I had a surprise telephone call from a very nice lady from out West yesterday evening. She is an endurance/and LD rider since back in the eighties. She actually called me on another topic (thank you for the kind words), and the conversation veered off to her consideration of quitting the sport. She's certainly not a slacker, has made several Tevis attempts, and I hope she tries again and makes it! But there is certainly room to learn something from those who are ready to throw in the towel. I was in that place a couple years ago. Totally disenchanted with the sport. So today I'd like to talk about the issues that frustrate new riders, or not so new riders, and riders of a certain temperament.
FINDING YOU PLACE
Gregarious and highly social personalities will have a whole lot easier time fitting in at their first (second, third, or fourth, etc) endurance ride than will the social introvert. This is a horrible struggle for me in that as much as I desire to "fit in" my deep seated aversion to close social contacts creates a conflict. I like people, I like contact with people, I just don't do it well. Couple that with a sport that waves the welcome flag, presents itself as a safe harbor for newbies, sets up an expectation that you will somehow be embraced into a large welcoming happy family. Now don't get me wrong, these relationships certainly exist within the sport, but likely have been built over many years of contact and interaction. There are indeed many very kind and welcoming people in the sport and you may or may not find them at your ride venue. New riders can really be off-put when showing up with those kind of warm fuzzy expectations. We either need to make a big effort to supply that early connection or expect many new faces to quickly burn out with a sense of dissatisfaction. On the other hand, at some point I had to face up to the fact that my own introverted-ness acts as a people repellent. I'm quiet, I analyze things, have little interest in "group" activities and in fact find most groups over three as rather off putting. It took me a full year of I'm not going to do this anymore to own up to the fact that I make it hard for people to get close. So if you are feeling isolated in the group, ask yourself...who is isolating you? My own personal remedy for this has been to force myself to interact with a few people each ride. Many of the rides I've gone to there have been a couple of people who stop by regularly and say hey! Stacie Johnson, and Donna Beal, I appreciate you both for that.
NOT FINDING A RIDE PARTNER
Some of us like to ride solo, and prefer to ride solo. But many feel unsafe and would sensibly prefer not to ride solo. Wouldn't it be nice if we could find a way to network those people at rides so they can find each other? I think it would inspire those types of riders to keep at it, and also find new friends within the sport as a bonus. I have mixed feelings about riding with someone. On a competition for completion I like having a ride along. The horses can take shifts pulling each other along, and feel less inclined to follow the herd. In the case of a problem one of you can go for help, or help directly. On conditioning rides I mostly like to keep to myself as I follow a program, and someone else is not going to be interested in my long ride, or 30 minutes of uphill sprinting...they'd likely want to tear their hair out. But if you want to find someone to ride with, it would be nice if you could. Maybe have a sign-up sheet when you check in for the ride where you can put your name, expected pace, and distance down if you'd like a ride buddy next morning.
FRUSTRATIONS WITH GETTING LOST
It is simply imperative that maps be complete, accurate, and meaningful. People riding the trail may have never seen it, so you can't leave things open to conjecture. NORTH, EAST, SOUTH, WEST on the margins of every map. All roads within the route labeled by road number, water crossings marked on map, turns flagged, and confidence ribbons along the way, chalk lines with arrows when roads become part of the trail. Nobody wants to haul 300 miles, pay their ride entry fee, and not be able to find their way around the course. A few episodes of "LOST" can make the game no longer any fun.
If there is a problem for the part-time rider this is it. At some point you weigh the cost vs. the benefit. Is it worth it to spend 8-12 weeks conditioning, a few hundred dollars for fuel, and a hundred dollars to enter a ride for a completion? This in my mind is the intrinsic problem facing the sport. Those in the full-time rider category have the financial means to somehow pursue their goals and count it as worth it. They are in the hunt for AERC awards, or club awards, and likely to hang with it. There is some positive affirmation along the way for that set of folks. Then there are the rest of us who budget for a couple or if we are lucky, a few rides a year. We are going to slowly earn a mileage patch if we hang with it. The most we can hope to attain is a Decade Team award if you can do a 50 each year for 10 years with the same horse. If you are a part-time LD rider, you can't even shoot for that! So this whole crowd, how ever many there are of us that pull our bumper pulls, or stock trailers with our old beat-up pickup, pay our dues like the rest. We just have to find our benefit in the ride itself, or our own set of personal goals (which is what has kept me plugging slowly along). A full season of rides, the cost of a horse and upkeep, truck and horse trailer can be pretty staggering. To be in the hunt for a regional award the ride entries alone can go easily well above $2000-3000 plus in a given year, and fuel will set you back even more than that. It is after all just a game at the end of the day, so folks with more marginal budgets may throw in the towel if they don't have reachable goals within their own budget. This is why I believe it is important to have access to those regional clubs that offer their own incentives for riding, and Green Bean organizations to promote the efforts of those just breaking in to the sport. I am one of those people who is not going to pay a ride entry unless I have a goal pushing behind it. I need purpose to spend my money.
US OR THEM SYNDROME
That whole LD or Endurance and one being better than the other drama is just plain silly. It gets people worked up. I maintain that no, they are not the same, at all. But it doesn't make one pursuit more worthy than the other. Face it, some horses have the aptitude for 50 miles, and some don't. Some riders have the physical ability to hang with it 50 miles, and some don't. But there is room in the sport for everyone.
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO HAPPINESS
Endurance riding above all needs to be a fun experience. That is what you are paying for. You want to go to a ride venue with smiling faces, ride with the sun, or the wind, or the rain in your face with the best darned horse on the planet (in your eyes anyway), and at the end of the day come away feeling that you did something extraordinary. That is the whole ball of wax right there for me people. At the end of the day did you feel happy? Did the experience give you that? That is what will put my check in the mail for membership again this year. Because at the end of the day, I still love saddling up The Spotted Wonder and seeing if we can whip the trail on a given day.
Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance
Favorite Links for training, gear, and memberships!
- National Association of Competitive Mounted Orienteering
- HOW TO CMO
- What is CMO?
- Old Dominion Endurance Rides
- Renegade Hoof Boots
- Riding vs. Racing a discussion with the Duck.
- Trumbull Mountain's INTRO TO ENDURANCE RIDING
- Principles of Conditioning
- Conditioning the endurance horse by SERA
- Short Article: Feeding & Training the Endurance Horse
- Feeding the Endurance Horse, Swedish Author
- Preventing Dehydration In the Endurance Horse, Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association
- Jim Holland's fantastic training links here!
- South Eastern Distance Rider's Association