Usually I just write a blog and post it. This one…I don’t think I’ve been through so many drafts of anything since my thesis.
At the recommendation of one of my editors, I’m going to start with this bit which I originally had at the end. Since I’m a new writer for eatsleepriderepeat.com it’s a good chance to introduce myself so you know where to throw your stones.
Who Is This Girl?
Well, my first endurance ride was the Mongol Derby in 2014 where I finished in the top 10 with no vet penalties. Followed by the inaugural running of Race the Wild Coast in 2016 (3 horses over 250 miles of South Africa) where I also finished in the top ten (ok there were only 13 of us) with no vet penalties.
I have since done a number of 50+ rides in the southwest, a 50 in Florida, a 25 in Ontario put on by OCTRA, and just completed Tevis (first 100 for both me and the horse). Aside from Tevis, they were exceptionally well run. OCTRA in particular is growing and with good reason.
Prior to endurance, I evented successfully at the Preliminary Level, I foxhunt and have whipped in, and have exercised horses for the track.
I have a lot of fun.
Original Article on My First AERC Ride (Not Published When Written)
I chose not to post the following article on my blog. I decided I didn’t want to be crucified. Little did I know until I had been to a few rides run by groups other than the one who ran my first ride and talked to some people just HOW crucified I would have been. If I had posted the following article, I would have been banned from an entire series of rides and expect to be now.
If you have done any distance riding, you have been lost or taken a wrong turn.
I rode my first sanctioned ride in early 2017 in the Pacific Southwest. I met up with 2 experienced riders who I planned to (and did) ride with. I was so excited I woke up every hour from 2 am on thinking, ‘Is it time to get up?!’
The start was very relaxed. In fact, as we were trotting down the road we had driven down coming into camp, I asked my friend where the start was thinking, ‘maybe we hack to the start as a warm up.’ Nope, we started back at camp. But what about vetting in? Oh, that car sitting there had a vet in it who watched us trot as we left camp? Hm. Ok. There were a couple pods of riders in front of us and behind us. Everyone in sight turned right.
A few miles later, we saw the vet car on a parallel road and heard honking. We all wondered what they heck they could possibly be honking about. The car cut across and came toward us on the trail. You guessed it, we missed a turn. Keep in mind it’s the dessert, there are no hidden side trails. We were assured that there were at least 3 pink ribbons and it was well marked and we had just missed it.
As we backtracked we discussed. Had we been talking? Were we paying attention? Where was the actual trail? The actual trail, it turned out, was running parallel and about ¼ mile away from the trail we were on. I was informed by my experienced friends that I would be disqualified if I cut across. I was annoyed. And frustrated. And angry because it was clearly NOT clearly marked. And I hadn’t brought my GPS. I felt my mare start to get skittish and realized my tension was impacting her. I took a few (ok a lot) of deep breaths and decided I would have a good time. It was the beginning of the day. Shit happens. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Maybe I had relied on the lead of others and needed to take more responsibility for myself.
We managed to get through the rest of the ride without to many extra miles and I completed my first AERC 50 mile ride!!
After getting the ponies all wrapped, fed, blanketed and generally pampered, we went to the ride meeting for the 25 on Sunday. Being all positive, I thought to myself, ‘Ok, I’m going to pay super close attention and be sure to watch the trail markers tomorrow.’
We set off the next day and went about 18 miles…then the discussion went something like this. Hm, there’s camp. We’ve looped back around to where we came out of camp at the beginning. There’s the paper plate that tells the 50 to go one way and the 25 to go the way we went. And an arrow on the ground for outbound riders. There are hoof prints everywhere! What do the instructions say? They say turn at unmarked road. Does that mean no ribbons? What’s our mileage? 18? No way is this our turn, the mileage doesn’t make sense. Are there any ribbons? One little one. Is that from the outbound trail? I don’t know. Does anyone have a GPS? Yes, but the batteries are dead. Well, if we go around that hill, the mileage will be about right. It must be that way.
Guys? I don’t think this is the right way. But we haven’t seen any other turn offs. And the instructions say, ‘unmarked.’ Ah shit, we’re wrong.
Everyone I’ve talked to has gotten lost or gone the wrong way for various reasons. It happens, right? It’s just part of the deal, right? I need to pay better attention, right? (That is certainly true…see Bonus Miles)
Now we come to the ticklish bits which will have long time AERC riders bristling and new riders maybe nodding.
I replied to a post on FB that began with this,
“While the carnage in endurance racing in the ME (Middle East) sickens me, and we need to stay vigilant and persistent in our disdain for it, I also believe there is much we can do here within our own AERC ranks…regarding horse welfare. As an AERC Mentor, my main objective is to not only see that new riders have a safe and fun introduction to our sport, but more importantly, that their horse does, too.”
It then goes on to imply that new endurance riders are going too fast and don’t understand horses. But it did mention wanting to help new riders have a safe and fun introduction.
I thought, hm, it would certainly be safer and more fun if the stress of a badly marked trail and being miles off course were removed. The anxiety of retracing your steps, the extra distance for the horse…it would be great if trails were marked well. I couldn’t resist posting (knowing I’d be crucified) .
“as new rider, aerc could mark trails better. a lot better. and “like last year” is not helpful. there are innumerable excuses. aerc sanctions rides. if the quality is such that new riders are traumatized and have a miserable time, that is the problem of the organization if it hopes to have healthy growth”
Yup, crucified. Here is a sampling.
“Aerc doesn’t mark them, that’s up to ride management. Getting lost happens to the best of us. I find it’s best to ride alone or not talk too much when attending a new ride lol… And then there are those who sabotage trails :(“
“Most of us just roll with the punches. Sometimes you have good luck; sometimes bad. Our ride managers do their best to provide an interesting trail and fair play for all, but they cannot control everything. Most of them welcome help before a ride and appreciate input afterwards. I don’t know if you have had one bad experience or many, but if you are truly traumatized and miserable, maybe this isn’t the sport for you. Most of us love it even though we get lost, fall off, get injured, lose shoes, pay vet bills, etc., occasionally. It’s a risky sport, but there is great joy and satisfaction when it does work out, which is most of the time.”
Wow, maybe she’s right. Maybe this isn’t the sport for me.
Or maybe this is the kind of Pink Elephant personal attack Sarah talked about.
Everyone I talk to has at least one story like mine. The people already committed to the sport just brush it off often saying something to the effect of, ‘it happens to all of us.’ All I hear is, ‘I went through it, now you will too.’ That sounds a lot like hazing to me. The senior members of a group wanting to see the new members suffer like they had to suffer? Yup, definitely a form of hazing. I have listened to and been told of ride briefing with no better instructions than, ‘just go the same way as last year.’ One lady told me that when she asked for more detail, she was told to just follow the footprints and that if she was in front, well, she probably shouldn’t be, after all, a new rider couldn’t possibly be leading. I have heard myself and from others the derogatory remarks about LD being ‘luxury distance’ and ‘not real endurance’.
So instead of quitting, I’m going to poke the bear.
I support my horse habit as an aerospace engineer and my job involves process improvement. Root cause analysis. Corrective action. My evaluations are often not appreciated…initially. I will be doing a follow on article with ideas for improvement and hope to redirect the energy from this post into a constructive conversation. (I’m an eternal optimist)
This is a risky sport with many factors outside our control. Horses lose shoes and get injured. They come in from the field the night before a ride with a puffy leg. We fall off.
But there are things we can control. The concept of reducing risk is to address the things you can control. Trail marking falls into the category of, “You can control.” At the end of the day, I’m willing to ‘roll with the punches.’ I’m going to vote by not attending any rides put on by this group. I hope that the AERC as a whole is not so defensive and stagnant as to be closed to improvement.
To the FB ‘Mentor’? What can you do to help new riders and their horses have a safe and fun experience? One thing you could do is stop hazing and be open to improvement.
To the AERC. I hope I have succeeded in communicating my desire to be constructive. I worry as a new member, I may be banned from rides if organizers don’t like criticism or feel that I’m somehow attacking them. I hope this is not the case.
To my fellow ‘Green Beans’ and all the ‘Luxury Distance’ Riders. I encourage you to speak up. You pay your AERC dues like everyone else. You may be new to endurance riding and you might be new to riding in general, but you aren’t stupid, just new. Don’t get discouraged and be selective about who you go to for advice.
Revisiting the Issue After Completing Tevis
My experience with the Pacific Southwest series as my first ride was apparently not unusual, and actually went quite well considering that I’m an ‘outsider.’ I have since listened to stories of others’ experiences. One friend from the east coast with a few thousand miles including FEI international called and was told, ‘this probably wasn’t the ride for her.’ Another crossed the finish line and there was no one there. She rode back to camp and finally found someone. At awards, she was placed incorrectly. She asked that the mistake be fixed and was told, ‘no one saw you cross the finish line’ and threatened with a non-completion. Others have been banned for criticizing. Formal protests with AERC have been rejected.
The rules don’t apply to these rides. They are ‘grandfathered in’ and one of ‘the originals’ and ‘can just tell if a horse has a problem (from inside the car as 12 horses trot down the road together).
Maybe the AERC doesn’t know these rides they sanction don’t follow the rules, I thought. The reality is ½ the board members are part of what is really looking like a cult. And a few of the ones not drinking the Kook-Aid know about it and essentially said to just sit tight, it’ll change slowly and eventually. Maybe this article will help it along.
To the Pacific Southwest Series: You are doing your sport a disservice. The horse welfare may be fine. The inner circle may know the trails. And people can learn to use a GPS. But there are rules of the AERC and you choose to publicly not follow them and still expect to be sanctioned. At the risk of spreading rumors, I have heard from enough people to report that this ride series has threatened to leave the AERC and start its own club if it isn’t allowed to do things their way; ie: not by the rules of the governing body that sanctions the rides. And you ban riders who don’t agree with your deviation to the rules. You are a bully.
AERC, by giving that sanction knowing the rules are not being followed is disgraceful and a stain on American Endurance Riding. It appears the AERC is being held hostage on the threat of a bully. Someone who will take his marbles and go home if he can’t play by his own rules. If you agree with the modified rules, change your own rules.
From a new rider. I have since attended some exceptionally well run rides. Thankfully, the 12 or so rides put on by this group are not representative of the AERC. I love this sport. I feel this story must be told so it can grow and improve.
I might not have crew, or a fancy RV, or my own horse, or 8 million AERC miles, but I have seen enough to know WE CAN DO BETTER!