Reprinted from Endurance News, September 2012, Ride Managers’ Column, monthly publication of the American Endurance Ride Conference,, 866-271-2372

The Parallels in Ride Management and the Entrepreneurial Spirit

(or  Running a “Just Sort Of Happens” Ride versus a Great Ride)

Recently, I had a conversation with a fellow Ride Manager who is also an active competitor.

We spoke about the latitude that we have, as Ride Managers, in hosting a ride that goes well beyond the minimum requirements that AERC sanctioning/rules mandate, to provide a ride that attracts riders year after year and wins the written and un-written praise of the riders who attend, to try every year to resolve little (and big) problems so that our rides constantly improve.

The issue was raised because of a ride that is “on the edge” with regard to being run adequately, so we reminded ourselves what the absolute MINIMUM expectations were for following AERC rules for sanctioning:

  • An accurately measured trail, neither substantially longer nor substantially shorter than the sanctioned distance
  • Adequate veterinary (“control judging”) staff for the number of riders anticipated
  • A suitable treatment plan for horses requiring veterinary care
  • Trail marked acceptably for riders to follow
  • Following the AERC rules for reporting rider placing, completion, and Best Condition scoring based on how the actual ride transpires on competition day

While there is surely some subjectivity as to the definition of “adequate” or “acceptable” in some of the criteria above, and Ride Managers are often subjected to making tough judgment calls on ride day regarding interpreting of rules, rides which do not manage to perform to these minimum standards are subject to any of the following:

  • Formal or informal complaints by riders
  • Filing of a protest by riders (although we always encourage riders to try working through the Ride Manager before resorting to a protest)
  • Refusal by the Sanctioning Director, or the BOD, to sanction the ride again

These are the processes we have within AERC to address a ride that fails to meet minimum standards.

What about the ride, though, that might meet those minimum criteria, barely, but just doesn’t quite “cut the mustard?”

Perhaps the trail marking is somewhat iffy or sparse, but workable if you pay REALLY close attention, or not so bad if you’ve ridden the course in the past?

What if non-local riders, or their ride crews, are at a distinct disadvantage because the Ride Manager doesn’t make an effort to provide information that would be useful to a rider entering the ride for the first time?

What if some of the “frills” that we are accustomed to at many rides – grass or hay brought to a hold by ride management, or an ‘ambulance trailer’ to bring pulled horses back to camp, or porta potties, a delicious hot meal, or decent awards – are just not there?

What if the Ride Manager has received complaints about various controllable aspects of the ride in the past and just doesn’t seem to find a way to address them?  [Let me clarify, “controllable” does not include the weather or the terrain of the trail – two things that are out of the control of almost all of the Ride Managers that I know.   Another non-negotiable is the length of the trail – shortening a ride to accommodate riders who want to be done in time for Happy Hour?  Sorry, this is not a fair thing to request of a Ride Manager.]

If that ride meets the minimum criteria, we certainly have the right to gently persuade a Ride Manager to try to accommodate the wishes of the riders entering their ride.

My friend Mary Coleman, not a woman afraid to speak her mind, describes these types of rides this way – she calls these the rides “that just sort of happen.”

Maybe a lack of planning, or a lack of volunteers, or life’s circumstances getting in the way of making for a top-notch ride.  Maybe a lack of entrepreneurial spirit that itches for a “ride that was even better than last year?”  These “Just Sort Of Happen” rides take place all over the country.

Riders continue to attend these rides for a variety of reasons – the miles, the points, the schedule, the beauty of the trail itself, the convenience factor, or the sincere desire to support the ride or the sport or the organization sponsoring the ride.

And if that ride does not fall outside of AERC’s established requirements, there’s really not much we can do, organizationally, beyond coaching Ride Managers to raise the bar of performance.

It is the freedom that our sport affords to our Ride Managers, because without them, there would be no rides.

As riders, we have the freedom to take our horses and our entry money, and go elsewhere.  We have the opportunity to offer help or make suggestions or manage our own top notch ride to show everyone how it’s done.

I encourage Ride Managers to seek out the feedback of riders to improve their ride.  In some cases, it’s just about a little more information in a ride flier, or an extra sign or two in camp, an extra ribbon or paper plate or arrow, or ordering a dozen more glowsticks, or a volunteer hanging out to make sure riders make a crucial turn in the trail.  Very often, it’s these little things that make the difference between a Great Ride and a Just Happens Ride.

I encourage riders to provide suggestions gently, to offer help where they can, and to enter every ride knowing that the challenge sometimes lies in more than just getting around the course.

If you have ideas or suggestions on this topic, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Happy trails!