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

Quoting Jan Steven’s Vice President’s column from December, 2011:

“3,168,000 inches. 264,000 feet. 88,000 yards. 80.47 kilometers. Whatever you want to call it, it is 50 miles.”

It seems so simple, right?  And let’s face it, our sport and many of the awards associated with our sport rely on the integrity of accurate trail measurement.

I confess that this issue perplexes me greatly, particularly with regard to the role that AERC needs to take in addressing it.  Sometimes it requires walking a very fine line between coaching and enforcing.

So what to do if a ride seems to be of a substantially different length than advertised?  The obvious answer is a direct and constructive approach with the Ride Manager.

Again, from Jan’s column:

“If you feel that a ride does not have the correct mileage, you must first talk to the ride manager. I emphasis “talk” — do not be confrontational. Realize that the ride manager has had little sleep and is under a lot of ride-management stress. Be sure that you are absolutely correct in your calculations of trail mileage. Accusing them of not having the correct mileage by comparing their ride to other rides just will not fly.”

In Reno during March, at the AERC Convention, I was part of the meetings held by both the Ride Managers’ Committee, and the Sanctioning Committee (to which I am new as a recently-elected member of the BOD representing the Northeast Region).

In those meetings we discussed the potential causes of too-long, but mostly too-short rides, as well as the best plan to address them.

We brainstormed the causes:

  • The Ride Manager has a challenging trail to measure; one that is tree-covered, with significant elevation changes, an/or difficult to access with a measuring wheel, vehicle with a calibrated odometer, or which can present issues when attempts are made to measure it with GPS, or which shows different measurements when measured by different methods or technologies.  This leaves the Ride Manager “guesstimating” the trail length to some degree.
  • There is last minute damage to trails, or some need to re-route after the trail has been established and measured, either leaving it substantially short, or substantially long.
  • The trail is difficult, either technically challenging, having significant climbs and/or descents, footing that is slow to traverse, and/or typical weather which makes the trail “ride long.”   The Ride Manager then feels the riders “get their money’s worth” from the trail, even though it may be on the short side.
  • The Ride Manager relies on measurements from another person or organization, such as the Forest Service or Park hosting their ride, and does not realize that the trail measurements are not accurate, or how substantially they are off.
  • The Ride Manager has been pressured and has succumbed to the influence of those who wish the trail to ‘go more quickly’ or ‘be a good first 50’ or ‘not make riders have problems making time.’
  • In many cases, we imagine it is some combination of the above.

Organizationally, the AERC has no interest in becoming a “police state” where we point fingers at Ride Managers and accuse them of wrong-doing.  According to the members of the Ride Managers’ Committee, this is not a widespread and pervasive problem; there are just a few rides where we need to be more diligent. Without Ride Managers, our sport ceases to exist, and thus we must tread lightly on claims of a ride that is too long, or too short.

At present, here is our plan for assisting Ride Managers in having accurately measured trail:

  • Joe Schoech has agreed to write a RM Column regarding the advantages and pitfalls of measuring trail with a GPS, and provide us with tips for getting the most accurately  measured trail for every terrain, geography and with the variety of GPS on the market
  • We are working with AERC members with GPS expertise who are willing to assist Ride Managers in getting their trails accurately measured – if this is something you’re interested in getting help with, contact me, and I will get you in touch with those who can help
  • The Ride Managers’ Committee will continue to work closely with the Sanctioning Committee to ensure we are providing the resources and incentive needed to make sure rides are accurately measured

As a rider, what can you do?   Jan’s advice from December, above, is still spot on.

If you find that you have solid evidence that a ride you’ve ridden is substantially long or short, and you’ve not had success with the Jan’s advice about speaking with the Ride Manager, I encourage you to speak to your region’s Sanctioning Director (all listed right here in the first few pages of Endurance News), provide whatever information you have that leads you to your conclusion, and then give them a little time to work through the situation.  Sometimes these situations are somewhat complex and take a bit of time to resolve.

If all else fails, the Protest and Grievance process is always available to you.

As Ride Managers, we have a wealth of latitude about how we run our rides, but there are some issues which are simply critical to our sport, our riders and our horses;  an accurately measured and well-marked trail, and a thoughtful plan for veterinary control (and treatment) for our equine partners.

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

Happy trails!