My biggest wish for the coming year involves a friend.
I want to see Christine Eickleberry back on an endurance horse so she can soundly and royaly KICK MY BUTT on the LD trail . Chris Eickleberry has been my moral supporter (even when I'm a goofball...which is semi-frequently). She threw cold wet towels on my head when I was caving from heat exhaustion. She hugged me when it looked like Phebes would never make it in LD or anywhere else. She calls my horse bad names sometimes and makes me laugh (because when she says it she's right). She has shared many trail miles with me, and lovingly puts me in place when I get too full of myself. She has taught me the importance of appreciating the trails available to me, through much of her own hard work on various trail committees. I also shared the wildest ride of my life being towed in a utility wagon amidst Chris, and various lawn implements, by a four wheeler driven by Connie Caudell on a trail clean-up project just before Nationals when they were held in Indiana. Chris was laughing her crazy laugh, and I was squealing in fear and hanging on as we hopped a few hills in the Clark State Forest. Even four-wheeler rides with Chris are an adventure!
A Chris story:
The definition of a mentor: an adviser, master, guide, or preceptor. One who instructs, sets an example, and whom others model after.
Becoming a mentor requires that you have a base of knowledge and a willingness to share that knowledge with others.
Mentoring from the basis of one who instructs or one who sets an example can be achieved in person, via the internet, by phone, or other communication method. Anytime you are within hearing range or in the line of sight of a newbie to the sport you could be mentoring by example and not even know it! Someone new to the sport will watch your interactions with other riders, the ride vet, and how you treat your horse; they will notice and learn by your example. The person new to the sport will consider the competitors in their midst, so that is your chance to give the sport of endurance riding a great first impression. If you notice a new bewildered face at a ride, take a few minutes to introduce yourself, and ask the new rider if they have any questions.
Another place that a newbie will take note is on the internet distance forums. That is often the first stop for someone interested in the sport, and how they are interacted with when they get there will have a definite and lasting impression. It may be the deal breaker of deciding to step into the sport. Make your postings and interactions with aspiring distance riders as positive as possible. Round them up and bring them in. These forums are a great recruitment tool if used positively.
Mentoring can also take place post ride when awards are given out. Make mention of someone’s first completion, or their first time as they move on up to a 50, 75, or a 100. A lot of training hours go into those first rides, and a beginner often is in the Finish is to Win category for a long, long time. Make their ride memorable by saying “well done” or cheering when they get that first completion t-shirt. Make an effort to draw them into your riding network.
The pulled rider offers yet another opportunity for mentoring. You have been there; you have either experienced a pull, taken a rider option, or know someone who has. There is no lonelier place in ride camp than back at your trailer with a horse that is lame, sick, or just off that day. Take a few minutes to stop by and share your experiences, and encourage that rider to come back, and offer supportive ideas how they can avoid what may have happened to them. If it is just one of those things, share that, and maybe the new rider will be back to compete another day. Our sport needs new riders to maintain the viability of the AERC longterm.
If you are looking for a mentor there is a list on AERC’s website (aerc.org). I first contacted my best mentor, Christine Eickleberry (Midwest Region) by email with my interest in trying a Limited Distance ride. I consider it my good luck that I found her, though she barely knew what she was letting herself in for. I presented myself to her as an aspiring “LD rider.” To her that statement seemed to meet all the prerequisites of our mentor and mentee relationship. She had a head full of knowledge to share, and I had a head that was pretty much devoid of useful information, so it seemed like a perfect storm for a mentor / mentee relationship.
When I met Chris for the first time she was riding a sixteen or so year old half Arabian Appaloosa gelding, WR Cowboy (known as Jake) which had two National Championships in CTR, at least 50 Limited Distance rides, and was poised to move up to 50 mile endurance rides. That horse was an absolute joy to watch on the trail. Jake churned down the trail at an enviable forward trotting pace, only to break stride at the occasional lion, tiger, or bear, of which Indiana woodlands have none. Now if the horse was unique, Chris didn’t fit my preconceived vision of an endurance rider either. I had visions of an athletic, thin, twenty-something, riding along with ethereal grace down the trail. What I got was a woman just a little bit older than myself, (and I’m on the wrong side 50). Her personality was blunt, straightforward, and if I could peg a euphemism that was adequately descriptive, it would be “crusty old broad”, but only in the best possible way. Her helmet and gear were serviceable, functional, and fit her horse like a glove. Her attire was eclectic but comfortable. Her approach to horses and life in general was no nonsense. Don’t bite, don’t get bit. That would about sum it up; except for a kind and gracious heart that makes her a caring person, a good friend, and someone well worth knowing. She also makes me laugh, and nobody loves moving down the trail on a solid horse like she does. The thing that made me want this particular mentor/men-tee relationship was the longevity of that horse. She was doing something extraordinarily right, or her horse could not have completed so many times, and I wanted in the worst way to pattern my horse after her’s.
I don’t know what her expectation of me may have been. But what she got was someone a little over fifty with a head full of salt and pepper colored auburn hair, a little over weight, oh let’s just say it---roly-poly-dough-girl, arms that had lifted nary a bale of hay, somewhat prone to heat exhaustion, astride a pushing twenty-year old Arabian that had just been put under saddle, by me, who had the head that knew next to nothing about horses, or distance riding. Nonetheless, Chris didn’t seem to mind taking on a challenge, and we met for our first training ride.
We set out on that morning at a nice moving out walk. About the time I started thinking I just might like distance riding she kicked her horse up into a ground eating trot, and they were off! As their cloud of dust blew around a curve in the trail it occurred to me that she expected me to follow. So away we went, creating our own little cloud of dust. Since I’d never heard of a posting trot, I grabbed a hunk of mane hair, leaned back, and hung on. It was precarious, but it was also keeping me on the horse. I would catch sight of the spotted Arab’s tail somewhere ahead at various up hills, and curves in the trail. At about a half mile of sustained trotting roly-poly-dough-girl (me) is sweating, gasping like a fish, and has discovered that my bitless horse has no brakes. We carry on like this off and on until our lunch break. I unzip my little cantle pack for the flat and oozing peanut butter and jelly sandwich, banana that is now banana-sauce, and the can of soda. Visualize the excitement as the tab is lifted ...
Later on she showed me how to tail up a hill, the height at which to safely tie my horse to the trailer, the importance of stopping at every watering hole along the way, the proper placement of my saddle, and the thrill of beta versus leather tack. Later she would instruct me how to use a heart rate monitor while I rode down the trail. I recall telling her about my solo conditioning rides and how Puddin’ did a 360 degree spin that would have even impressed her horse, when a turkey came flapping out of the brush and how her take on what should be done with flapping turkeys and white tail deer made me laugh.
My mentor was also on hand for my first limited distance ride. It was called The Cave Country Canter held at the O’Bannon State Park, in Indiana. This ride covered 30 miles of rocky, and rolling hill terrain, on the hottest, driest, weekend one could imagine during the month of September. Temperatures this time of year are normally very mild, but this time it was 90 degrees and so dry you couldn’t work up a good spit. I had reserved a camping spot that turned out to be a narrow spot between two trees that dropped off into a deep creek bed. First on my agenda was to get that campsite changed as there was no possible way that I’d be backing a gooseneck between those trees with out clearing the spot with a chainsaw first. The sites near where the ride activity was being held were already reserved so I parked and set up camp out on the back forty in a field with the blazing sun and 90 degree temperatures. After sweating out most of my body fluids I had the electric pen set up. The ground was baked so hard that the portable pen stakes had to be hammered into the ground, breaking a few in the process. That done, I needed to see that my horse had water and hay. My husband had tied the water tank into the front of the truck bed to keep it from sliding around during my drive which made it very difficult to get to. I’d never used the thing prior to this ride, but how hard could it be? I strung the hose attached to the water tank to the rubber water tub I had set up in the electric pen, making sure that my hose was running downhill from the tank to the tub. Gravity makes water flow, right? I stared at the hose with irritation as the water tub remained magically dry. Hmmm….not enough gravity. So once again I crawl up under the gooseneck, and into the bed of the truck with a large rock to tilt the water tank and get water flowing. A tank of water is heavy. Three versions of this process follow with nary a drop of water in the tub. So my next line of thought was that I should try to siphon the water by sucking on the water hose. I’d seen this done with gas tanks, and felt that it was a viable solution to my water flow problem. All this activity did was make me hyper ventilate and got me somewhat dizzy. Back into the truck bed I go to gaze at all that fresh clean water from home. Imagine my elation (and mortification) to find that there was an on and off lever to the water tank! Problem solved.
With camp set up I was off in search of my mentor. I found her camped in the shade (I was in the full blaring sun) , sitting under an awning (I was not) enjoying a cool drink (I wasn't) while her horse happily munched away on grass hay. She briefed me on getting signed in, and when to present to the pre-ride meeting. I hiked the quarter mile back to campsite, downed another bottle of Gator Aid and crashed on my cot, in my 130 degree horse trailer, in the blazing sun. I was taking in fluid and sweating it out as fast as I could take it in. Then I got neighbors.
A very nice looking truck pulling a high end Sundowner backs in beside my camp site. They unload about four horses and six cases of beer. They weren’t coming for the ride, just coming to ride the trails of O’Bannon. I stare at the beer supply with trepidation as my new neighbors turn on their stereo and the bass begins to vibrate through my steel trailer. My horse turns to stare at the spectacle with wide eyes. She will stay rooted to this spot for the next ten hours, staring in amazement as the party goes on, and on, and on until about 2 a.m. when my neighbors very clearly lose consciousness from the intake of a whole lot of beer. I fall into a restless sleep, as I need to be up and moving at 5 a.m. and fear that I’ll over sleep and miss the ride start. I sleep one full hour awakened by the alarm clock. I make sure Puddin’ is fed, eat some cereal, fix myself a strong cup of coffee and set about getting myself and my horse ready for my very first 30 mile LD.
For the most part, I ride my horses barefoot. But on this particular ride I was strongly encouraged to use boots, so I put Epics on Puddin's fronts. Somewhere near the end of the first fifteen mile loop my horse catches her hind hoof on the back of the front Epic and we nearly go down. At the time I thought she had stumbled, and did not realize she was bootless until we are farther down the trail. Chris loans me her Easy boot which does not have a gaiter which I manage to have come off at least four more times before I’ve managed to lose her's as well. We come in to the halfway and I decide to abandon my hoof boots which have caused me untold grief through out the day. I had pre-rode my boots but not on that technical terrain. I’m encouraged to pull or find some boots somewhere to put back on the fronts. My husband who manages her hoof care, says slow down and ride on. We will go out bare to finish the final fifteen mile loop of trail. My mentor’s horse has stepped into a dip in the trail and shows a mild lameness issue at the halfway trot out. Me and Puddin’ will head out with another rider to slowly finish the course. Chris is waiting when we come in, and I’m about whipped from lack of sleep and the heat. She assists me to get my horse cooled down to present to the vet for our final check. We do complete that first ride sound in eleventh place. I can’t say how proud I was of my Puddin’ (Aidrian) for that completion. It would be her first and her last, as Recurrent Equine Uveitis would steal her sight. By the next season she was on a banned substance to keep her comfortable and I would begin my journey with a new young horse, Lil Bit of Magic. This would mean putting another horse under saddle, onto trail, and beginning the long slow distance all over again. My mentor likewise would soon end her long ride history on WR Cowboy (Jake) also due to the problem of Recurrent Equine Uveitis, and she would start a new young gaited horse into the sport of Limited Distance. A friendship was formed through our mentor / mentee relationship and we began training our young horses slowly over the course of that winter. Chris has schooled me every step of the way on my very long journey into distance riding. Her excitement for the sport has kept me motivated through some very tough times, including riding a hot green horse through the winter of 2008, and Lil Bit of Magic’s debut LD ride at The Chicken Chase 2009. We completed that ride, and even though we prepared for it, post ride my horse encountered some difficulties. I still had (and have) so much to learn, but when I have a question my mentor is a phone call or an email away with encouragement, and suggestions. Soon winter will be over and we will start the slow conditioning again.
Mentoring took on new dimensions as Chris introduced me to other riders, and they all at various times have offered their encouragement, wisdom, and most of all a little of their time to keep my dream alive through my various “newbie” mishaps and blunders. If you have never considered mentoring, look at it through fresh eyes. Simply put, mentoring is sharing what you know and love best to make the process easier for someone else. If you are a new rider just starting out, visit the AERC.org website, and look for a mentor there. If you would like to be a mentor, contact AERC and add you name to the mentor’s list. If you are seeking a mentor, check their ride history on the AERC website, and choose someone with a long ride history with goals that match your vision of what distance riding is. Choose wisely. If I had kept my focus on my mentor and not sought so many sources of advice in hindsight I would have saved myself a bucketload of grief. If you get a really good resource in a mentor listen.
Chris is still my most trusted go to person three years and counting. Get well Chris, we miss you on the trail, and at ride camp. Nothing is quite the same without you there. I miss you every single time. Thank you Chris Eickleberry, distance rider, mentor, and friend. ~Endurance Granny