Reprinted from Endurance News, April 2013, monthly publication of the American Endurance Ride Conference, www.aerc.org, 866-271-2372
If you’ve been paying attention at all in the last year, or occasionally emerge from your basement to check in with the goings-on in AERC, you know that we have been working on ways to attract new members and keep them. There are dozens of people working on this at the Board- and Committee-level but I am convinced we need HUNDREDS of people working on it.
When I look at my role in the organization, both as a Director and Chair of the Ride Managers’ Committee, I see it as providing members and Ride Managers and potential Ride Managers with the resources and information they need to help the organization thrive.
This past year my husband and I began working with a new barefoot trimmer, and when we found out that she and a handful of her clients and friends were interested in learning more about our sport, I said that, sure, of course I’d run a little Distance Riding 101 Clinic at my farm.
I started looking for resources, not being the type to reinvent a wheel (also known as “profoundly lazy”) and found that while a bunch of our regional organizations and clubs run such clinics, and that there was an AERC Beyond the Basics Clinic DVD (developed for “sophomore” riders looking to improve their skills or step up in distance) there were no formal resources that our staff could distribute to people interested in doing clinics like the one I’d hoped to do. (However I was able to pull a great deal of information from generous clubs and individuals, happy to share their goods.)
Similarly, we didn’t offer stand-alone insurance for such clinics, although the office staff was happy to arrange such insurance for me through Equisure, our organization’s insurance carrier.
See a gap? Fill it. What a nice little bite-sized project!
So I created a module-based series of power point slides. Everything from “You Can Do This!” to basic conditioning principles to suggestions about camping, entering a ride and modules about what to expect on ride day. I emphasized the Keep It Simple Silly philosophy, rider and horse safety and the fact that this is a sport where mere mortals with normal, sound horses of any breed can have success.
If you build it, they will come.
With just a post or two on Facebook and an email to some local riding friends, within a couple of weeks I had over 25 people pre-registered for the clinic; I had to cut participants off because there is only so much space in my living room and barn!
Predominantly recreational trail riders, the enthusiasm of these riders reminded me of myself a long, long time ago, excited about our horses and the idea of trying something new, finding a sport where they fit in. At the clinic, I handed out the promotional material that the office had provided and told the attendees that I would refund their clinic fee if they gave me a completed AERC membership application and new member dues at the end of the clinic.
Five of them did. Success!
But this is about more than five new members; this is about starting to develop a local sense of community. Those twenty-some people now know one another, my husband and me, and a mentor who attended and generously offered her assistance. We are making plans to condition and camp together, and many of them are targeting a not-too-far from us ride that offers an introductory distance this season. A few of the braver ones are jumping right into a Limited Distance ride.
What I am hoping we’ve done is brought them into our family. We just cast out the net, a little wider, drew in a few more people and gave them the first tools, I hope, to find success in our sport.
This is something happening, formally and informally all over AERC, and in my eyes, we need to be doing more of it!
At the same time I was prepping for my clinics, Susan Garlinghouse, DVM, a talented and lovely lady that many of our members know from both the internet forums and her entertaining and richly educational seminars at Convention, had a seed of an idea about module-based You Tube video snippets. We found each other, synergized our efforts and topics and shared our “stuff” and voila, the first of Susan’s amazing videos have been created and will be available soon, both for clinic organizers (to marry up with the powerpoint modules) and to prospective competitors and members seeking out information on our website.
As Chair of the Ride Managers’ Committee, sometimes we work on tough issues. Short rides and rules violations and by-law interpretations and policy and handbooks and do-we-need-more-rides-or-do-we-have-too-many-that-interfere-with-others; we are an issues-resolution group to some degree. That, of course, is part of my role, and we take care of business.
But this …
This was fun.
This is exciting.
This is the sort of thing that will help AERC cast our net a little wider, a little further, and bring riders to their first ride a little better prepared, and hopefully already feeling like they are a “part of it” – knowing that they can be a part of this big, crazy dysfunctional family who rides horses just a little bit further than most mortals would dare.
The BOD approved formalizing these clinic resources and the Beyond the Basics clinic resources which have already been developed by the Education Committee, and also to provide low-cost insurance for mounted and unmounted clinics. This is being funded by reserves from the Education Committee, who generously supported the motion.
Now AERC needs your help!