Reprinted from Endurance News, April 2013, monthly publication of the American Endurance Ride Conference, www.aerc.org, 866-271-2372
Many times in this column, we celebrate the efforts of Ride Managers and the volunteers who support them in putting on rides. After all, this is the Ride Managers’ column and we have a Ride Managers’ Committee.
For this month’s column, however, having just returned from FITS (Fun In The Sun) in Florida, I’ve decided to change direction just a bit.
Until such time that they get their own AERC Committee, one of the under-praised groups under the endurance umbrella are the pitcrews, more frequently called “crew.” (Or “fools”, or “spouse”, or “future ex-husband” or “future ex-wife” or “progeny created for the purpose of crewing,” sometimes known as “children.”)
Sure, sure, sure, some of us (including me) rarely ride with crew, but at a tough 100, or a ride with logistical challenges and away checks, most of us would like to magically conjure one, or accept an offer to have one.
There are bumper stickers and t-shirts outlining the role of CREW:
Crabby Rider Endless Waiting
Can’t Remember Everything, Woman
Sometimes crews are paid. Sometimes they are designated for the job by virtue of familial relation (see above). Sometimes riders swap for one another, crewing one ride, and then riding (and having their rider as crew) the next.
And then there are the rest of us.
One might question the financial wisdom and/or mental health of someone who flies partway across the country (or planet) or drives for hours at their own expense to slave over a frequently tired and/or cranky horse and/or rider for hours, or even days. To suffer (occasionally cheerfully) in the sun, wind, cold, heat, high humidity, rain or snow that Mother Nature doles out, to wear beet pulp and slushies and to learn how inferior Lyte Nows are as a hair product or occasional snack.
I’ve been both the recipient and the deliverer of such crewing services, and have never failed to be awed that someone would voluntarily take on such a job, and conversely, have happily signed up for it myself.
Why is that?
There is something about being part of the team — to be united in the effort to care for a horse and rider to ensure their safety and peak performance.
There is something about being in ridecamp between loops where you have precious and limited idyllic downtime to horse- and people-watch, catch up on gossip, laugh, commiserate, huddle together to battle the elements or eat the food from your rider’s cooler with the least nutritional value and most calories.
One does not have to be an expert on endurance riding to crew, although of course it helps. In fact, when one has a crew larger than one person, there are often multiple roles to be fulfilled. Let’s look at them:
Task Master. Those closest to me will register shock that this is the role I often assume. The task master keeps lists, does lots of pointing and sponging and heart-rate taking and vet card tracking, keeps everyone and everything on the straight and narrow and barks out orders like a drill sergeant at boot camp. (It is the part I was born to play.)
Gopher. A gopher need only recognize certain key items, possess a keen sense of observation to locate said items, and brisk gaits to retrieve such items. Such items include: stethoscope, horse blanket, electrolytes, running martingale, narcotics (for rider), vet card, potato chips, etc. If you are not offended by being ordered around by the rider and task master, this is a good job to have.
Subcrewtaneous People. Last weekend, we decided THIS was the job to have. While not part of the inner circle, the subcrewtaneous people have the task of bringing hot and tasty foods and beverages to the rider and crew at random intervals during the ride, doling out back rubs and kind words. They swoop in like little Florence Nightengales, bestowing everyone around with much-needed sustenance and nurturing, basking in praise while massaging the rider’s shoulders, as the Task Master sponges poop off the horse’s hind legs and the Gopher runs for an out-time and another tube of Desitin.
Jumper-Inners. This is a free agent sort of role. Any of the above people can jump in to assist a rider in need as long as their primary care horse and rider are either out on trail or adequately cared for by other crew members. If you get pulled and act as a jumper-inner, you are more likely to have jumper-inners take care of you at a hold at the next ride. This job often results in post-ride cocktails and/or party invitations.
The real appeal of crewing can best be exemplified by what happened toward the end of the FITS 100.
Our rider had taken a wrong loop, and thus fallen out of “racing” contention. By the last loop, having seen some ups and downs on a terribly windy and cold Florida day, he was out on course with a buddy, the horses were looking grand, there were only 11 miles to go, and all was right in the world.
The subcrewtaneous people had blessed us with hot coffee and submarine sandwiches and pizza from town, and people who have not enjoyed warm food on a cold night after crewing all day cannot possibly appreciate how good that food tasted. With what we knew was a solid hour before we could expect our riders, and the temperatures plummeting quickly, seven of us piled in my rental car, turned the heat and seat warmers on full blast, located someone’s iPOD, and began jamming tunes.
When the song Gagnam Style hit the speakers, full of Italian food and newly-warmed bodies and the adrenaline rush of a good job nearly finished, buoyed by laughter and the idea that we were all in this together, windows were lowered, the volume was raised, and several Psy-wannabees piled from the car, dancing about in some perverse derivation of Gagnam Style-esque dance moves. Phones emerged, evidence gathered and posted on Facebook immediately, more laughter.
We serenaded the completing riders with tunes and dance moves until our own riders emerged from the darkness, and we set about like little ants to work once more, Task Master and Gophers and Subcrewtaneous People and Jumper-Inners, ensuring the horses were warmed and cooled and sound and metabolically okay for final vetting. Cheers and hugs and the packing up of ‘stuff’ – made quick in the cold night air by virtue of the ‘many hands make light work’ philosophy.
Airfare and Rental Car: $600
Gas and Ice and Pre-Dawn Coffee and Nutritionally Void Snack Foods: $200
Bonding and Sense of Community and Grateful Completion Hugs and Pride In A Job Well Done and Horses Bouncing Around Gleefully Post-Ride?