The Duck’s View on Shorter Distance Endurance Events –
By their very nature, rides of less than fifty miles, attract horses and riders that are less experienced and therefore more likely to get into trouble than more experienced and conditioned competitors. I have experienced riders who are of the opinion that since they are only going half as far as the front runners in a fifty mile ride, they only need to be conditioned half as much. Therein lies a major misconception, which can and does end in a disastrous situation with the poor horse literally fighting for its life. The fundamental misconception here is that the potential harm comes from the distance in the event. I find this not to be the case. In my opinion, the potential harm in endurance riding comes not from the distance, but from the speed and the manner in which that distance is covered. To illustrate my point, let us consider a pleasure ride, pack trip or hunting expedition on any normal horse, suited for trail work. I believe that any horse worth feeding can go 25 to 50 miles right out of the pasture, in average terrain, if proper horsemanship is used. On the other hand, few knowledgeable persons would expect an unconditioned horse to survive a two or three mile, flat out race, around a track. I know of horse deaths, however, that have occurred at amateur, county fair events where people are shocked to see a disaster occurring after a very few miles. They have heard about horses racing a hundred miles and do not understand that the hundred mile horses are like the human marathon runner, who stays under the anaerobic threshold until the very end. Like the billboards say, “Speed Kills”. I feel that it is absolute insanity to require horses to be five years old to go fifty miles, but allow four year olds to race twenty-five miles. That rule, in my opinion, shows a fundamental flaw in the thinking of the AERC. Back in the good old days, before Biothane, plastic and big Macs, the California vaqueros, didn’t even put a bit in a horse’s mouth until it was four or five years old. I hold to the believe that horses should not even be ridden until they are five and then not ridden hard until they are seven or eight. The idea of racing four and five year olds on endurance events is as repugnant to me as the racing of two year olds at the track.
While I am fundamentally opposed to limited distance racing, I am of the opinion that shorter distance endurance rides have an important place in our sport. They offer an opportunity for new riders, who might be apprehensive about their ability to go 50 or more miles, to participate in our sport. They offer a venue horses and riders who, for whatever reason, choose to exert less effort than they would expect to put forth on a regular distance ride. Endurance rides are a great place for horses and riders to train and condition. Horses and rider teams can and will learn from participating at shorter distances than full fifty miles. Riders and horses, that have grown weary or damaged from excess years and miles, can and do find enjoyment on these shorter rides. Horses and riders can learn to work with each other on ride in the presence of other horses, both on the trail and in camp. New horses, unfamiliar to group situations learn to deal with the new surroundings and conditions. The most important of all reasons to ride any ride, in my opinion, is to see and experience new trails. Long time endurance riders, as well as newcomers to our sport, can and do participate in these events. I have found the riders of less than fifty miles are often relegated to a second-class status in our sport and that is a shame. Starting with the 2018 Ride Season we are now offering courses starting with distances as low as 10 miles, sometimes referred to as fun rides. AERC does not count mileage at all distances the same, nor do they even acknowledge those who ride less than the prescribed 25 miles of their LD class. The XP Rides, contrary to AERC policy recognizes the support of everyone who attends an event is instrumental in keeping the events going. From this point forward XP annual awards, which are based on mileage, will include mileage from all distances from 10 to 2000 miles.