A Rational Discussion on AERC Miles


Perhaps the hottest topic in AERC today is the question of mileage. What appears to be a simple black and white issue is actually quite grey.  Here are some of my thoughts on the subject. When attempting to reset the sport around the question of mileage a few things need to be considered. 

1. What is a mile?  Just a brief search shows the following which I paraphrased from wikipedia:
The mile, originated from the Roman mille passus, or translated as a thousand paces, which measured 5000 Roman feet. Around 1500 the “old London mile” was designated as eight furlongs. At the time the British used the larger German foot, which was 625 feet, thus making the mile 5000 feet. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the mile gained and additional 280 feet to make it 5280 feet under a statute of 1593 that confirmed the length of a furlong to the length of 660 feet.
The Irish mile of 6720 feet and the Scottish mile of 5952 English feet. A nautical mile was originally defined as the length on the earth’s surface of one minute (1/60th of a degree) of an arc along a meridian. Because of the slight flatening of the Earth in polar latitudes, the measurement of the nautical mile increased slightly towards the poles.  In 1929 the nautical mile was redefined as 1.852 kilometers at an international conference in Monaco, although the US did not change over to the new international nautical mile until 1954. This measure remains in universal use in both marine and air transportation.   Finally by the 20th century those of us in the United States were comfortable with defining a mile as 5280 linear feet.  A big question remains. Is this 5280 feet on a straight line or is it 5280 feet measured over the surface of the earth.  That is, are we talking about surface miles or air miles?  This can be a huge difference.   

2. After question number one is answered the more important one becomes HOW are we going to measure it?
    a. tape measure:  steel tape or fabric that will mold to the rocky terrain
    b. survey wheel
        1. small wheel
        2. large wheel
    c.extrapolate from a map with string or map wheel
    d.measure by pacing at a walk
    e. measure by averaging time
    f. vehicle
        1. one with calibrated mileage
        2. any vehicle calibrated or not
    g. GPS
        1. set to record via time
        2. set to record via distance
            a. distance set to a set standard
            b. distance set to whatever a person desires
3. How is the course going to be defined?  
4. How much deviation is going to be allowed for being off trail?

This brings up an interesting point. AERC rides, as well as many other off road events measured miles the best they could using technology available at the time.  A lot of well meaning ride managers have done the same.  The first endurance rides varied greatly, some by design others by ignorance.  Adjusting length to time was an acceptable practice that worked well today and was a much better solution to comparing rides under varying conditions.  The introduction of GPS has offered a new technology that CAN, if used correctly, more accurately estimate mileage but it has very little ability to level a playing field nor to provide a good comparison for different rides.

Mileage alone is a bad way to compare rides, yet it has become the focus of AERC.  This is wrong and should be corrected one way or another. It is of the upmost importance to come up with a way to enter a time factor into the length of rides.  This can be done by stating that the existing databases, while not necessarily true statute miles, are what they are, and the records were set by mostly honest people doing what they thought was right at the time. AERC by-laws state the purpose of their Rules is to assist Members, Ride managers and veterinarians in holding quality Rides, held under uniform criteria and comparable conditions. Does anyone seriously believe a ride won in under 4 hours with the last horse finishing in 8 hours is an equal demonstration of equine ability as a ride won in 6 hours with horses not finishing in 12? 

Those who venomously criticize XP Rides for being short refuse to acknowledge that we have always attempted to reach what we thought were correct miles and keep our mileages in line with what the majority of ride managers were doing around the country.  We did that, as many others have done and continue to do, by using time as a factor.  The bottom line remains that mileage is not the Holy Grail for comparing equine endurance events.