Wednesday, June 19, 2019

MERGA: Make Endurance Riding Great Again

by Merri Melde
June 19 2019

I love the stories of the Good Ol' Days of endurance riding. The days when AERC was new, people were younger, tougher, drove a decrepit 2-horse rig and threw their tack in the back of their beat up pickup and slept on the ground (or didn't sleep at all) and wore jeans and no helmets. (Lori Oleson wrote a good book, if you haven't read it: Endurance... Years Gone By)

It's time to face the fact that those Good Ol' Days are gone. I so wish I were wrong about this, but we are not going to see another Smokey Killen and Bandit, nor Donna Fitzgerald and Witezarif, nor Becky Hart and Rio. We won't see the fierce and fabled yearly mileage competition between Les Carr and Trilby Pederson.

There is not a groundswell of tough, young, obsessed riders coming up to replace us. Nobody drives a beat up rig and sleeps on the ground and wears jeans and a Western saddle anymore. Nobody's going to win Tevis and Virginia City 100 twelve times. Nobody's going to be king of the 5-day 255-mile endurance rides, because the stats say there aren't any, because nobody wants to ride them, or nobody has the horses to ride them, and ride managers don't have the entries to support them, because as an organization, the stats say we're all getting collectively old, and our horses are getting old and it's too hard or far to ride.

As it is now, if it were a for-profit business, AERC would fail. AERC as an organization is, to many, giving off the appearance of being exclusionary, blinkered and anti-change. For a business to survive, you have to give your customers what they want. If you can't provide the things that customers want, you have no customers, and you have no business. Those clients will go elsewhere. AERC has many different customers, and if it can't cater to all of them, category by category, they will go elsewhere to get what they want.

It is already happening right now in front of our eyes. We are all witnessing AERC splintering at all the seams, dropping off body parts one by one. AERC/FEI is toast. EDRA - whether it will remain viable or not - formed and (at times bitterly) split the Pacific Northwest region. The Duck rides had to adapt to change - to what the customers want - which may slice a large body part off if it splits from AERC. East vs West is coming. "LD" vs "Endurance" is a dagger in the heart of the sport. Crucifying the ride managers to conform to the Good Ol' Days mileage standards of AERC - which the Duck pointed out that many of those rides were before GPS and not measured accurately either - and which is not practical - is cutting off another limb.

What would that guy that used to have that TV show The Apprentice say if you brought AERC's current business plan to him? He'd say You're Fired. Your business plan is not viable.

AERC as an organization needs to decide what it wants. Is it just to provide mileage records and integrity and safety for the horses? Is it to maintain the integrity of Endurance as only 50 miles and up? Is it to keep long distance riding going in any form? Is it to only follow the rules and bylaws from the beginning of AERC? Is it to embrace riders of all distances and breeds to get out and ride - because does it really matter what breed you ride or how far? Is it to preserve the memories of Endurance in years gone by?

Are the semantics (you're only an endurance rider if you ride exactly 50 miles or more) more important than customers? The numbers of LD riders are growing across the country and helping support AERC rides. Most often now, they carry the events. Does AERC want that income? If semantics are more important, is AERC even necessary anymore? The unbeatable records and memories will always be there.

In another decade or two, will people look fondly back at AERC and think, "Whadda buncha Luddites. They were nice, but they all disappeared" or "They're still here, they were innovating and forward-thinking; they took from the old ways and adapted to the changing times" ?

Why do people ride endurance?

*I* define Endurance Riding as someone getting on a horse in an organized AERC ride, and attempting to ride 25 to 100 miles in one day. That is *MY* definition. I don't ride endurance to get awards or recognition. I don't care what people think of what distance I ride or where I finish. I currently ride endurance to get on a good horse out on trails I would normally never see. I ride it for the new stories I create and write about. I ride it for the challenge of getting a horse (and me) fit for 50 miles. I ride it because I love the partnership you develop getting a horse to this point. I ride it to share fun with like-minded friends who like riding in beautiful country. I ride it because I can choose from a myriad of goals within the sport. That is why I ride endurance right now. My goals will change over time, and it would be nice to still have all those options within AERC, and to have the support and encouragement from like-minded horse people, whether I decide to start riding 25 mile rides or attempt a 100 mile ride again, or do trail rides while the other crazies are riding farther.

AERC is approaching crisis mode. Where does the organization go from here? AERC *HAS* the willing customers. People *WANT* to pay to ride pre-marked trails of all distances. Maybe not as many people want to ride 255 miles or 100 miles or 75 miles or 50 miles anymore, but they want to ride. Repeat: people are still willing to *PAY MONEY* to do this, and they are willing to pay to be a member of *SOME* organization to be a part of it.

Yes, it was good times during the Good Ol' Days of endurance riding. Those ways and days are gone. Do we just let the sport die to prove a point? Or do we change to keep it going and give the willing customers what they want?

I am sad to see the Good Ol' Days are gone, but I would be sadder to see Endurance die off. Ignore everything, and the body continues to fall to pieces, limb by limb, until it can no longer support itself and it collapses.

It doesn't have to happen. We can start the new Good Ol' Days now. Americans were the leaders of the sport of endurance riding. We can still be the leaders into the new era. Change the rules, change the direction, change the purpose, or change the name of the organization. It's time for a new era in Endurance Riding.


**The opinions expressed above are my opinions on endurance, and I am always right. Unless I change my mind, in which case I am still right.

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