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Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

October 31, 2011

A Look at Statistical Starts in the MW and the Growth of LD

Statistics are interesting.  You can discern a lot from looking at numbers.

SourceAERC Annual Statistics  can be found at this link.

Even though early morning coffee and posting don't always measure up to awe-inspiring thought...I did find this of interest.  The growth of LD in ride starts from 1996 through the present in relation to 50 mile ride starts here in the Midwest.

The first number will be LD starts the second number will be 50 mile starts in the given year.  Example: 101/562

1996      265/978    (Note that 50 E's exceed LD until 2001)
1997      337/924
1998      404/740
1999      475/846
2000      820/896
2001      786/767  (note that here LD starts are exceeding 50E starts)
2002     962/753   (LD starts are well  surpassing 50E starts)
2003     1202/949  (LD continues bringing in more ride $ than 50 mile starts)
2004     1191/921
2005     1360/1014
2006     1408/693      (picture becoming clear?)
2007     1273/854
2008      1067/771
2009     1340/691
2010     1214/608
2011     996/547   Economic slump trends us back to 2002.  However LD's still grossly exceed 50 E in MW.

Limited Distance took hold and took hold for a reason.  Limited Distance became a sport in its own right, and the financial bread and butter to keep the longer rides financially feasible.  If LD is simply a training ground for Endurance wouldn't the numbers have remained relatively stable, or flowed and ebbed as horses came through LD and went on to longer distances?  It really can't be said that LD is for bringing horses into the longer distances.  It does, but there is also a core group who likes LD for just what it is thank you; a shorter venue, and an enjoyable trail, or a horse race between friends (may not be the intention but even I can see that having attended a few rides).

Now there are some that do not like LD and consider it the red-headed step-child in the sport.  Because after all LD isn't Endurance.  Here is where I want to vigorously wave my little flag and shout yes, yes, yes!  It isn't and that is exactly why so many are doing it.  From a personal perspective I can only speak relative to a few LD completions and cannot speak to the longer distance at all.  But I love the LD sport.  I feel that it is a sport in its own right, is more open to the various breeds being successful, and I don't think I'm totally out on a lonely limb with this thought.  People ride distance for different reasons and the variations of why one does Limited Distance are likely long, but here are "my" reasons for liking the 25-35 mile venue.

  • Somewhat lower risk to the horse  (in my thinking) and I do not like risk all that much.
  • A little easier from a time perspective to prepare for (may not be true, but seems so).
  • A little easier by half from a time perspective to participate in.
  • Previously I was getting more fun for the $ but that is likely changing in the future.
  • I felt inspired to ride multi-day because I felt it was not too much for me or the horse.
  • You can race if you want to.
  • You can accrue mileage awards.
  • You are finished by early afternoon, and can relax if you want to until the awards are given.
Nobody can deny the growth of the sport as it relates to Limited Distance.  The people who dislike Limited Distance perplex me and I feel they are in the minority.  In fact I've always looked at LD and Endurance as two different sports riding under a common umbrella (AERC).  I'd think that riding a doubly longer distance would surely require a modified  and more conservative riding strategy compared to LD.  I'm not even sure at this point if LD "is" a good training ground if your long-range goal is Endurance, especially true endurance to the tune of 100 miles. I just don't I won't pretend I do!

What I see looking at those declining ride starts in our region (probably many other regions as well but I didn't compare) is that LD is surviving the economic factors, is still exceeding 50 E starts, BUT HAD THE BIGGER DECLINE in 2011 as compared to 50 E.  What is dissuading those LD riders to attend rides aside from the economic turn? If LD has been floating have the % of the ride boat for the past ten years or so...that is HUGE.  This amounts to about $16, 350 in lost revenue for MW ride managers (not including the decline in actual 50 E starts).   That is a chunk of money.

No wonder there is talk to allow the miles to be combined to sort of symbolically embrace the LD portion of riders.  But I can't say that that would sway me one way or another nor would it make me feel legitimized as an "endurance rider."  I still am not.  I just see the whole picture differently.  People hate change and I can see the E rider's stance to keep the status quo.  Why should LD infringe itself upon E riding.  Why can't LD stand on it's own?  Why can't LD riders make a stand for changes within their own venue?  If you want to play by E rules, by all means ride endurance and call yourself an E rider.  But if you love LD, ride it! Enjoy it!  Plaster a big old smile across your face.  I know that one of my rides meant more to me as a personal accomplishment than almost anything I've EVER done.  So I can see how Endurance riders want to "hold on" to the purity of their sport.  It is a step up, and a different level altogether, and each mileage pinnacle reached successfully is too.  If ever I get to try the E venue with Journey my personal goals will not be related to placements, BC's, or total mileage.  The goal will be personal to me, and my value as a horsewoman, to my own growth.  But we are not ready.  I have no crystal ball...we may never step out of the immediate goal which is a completion.

If I could wave a magic wand over the sport and make the changes that seem sensible to me I would do this:
(Please before you hurl a rock at my head I'm not proposing anybody DO ANYTHING, just random perhaps kind of thoughts of what seems like could possibly make LD even more attractive to riders than it already is).

Create two classes of competition within LD (I said no rocks).  If you are an open rider O precedes your ride #  If you are a pleasure rider P precedes your ride number.  CTR (maybe NATRC?) did it and I believe it was a successful program.

* Pleasure  for those who solely wish to compete for year end mileage awards without accruing points or placement.  A pleasure class would start last, allowing the LD ride miles to be ridden at a relaxed pace.  Nice training ground for upcoming E horses too.  These teams would receive completion awards and one horse from the group would get a BC/ Pleasure.  The horses would leave at a staggered start (remember the adage "ride your own ride"?) of about 5 minutes apart.
*Open for those who wish to race and accrue points.  Your open riders would leave camp a good fifteen minutes before Pleasure .  Open riders would compete for placements, BC/Open and competitive year end awards.
(I said no rocks, and casting forth horse turds and cast off tack items is forbidden as well).

It just makes perfect sense to me that  LD does what LD does best (a shorter venue), and rewards riders for the type of riding that suits them/their horse.   It is pretty well being done already, it is just those mileage riders don't get recognition at rides, and that BC out of the group would surely mean something to those mileage riders, as these are the folks putting forth an extra effort at keeping their horse safe, sane, and sound to ride another day.

Having said all that (for what it's worth) LD is extremely important to the AERC (and viability of rides held in general).  What ride manager is going to keep hosting a ride that is not financially returning that effort.  Outside of food and completion t-shirts, I'd think it would cost as much to put on a ride for 10 as it was for 50 starters? With the statistical drop in LD starts, a little outside the box thinking may be in order to retain those folks that are drifting most likely to such lower cost venues as CTC's, ACTHA, STC's . Unless the sport wishes to remain purest and just be what it is, numbers  and revenue be damned.  Separating the lambs from the goats could breath a little excitement into a sport that is already "doing" what I'm proposing anyway.  It would just legitimize the two groups within LD itself, leaving Endurance to be what it is...ENDURANCE.

Dare I also propose....Mileage maker Pleasure class-RIDES held independently for LD?  Without coexistence of the longer ride venues?    Watch the $ roll in, and LD numbers surge.  Show up at daylight, sign in, ride within the max time allowed, add some miles to your ride coffer.  Go home.  No racing at Mileage maker rides.  Possibly less veterinary oversight necessary as well (note I said "less" not "none") since the riders are not racing for anything, just accruing year end mileage for year end awards.  Make these "bare bones" rides.

Or:  LD awards could instead be based on your weight division.  That would "cost" nothing much, but would open up regional excitement for accrued rides.  So instead of a handful of regional mileage awards given out, there would be four handfuls and four competitive groups (like Endurance).   Featherweight, lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight.  We declare a weight division for the year anyway, yes? There can be no question that the wear and tear on a horse carrying 280 lbs is more significant than the wear and tear of carrying a 100 lbs. over sustained and repetitive mileage.  Would it really be a ride manager's nightmare? Or would the AERC sort out weight division numbers and statistics?

But then...I like LD just as it is too.  My thoughts are only "what if's" that could prove to be a stimulus for this wonderful sport. How do you draw in and retain riders?  How can you take a good thing and perhaps make it even a better thing?  How do you draw in more at a time when everyone is spending less?  By the numbers?  Increase the number in the pool, reduce entry fees enough to make it attractive, let the increased numbers generate the revenue. By the ride fees? increasing membership costs, and ride entry fees?  Or by just changing with the times?

Disclaimer: "I have not saved the world, I am not entirely coherent, even though I'm on my third cup of coffee" ~ E.G.


  1. In your statistics comparing the 2 (which are very interesting) you are missing one critical "count". You should include the #entries of 25-mile competitive rides at the same venue. I ride UMECRA here in the midwest, and the explosive increase in 25-mile LD riders can be compared to the same dramatic decline in 25-mile competitive riders. It used to be that 25-mile comp had huge numbers, now it is common to have 3 or 4, sometimes even 1 competitor per weight division. Everyone has moved to LD, so although it brings in a small increase in the fee it is not necessarily bringing in new riders.

    When my new horse was ready to move from the 15-mile test rides to 25 miles, my friends talked me into doing LD instead of competitive because it was "so much easier". So I did, and they were right! I hate to leave competitive behind, it's my roots since 1986, but damn that 25 LD seemed so much easier...

  2. Lots of good thoughts here. I like looking at numbers this way, too. I would think a big difference between LD an E is time involved. I have two horses that would be great prospects for E, but there is no way I could possibly put in the TIME involved in the necessary training, nor am I willing to let someone else use my horses for such. I have given lots of thought to possibly doing LD as just good training for horses. I also think more people are becoming aware of how MUCH movement and exercise horses really need, and maybe that's why some of the LD numbers are up. Just my morning thoughts . . .

  3. Though I have no #'s or access to them to support it, it is my understanding that during the 70's and 80's there was a strong and viable CTR following in the midwest. When LD came onto the scene CTR numbers dropped dramatically, now I only find a few CTR's within regional clubs OAATS for instance, and nothing I'm aware of being held in conjunction with other rides since the now defunct Salamonie Sizzler offered novice rides a few years back.

    I guess it is true that LD is easier on many levels than CTR. It is also more predictable...and some part of me loves a crap shoot, and that other little part of me really doesn't! *LOL*

    The mini-explosion and growth of ACTHA is probably related to just that same issue. You can compete your horse over a shortened course, and try your horse at skills at the same time. You can get it done in a few hours and come home. How could "our" sport attract that crowd? Could the AERC become an umbrella organization to support ALL form of distance riding? Should it? Have they changed too much already? Could they broaden, and specialize with multi-venues offered? Would one detract from another? All difficult questions for the future.