on it. But really, that's not the same thing as my AERC endurance organization awarding me this vest with mine and Jose's name on it.

Would I still ride endurance if AERC did away with all the awards and recognition? Sure I would. In the Grand Picture of the World, my vest means nothing to anybody but me and Jose. I once would have said that all those Awards aren't that important - who's going to remember or care next year (or tomorrow), or know what it means, that Jose and I finished second Featherweight in the Northwest Region of the AERC in 2010 - but now that *I'M* getting an award, all I have to say is, once I get my vest, it will be on my back, around Jose's neck, in your face - I won't be taking it off!

[slide show here]


Carla said...

Merri, my first jacket said "7th LW" and I was so proud of that jacket. Still have it, still wear it. It inspired me to keep going and go farther. It's addicting, isn't it! Congratulations to you and Jose, and keep having FUN!

Horseshooter said...

Congrats, Merri, in such an active region that is quite an achievement! Thanks for expressing the sentiment many of us share, it's the fun and "big tent" scenario we like.

kluge said...

merri you are an amazing person...among your zillions of have such a great heart AND the ability to put it on paper....for everyone to see........SIMPLY AMAZING!!!!!! are wonderful!!!!...xo

Squishy said...

That was a wonderful commentary on this subject and frankly I missed most of it on Ridecamp, probably because I'm under the 600 mile mark with my "record". You said it brilliantly! Endurance is an incredible sport and you covered all scenarios which is what makes it anybody's sport! I also didn't even have a clue on the other countries ~ riding in ours makes it even more special!! Thank you!!! It makes me want to go saddle up right now in the rain......not....
Diana & Ali'i