Friday, February 14, 2014

American Endurance Riders Set the Gold Standards

Friday February 14 2014
by Merri Melde

This is why I'm proud to be an endurance rider in America:

In light of the FEI endurance racing scandals over the last year, which center over the Group VII (Middle East) countries and their shocking rates of alleged rule infractions, dopings, and fractures on the flat-course 50-mile, 75-mile, and 100-mile races, endurance riders and horses from the country where the sport of endurance riding originated - here in America - shine and carry on the original tradition of the sport.

Honoring horsemanship and longevity, and embracing the motto, "To Finish is To Win," the AERC (American Endurance Ride Conference), rewards riders and horses who reach impressive milestones throughout their long-lasting careers.

Riders receive patches for their benchmarks of 250 miles, 500 miles, 750 miles, 1000 miles, and every thousand miles after that.

Limited Distance horses (35 miles and under) receive certificates and medallions every 500 miles. Endurance horses (50 to 100 miles) receive certificates and medallions every 1000 miles, a blanket at 5000 miles, and a plaque for 6000 miles and further 1000-mile increments. The Decade Team award is given to the horse and rider pairs that complete at least one 50-mile ride every year for ten years.

American endurance riding encompasses all levels of riders and competitions, from beginners to old-timers, from the Limited Distance rides to 1-day and multi-day endurance rides (of 50 miles each day), from the international rider who rides to win, to the national rider who wants to finish mid- or back-of-the-pack and rack up miles with their horse over the decades. AERC includes them all.

The longevity is the primary facet that sets American endurance riding far above the rest of the countries around the world. Without question, longevity takes skill: skill in riding, and in managing a horse day-to-day and year-to-year-to-decade.

Seven hundred seventy-five endurance riders have reached the 5000-mile threshold. Thirteen of them have over 30,000 miles (to give you a rough idea, if you rode around the United States, from Miami to New York to Seattle to Los Angeles to Miami, that would be about 8,000 miles). Trilby Pederson, who did her last ride in 2004, is at the top of the list with 60,500 miles. Behind her in second, and still riding, is Dave Rabe, with 58,192 miles. Dave's career is all the more impressive when you take into account the serious head injury he sustained just a year ago. Of the forty 20,000-mile endurance riders, five of them are international riders, showing that they, too, excel in their riding competence and in managing their horses while competing at the top levels.

While it's impressive for an endurance rider to last many decades in the saddle - even through life and family and career changes, with different horses and opportunities - it's the high career mileages of the American endurance horses that exhibit the true epitome of this American sport of endurance riding over all kinds of challenging and technical terrain, from sand to mud to rocks, through canyons and rivers, over hills and mountains.

Nine hundred sixty-five horses have reached 3000 miles (to give you perspective, New York to Seattle is about 2900 miles; at a high average of 500 miles per year, an average endurance horse would take roughly 6 years to reach 3000 miles). One hundred twenty-four horses have reached 6000 miles. Twenty horses have reached 10,000 miles. At 22,280 miles, Les Carr's Tulip is at the top, lasting a 20-year career. It's almost incomprehensible. Additionally, at least 232 horse-and-rider pairs have achieved Decade Team status.

There are horses in this sport that do win, often, and still continue on to long endurance careers. They set the standards for winning, finishing, and durability. Two of them are legends: Witezarif and RO Grand Sultan+//.

In the 1970's, the incomparable Witezarif and Donna Fitzgerald won the 100-mile Tevis Cup six times. The pair won the Virginia City 100 five times (Witezarif won it again with another rider). Witezarif's mileage record stands at 5044. He started on the endurance trails at age 5 and retired at age 20 - 16 years of endurance.

In the 1980's and 90's, Becky Hart and RO Grand Sultan +// won the Tevis Cup twice. They dominated the world: they won the World Endurance Championships three times (1988 - USA, 1990 - Sweden, 1992 - Spain). "Rio"'s
record stands at 10,005 miles, and his career spanned 17 years, from age 5 to 21.

Part of AERC's mission is "to attract and reward members who act to insure the highest priority for their horses' immediate and long-term physical and emotional health and well-being."

All of these high-mileage horses (3000 miles and up) and high-mileage riders (5000 miles and up) represent exactly the success of this mission. Their accomplishments - the quintessence of our endurance riding sport in America - exhibit the extraordinary horsemanship and teamwork needed between horse and rider to accomplish such high mileage over long-term careers.