Reprinted from Endurance News, January 2013, monthly publication of the American Endurance Ride Conference, www.aerc.org, 866-271-2372
As Ride Managers, we have a lot more power than we realize with regard to whether that brand-spankin’ new rider at our ride becomes an AERC member.
Sure, some newbies (and I use that term with the utmost respect having once been a newbie) are just going to find this sport is not for them. Too Long, Too Difficult, Too Much, Too Dirty, Too Chafed. Not Fun. But there are others who walk away, not for those reasons, but rather this one –
Did Not Feel Like I Belonged.
I’m betting that most of us, without the use of psychotropic medication or hypnosis, can reel back our memories — way back in some cases — to recall what it felt like when we were a “newbie.”
As an example, I showed up at my first ride nearly twenty years ago, a 20 mile Novice Competitive Trail Ride sanctioned by OAATS, with a four year old seriously drafty Belgian cross mare (her Thoroughbred genes entirely lost in a genetic crapshoot) and WITHOUT all of my carefully selected clothing for the weekend; I had left them neatly folded on the bed at home.
We arrived after dark.
It was the PEOPLE at that ride, and the way the volunteers and staff treated me that made me realize this was something I could do. Wanted to do.
I will never forget Maureen Fehrs, the CTR veterinary judge, taking me aside when I vetted in with my behemoth mare, saying that I just needed to think about it as a lovely, long trail ride where a veterinarian popped up from time to time to check on my horse.
Sold. I could do that!
So what are some of the ways that Ride Managers succeed in hooking the newbies?
- Make it easy! It starts with the information you provide on the AERC website. Be sure to email your ride flier and entry information to the AERC office so that we can link them to the calendar. Provide simple and easy to follow directions to your ride. Beware, veteran ride managers, of the road sign that has changed or the landmark gas station that is no longer a gas station – these are easy things to miss when we live close to our own ride and can land a new rider lost in the middle of nowhere. Not a great way to make a first impression!
- Make it easy! Where is the water? Where are the potties? Can you tell me where the vet check will be? Are there any away holds? Where can I go to town for groceries and diesel? What time is the ride briefing? Many ride manager save themselves a lot of these questions by preparing a “Welcome Letter” or information on their flier. I put mine in my rider registration packets. The smarter Ride Managers email or mail them in advance. I cannot tell you how to make people READ THEM, however. <wink>
- Make it easy! Put a new rider application in the newbie’s ride packet. If you contact Troy at the AERC office a couple of weeks before your ride, she can send you some extra issues of Endurance News along with some marketing information about the organization. Print the list of mentors in your region from the AERC website, toss that in. We are working with the Membership Committee on a way to add a coupon/voucher that the newbie can send in with their application to reduce their membership fee by the cost of their day member fee from that first ride.
- Hook the newbies up with those best suited to lend them a hand! Some Ride Managers have mentors and helpful volunteers wear crazy hats (I love this!) or bright t-shirts on ride day so that they are easy for the newbie to spot and seek out. Others have the newbies put a green ribbon in their horses’ tail and ask the veteran riders and volunteer staff to be especially kind, gracious and helpful when encountering them anywhere at the ride. A few ride managers have cardboard signs that mentors can put outside of their rig so that the newbies can meet people in camp who are more than willing to lend a helping hand or a kind word.
- Introduce the newbies! Announce the new riders at your ride briefing; get the riders to applaud their presence at the ride. Wouldn’t we all like to be welcomed with applause when we are a little new, a little scared, a lot confused, and feeling like an outsider amongst a group of old friends?
- Have a FABULOUS New Rider Briefing! At some rides, the new rider briefing feels almost like an afterthought, or they don’t happen at all. Pick a time and a person to conduct the new rider briefing who will Keep It Simple Silly (KISS), keep it positive, be encouraging, and will be able to answer questions well without intimidating the newbies.
- Attitude, Attitude, Attitude! This is probably the most critical aspect of bringing new riders in to the fold. We are ambassadors for the sport, all of us. Do we offer a kind and welcoming word, or do we make a snap a comment that we would be less than proud of later on?
I think back to my own experience at that first ride on that wide load mare with Size 4 shoes, wearing the red riding breeches I’d managed to run out to a local tack shop to buy – yes, they were on sale, and yes, there is photographic evidence of me in those red breeches on that mare that day (but you will never see it if I have anything to say about it) – and I think how easily I could have been discouraged, on my ‘unusual’ mount with my fashion faux pas clothing, absolutely clueless about what I was doing.
Did the riders back then chuckle at my massive mare? Did they joke around about using her as a road block if the brakes failed on their slender, high energy Arabian? Sure they did, but they did it with a kind word, a twinkle in their eye, taking a moment to pull up alongside me to ask my name, and where I was from, and to tell me I had a beautiful horse. (I did.)
Those riders, that ride staff, they made me feel like I belonged that day. And let’s face it, wishing to belong is one of the major appeals to joining AERC.
What are you doing to spread the love?
We are working together to pull resources together for Ride Managers, those interested in conducting distance riding clinics, and members interested in working at equine expos and other events to promote AERC and distance riding. If you’ve GOT resources, or NEED resources, please drop me a line in the contact section of the website so we can all share what we’ve got.