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

Wow!!  So you want to be a ride manager and put on an endurance ride?  I am not quite sure what this malady is called, but you might want to schedule an appointment with your doctor to get some drugs to cure your “WHAT IN THE WORLD WAS I THINKING?” problem.  In reality, the smiling faces on the riders and their healthy horses after the event will do just fine for most ride managers – and thank goodness for those of us wishing to compete, huh?

Anyone who thinks putting on an endurance ride is easy really does need a dose of “reality” from those few brave souls who help keep this sport of endurance going – the ride manager.  The list of “want-tos” and “have-tos” are practically endless when a ride manager sits down to plan the ride.  I guess the difference between the lists from one ride manager to another is what makes this sport as much fun as it is – each ride has its own characteristics and flavors and can appeal to each of us in a different way.

One of the “have-tos” in my is a safe, well-marked and accurately measured trail.  This is much easier said than done.  The hours it takes to choose and prepare the trail for an endurance ride can be extensive and exhausting.  But what kind of ride will it be for the riders and their horses if they can’t find their way on it or be assured that they rode the prescribed distance?

Marking trail is an art in itself and can vary by ride and/or region.  Most of us would like to not have to learn a new marking “language” every time we go to a ride, but variations from ride to ride should be expected.  All riders should, however, be pretty certain that if they were entered in a 25, 50 or 100 mile event, that they rode that distance to get their completion.  I certainly don’t want my horse carrying my butt any farther than he has to in order to get my t-shirt and his points.  On the other hand, is it fair that at one ride a horse and rider team travels 50 miles to get their completion and at another ride, they only have to travel 90% of that distance to get credit for those 50 miles?

So how can a ride manager be certain that their trail is the advertised (and sanctioned) distance?  As you can guess, there are numerous ways to measure a trail.  We can always fall back to the “absolutely” accurate measuring wheel, right?  Who has the time and the energy to walk a trail with a wheel….?  Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to ride the trail in or on some vehicle to get the proper measurement?  Well yes, but actually, most vehicles don’t have accurate (within 2%) odometers anyway.  Wheel spin on most vehicles can create inaccurate measurements.

A property owner once told me that he knew the distances of his trails were correct – after all, he drove them in his Suburban!!  After riding with him in his Suburban on the trails (with a death-grip on the “oh-s_ _t handle!”) we found that there was a 5% difference between his measurement and mine.  I measured the same trails with my two GPS devices while in his Suburban.  Well, how can that be?  We all know that GPS aren’t accurate, don’t we?  They have to see all of those satellites to work properly, don’t they?  They just can’t be accurate, especially in a Suburban or even under trees or even in mountainous terrain – right?  WRONG!!!

GPS measurements can be correct and very accurate, if the measurements are CONDUCTED PROPERLY. Previously, there have been articles in Endurance News on how a GPS device can be used to measure trail accurately.  The folks that wrote them are considered very knowledgeable and are experts.  My approach measuring trails is based on some training, but mostly a lot of experience and practical applications.  The recommended methods are tried and true and have been used to measure horse, bike and hiking trails in varied terrain throughout the country.

  • First of all, just like in most things, you usually get what you pay for with GPS.  The higher end devices have better receive antennas and intuitive data processing and are getting even better with every new version.  I recommend tracking by distance, rather than time – the “cookies” will be delivered in a more linear fashion.  Cookies are those spots that a marker is placed with an associated latitude/longitude.
  • Make sure you mount the device so that it can “see” the sky and therefore the most satellites available.  Every obstacle reduces the device’s ability to see satellites.
  • Carry extra batteries so that you don’t lose power in the middle of the track.
  • Create a map with your results!   When GPSing trails, I use two GPS devices simultaneously – I prefer Garmin and Delorme.  I like these two different manufacturers so that I can use their respective mapping programs when uploading  the tracks from the devices.  I can compare the tracks of the two devices to confirm the accuracy of tracks and create topographical maps from the data.  Both Garmin MapSource (and BaseCamp) and Delorme Topo have very manageable mapping programs.  I “clean-up” the erroneous or missing tracks to create a completely accurate map of the trails.  Mileage from the tracks and trails will now be accurate as a result of this detailed review of your GPS data because the “cookies” from the device tracks have been laid onto a terrain map, which takes into account any elevation change that may have been inaccurately recorded by the GPS device.  In my view, this is what makes GPSing a trail accurate and true.

In conclusion, one can measure trails in a number of different ways – drive them in your Suburban, walk them with your “wheel”, believe the land manager’s measurements,  etc.   While just reading the GPS device on your wrist or in your pouch can give you some idea of the correct measurement, you will not get the accurate measurement unless you take the time to create a map from your GPS tracks.

An added benefit from creating the map is that you now actually have a detailed map of your trails that you can use for clearing, spotters, water locations, emergency services, etc..  I have found that land managers also like to know where these trails are and will appreciate your effort in providing them the maps.

In the end, more accurate trail information can help make riders, land managers and ride managers happier and better informed.