Horses dying at endurance rides cannot be blamed on one person, one entity, and, unfortunately, it's one of the few things AERC and FEI both have in common. It happens at either one. And, it happens way too often.
What is quite amazing to me is how few times it happens at the AERC rides when you consider what an AERC ride entails. It entails all different types of riders and their horses; from the best endurance horses in America to those that are questionable if they could even that first loop of a 25 mile LD ride. Anyone with a horse can show up and enter any distance, even a 100 miler. No prior experience is required; no credentials, no certified paperwork of past achievements; all you need to bring is a current Coggins. Think about that one for just a moment.
With all this freedom and all this openness, it's quite amazing to me that there aren't one or two dead horses at every AERC ride held. And, what prevents this from happening? Two things. The conscience of the rider and the decisions of the vets, especially the head vet in charge. Without these two factors in place there would be chaos at an endurance ride. And, for those new riders, we have the other more experienced riders helping them out and giving advice. You can get so much advice, as a new rider, from an AERC endurance ride, your head will be spinning as you pull out to leave camp on Sunday morning.
When Tom Ivers was on Ridecamp he used to discuss our slogan "to finish is to win," in a derogatory manner and quite often made fun of it. Most folks took this the wrong way because Tom would talk in terms of "winning" is everything and most important. But, he also did bring out the fact that some riders not only get consumed with winning, but they feel they must complete a ride, at all costs because of the AERC slogan. This is where some endurance riders get into trouble. They must complete the ride; otherwise, by the very term "to finish is to win," not finishing means you and your horse are both losers.
This might be something we want to consider changing. That slogan can be misunderstood by some. In my book anyone who pulls their horse because something's not right, even though they make it through a vet check, is more of a winner than the rider who comes in first place or gets BC. They're my hero because they put their horse ahead of everything else, including their own egos.
To know your horse is one of the most important aspects of endurance riding. No one knows your horse better than you do, and the good riders never stop learning about endurance and their horse. I would not ride someone else's horse, a horse that I was not familiar with, ever at an endurance ride. I have finally gotten on board with that one and I do appreciate AERC requiring a rider and horse to have a set number of miles together before they are eligible to compete in our National Championship ride. FEI should require the same thing. Flying out across the ocean, leasing a horse that you've never ridden before, 100 miles in an endurance ride should be banned altogether. That's some sort of human ego thing that the door should be slammed on today, no matter how rich you are or what country you're representing. You ride your own horse or one that you've ridden on a few hundred miles in other competitions before you compete him in a World Championship ride. It's a rule that makes sense.
What bothers me about losing horses at FEI rides is the fact that these riders and their horses are the top of the chain; they are the best that we have to show and are superior athletes. This is what I don't get. How can it happen to them? My guess is it's "competition fever," and they get so caught up in it all that pulling the horse who makes it through the vet check is never ever done at an FEI ride. It seldom happens because the ride is such a big deal and all the values get out of whack. It's here that the charge to Glory might be the horse's final run. At those rides where a 500,000 dollar purse is offered by one of the Sultan's of Swing do you really believe the horse's well being is number one?
FEI rides overseas have broken the 8 hour barrier in 100 miles, where I've seen times as low as 7 and one half hours. This is insane! Add to that the folks who are trying to make endurance a spectator sport by making everything faster and not even thinking of how important breaks are to the horse at those vet checks and it's no wonder we lose horses at some of these rides.
I'll close this with one thing, something Dane Frazier said at a ride I attended a couple of years back. Because of the years of experience Dane does have with endurance, someone asked him what type of rider usually gets their horse in trouble, generally speaking. Most of us thought the answer would be the Rookie, or beginner. Dane said that the seasoned endurance rider riding at the top of the pack, in front, wanting desperately to top ten, was the one most likely to get their horse into trouble. I'm finding out that this just might be true.
Howard (I don't think we need to change anything; just fine tune those good things we are already working on.)
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