*cover photo courtesy of Wendy Webb photography
Well, I did have the idea to write a humorous “you might be an endurance rider if” article for you, a la Jeff Foxworthy, but the recent issue of the AERC magazine has me changing the tone.
I’ve been humming and hawing about whether or not to renew my AERC membership this year as I have been a little disappointed with what views the organization has chosen to support.
When I first discovered this sport, I was in love. It seemed like everyone was so welcoming and we could work at our own pace (which for the most part it is, in my region anyways). I couldn’t tell enough people about endurance/distance riding and how awesome it was. But the more I delve into it, the darker it seems to be.
“We want to encourage new members, but they can’t be top tenning because they must not know enough about conditioning and pacing.”
“We want new people to try out this sport but we have to tell them they aren’t tough enough or not cut out for it because they don’t want to ride 50 miles or they don’t want to ride in the rain.”
I thought this was just the opinion of a few endurance riders but the president’s letter in the recent issue of Endurance News has prompted me to write this.
I thought his letter was going to be a cute little fluff piece, much like my originally planned article was going to be. However, one line in his letter made me do a double take.
“We need to look at the negative signs that a person is not suited to the sport of endurance.”
Why? Why do we need to look at the negative? Why not look at ways of how can we make it fun for new people and make them want to try it. A two hour training ride is going to be a bit much for some people who aren’t used to it. Why not start them out smaller? Once they get their feet wet at an intro 6 mile ride, maybe they’ll be bitten by the bug and want to try an LD, and maybe a 50 miler after that?
Paul Latiolais, you claim that this is a good time to recruit new members but you are pushing many away with your attitude that seems to be shared among many members of your organization.
No, not everyone is going to enjoy distance riding. But that is the beauty of the horse world. There are so many disciplines to choose from. Believe me, I’ve tried almost all of them. But we need to be encouraging people to step out of their comfort zone and at least give it a try rather than putting them down and calling them weak.
It’s not just equestrian sports that is suffering a decline in participation. This article from CBC looks into why youth enrollment in sports is declining, but it can be applied to why sport enrollment in general has decreased.
The basic gist of the article is that there is too much focus on the elite athletes and not enough support given at the grassroots level. Sure the upper levels of any sport are exciting, but those athletes had to start somewhere. If those athletes didn’t get the support and encouragement they needed, would they have gotten to the level they’re at.
*Personal side note: as a child, I was terrified of animals to the point of being scared to go to the park to play because of squirrels. Two years ago, I completed my first FEI endurance ride. Without the right support, who knows if I would have even been in the horse industry.*
From the article, “Nearly three quarters of Canadians — 73 per cent — agree, saying that children’s sports have become too focused on winning at the exclusion of fun and fair play, according to the study.” We see this in the horse industry. Kids (and adults) are pushed to get into showing or competing, they burn out because it’s not fun, and they leave the industry entirely. Would these people still be in the industry today if they were told that they could try new things out and just have fun?
We need to be encouraging people to try out distance riding instead of pushing them away. I can only speak for my region in Ontario as that is the only location I have done distance riding, but the Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association offers 6 mile “training rides”. It is a fantastic opportunity for people to try the sport. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can do a 6 mile ride if they ride regularly. I’ve worn my GPS watch in a regular 1 hour dressage lesson and I easily go 3-4 miles in that hour. They even offered a “first ride free” program for the lower distances last year to get people to try it.
One of our ESRR members, Sarah, was at the University of Guelph Equine Symposium this past weeked, where youth engagement and retention in horse sport was discussed. We can’t wait to hear the results of this conference and will be sharing them with you guys as well.
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
I would love to hear what other regions (and other discipline associations) are doing to encourage increased participation in equine sports. Either comment here or on our social media channels with your ideas. Let’s work together to help keep this industry flourishing.