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    [RC] Zen and the art of Endurance - our responsibility - Laura Hayes

    Well, it is 15 degrees and going down, there is over a foot of snow on the
    ground and the wind is whipping by the window.  I can't ride, and have been
    thinking about endurance.  Here goes:
        No matter what your level of experience is, no matter what your goals
    are, if you ride an AERC endurance ride, you have become an endurance rider.
    With the right to be called an endurance rider, comes the responsibility to
    do it with care and thoughtfulness.  Our responsibility to the sport and to
    our horses will never end, and indeed, in a world that may not view our
    sport as humane, our stewardship has increased in the last 20 years as our
    sport as become more and more visible.
        There were many years that I was the only AERC member in New York
    State - I was an oddity among my peers who were trail riding and showing
    horses.  They were concerned that I was competing in a sport that was not
    good for the horses we all loved.  I am hoping that the fact that my first
    horse ended up with almost 4000 miles of competition between myself and the
    man I had to sell him to (divorce-very sad,)  might have made them
    understand that it is not a BAD sport, but the truth is, I have fought the
    "YaHoo" stereotype for more than 20 years.  I even had a defense attorney in
    a cruelty case I prosecuted, bring it up in court that I 'raced' horses in
    inhumane circumstances in an effort to discredit my testimony.  I am,
    perhaps, ultra sensitive to the issue. (The defendant was convicted, BTW.)
        The responsibility we bear is that of stewardship.  Stewardship of our
    horse, who while he is our friend, sometimes our child, sometimes our
    beloved servant, he is an animal who thinks very different than we do.  He
    operates on little switches that trigger at moments when he must eat, run
    for joy, flee for his life, or race another.
        We are there to keep him from destroying himself when the switch goes
    off and he is in danger because he does not have the intellectual ability to
    understand that he can not run full out for as long as it takes to get
    ahead, or pass another.  We are there to offer him food when he may not be
    thinking of eating or drinking because he is too excited from the
    exhilaration of the race.  We are there to say slow down, take your time, 50
    miles is a long way - we can catch up.
        I think my mare Equal Terms didn't get it when we started the both days
    of the Ft. Valley ride in last place.  I did this so she wouldn't think she
    had to race at any pace other than what I asked her for.  We won the 100
    miles by over an hour, but we did it at a pace that would not hurt, slowly
    building our speed when we were ready and in control.  I have to make those
    decisions for us as a team, because as smart and wonderful as she is, she
    can't safely make that decision, and she most likely will never be able to.
        The responsibility we have to this sport is to compete in a safe and
    adult manner.  To be polite and caring to other riders and to those around
    us.  OK, I have given my husband a hard time when he wasn't ready at the
    check, but I made it up to him and it's ok now....It is NEVER ok to stomp
    and holler and give volunteers a hard time about anything less than blood or
    broken bones - it just shouldn't be that important.  We need to display
    professionalism and caring toward each other and our animals.  Unfortunately
    we are seen as renegade hoodlums to much of the equine and outside world.
    It is up to us to change that image and conduct ourselves in a manner that
    reflects the love and pride we have in our sport.
        It will take time to change the collective minds of the rest of the
    world, but we can do it if we try - but we must be careful in our actions
    and words or the damage will get worse and not better.
    Laura Hayes AERC#2741
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