I discovered the sport of Endurance back in the mid-eighties. I don’t recall how or when I obtained that long kept and coveted issue of the Endurance News, which was printed on rough paper, strictly in black & white. I remember well the concept of “To Finish is to Win.” Not so much the racing aspect. My scope of the sport is very limited with exposure to a narrow experience of rides here in the Midwest. But it seems that all the accolades for the distance sports involves less the distance completions than the winning (racing). The points system rewards the fastest horses, the BC system is judged out of a pool of the top-ten ( racing). The dedicated turtles have to be riding for their own reasons. Anyone not competing for time / placement is actually riding the core value of the sport. I wonder about the demographic of the two groups mileage vs. point chasers. Of the mileage groups what is their motivating factor for participation in the sport? The trail? We can do that almost any day on our own. The camaraderie of meeting up with like-minded individuals? Maybe. To ride a little farther with the safety net of a veterinarian on board?
Long time riders in the distance sports are very protective of the founding AERC core values. On many levels I totally get that. I personally would not want to see the sport diluted to become something else. Otherwise, what am I reaching for? But one also needs to think of how to draw in new blood to a sport that is dominated by an older demographic. There are two niches already to serve the needs of folks starting out in the sport. Racing & Mileage. Intro rides are already allowed under the AERC rules. New members have a quick blurb in the EN’s when they join. Awards are given out the wazoo for this and that at the National Level. So what intrinsically motivates a person to begin to participate in the distance sports? Let me sum it up in one easy word…CHALLENGE. If you are not in for a personal challenge the sport probably isn’t for you. Fun is good, but I can have fun on my horse doing any number of things. Frankly my horse can be fun just looking at her silly face. Probably the most fun I have is riding with friends which is a non-AERC activity. On the distance trail however I have zero interest in riding with friends. My focus is on completing this trail, on this day, on my horse, and improving our personal best. It is not always fun, but so far the ride has always been challenging for a multitude of reasons. But I counter that with there has to be different reasons that draw each of us to the sport. Maybe your reason is to prove your breed of horse CAN DO IT, because you have developed the horsemanship skills to get the horse through what many would say is impossible. Do you go because you like to camp, ride, and tip back a beer at the end of the day? Are you doing it because your horse is tough enough to blow away the competition, over, and over, and over? The AERC is an eclectic group. To bring new blood into the sport will require looking at all of these motivators and possibly redefining the reward process for each with more of a balance between riding for mileage pinnacles and speed. Perhaps a look at what some of the regional clubs are finding is successful may work on the broader scale. Maybe those regional groups are the best asset to actually give newbies that sense of belonging. They seem to have more latitude to interact on a personal scale. I don’t think the organization on the larger scale has the means to do that. When I started I looked with happy anticipation to joining the distance club in Indiana, which folded right after I joined the AERC. So Journey and I? I guess we are going to be whistling our tune solo. We will have to define our own goals and compete against the trail itself but isn’t that the real core of riding distance anyway?