Winter storm warnings and the threat of being trapped by impassable mountain highways didn’t deter endurance riders from around the country from converging on Reno, Nev., Feb. 23-24 as the American
Endurance Ride Conference celebrated its 35th anniversary at their annual convention.
The North American Trail Ride Conference National Convention was held in conjunction with AERC’s event, making this a trade show that few distance vendors chose to miss. In addition to a bustling trade show, AERC had a full slate of educational seminars, lectures, entertainment and even hands-on labs.
Under the heading of research, two speakers presented the results of their studies. Dr. Trisha Dowling, DVM, professor of veterinary clinical pharmacology at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (Canada) reported on “The Pride Project,” a study funded by AERC where blood samples were taken from endurance horses before, during and after 50-mile endurance rides.
Complete blood counts, serum chemistries and electrolytes were analyzed and “normal” values were calculated. The results, as is often the case, raised as many questions as answers, finding that normal for an endurance horse may not look like the normal profile of the average horse, valuable information when paying for bloodwork.
Meanwhile, Hal Schott, DVM, PhD, reported on “Why Horses Do Not Finish Endurance Rides.” Schott discussed AERC’s pilot study on failure to finish and summarized data collected on completion rates. He covered practical recommendations based on the study’s findings.
Schott is a professor of equine internal medicine at Washington State University. His research interests include fluid and electrolyte balance in equines, especially with prolonged exercise. Other health-related lectures included Victoria R. Maxwell, DVM, who lectured on “Joint Health For The Performance Horse” and Olin Balch, DVM, who spoke on “Farrier Preferences Of Endurance Riders.”
Some of the most popular events this year were the three wet labs taught by Balch. Participants learned about functional anatomy, disease and dissected a hoof, forelimb or hindlimb. Participants enthusiastically praised the value of the class.
Longevity Is The Theme
When newly elected AERC President Mike Maul was asked what he would like the focus of the organization to be during his term, he unhesitatingly replied, “Longevity. I hope to hit 6,000 miles with my horse this year.”
This philosophy is consistent with outgoing AERC President Stagg Newman, whose horse Ramegwa Drubin completed his 20th consecutive year of competition in 2006.
The Hall of Fame inductee Pandora’s Pixy has competed since 1991 and is still going strong. In 17 years of competition, this half-Arabian mare has completed 11,320 miles and has received 12 best condition awards, making her only the third member of the “Perfect 10,” an elite group of equines who have competed for at least 10 years, 10,000 miles, 10 wins and 10 best condition awards.
Meanwhile, the Pard’ners Award recipients John Parke and his Icelandic Pony Remington have competed 12 years and 10,145 miles.
Bill Wilson, 71, the rider of the National Best Condition Champion, has ridden 19,825 career miles. In 2006, Wilson rode 2,005 miles, a career high. He entered 43 rides and finished 38, with 33 finishes in the top 10 and 17 best condition awards. Endurance truly does come with age.
When mentioning outstanding efforts of 2006, it’s impossible to overlook the accomplishments of Heraldic, the Arabian gelding ridden by John Crandell III who accomplished the unthinkable by winning first and best condition awards at the Tevis 100 (Calif.), the Old Dominion 100 (Va.) and the AERC National Championship Ride (Va.), demonstrating an amazing amount of longevity for a ride season. Heraldic stayed sound and peaked for not just one big event, but three amazingly tough rides.
At a time when international competitions favor the flat, fast courses with incredibly fast win times, AERC has held with tradition and chosen some of the country’s most ruggedly technical courses to choose its national champions.
Changes And Challenges
The business discussions at this year’s convention ranged from rule changes to protect the welfare of the horse to the procedures for selecting national champions.
A proposed shortening of the one-hour final competition veterinary check to 30 minutes was discussed by the AERC Welfare Of The Horse Committee and Veterinary Committee. What initially seemed like a
suggestion that would increase safety wasn’t widely accepted by ride managers and members due to the fact that many finish lines are located up to a mile outside of camp for safety reasons. Though not entirely defeated, the proposal was not acted upon pending further consideration.
Another suggestion was the possibility of raising the minimum age for horses participating in the 25-mile ride from 4 to 5 years of age, and requiring 100-mile entries to be a minimum of 7 years old. These suggestions also will be studied as more information on longevity of horses started at different ages is gathered.
In the competitions area, a proposal was made to award a first to finish and top-10 overall at the National Championship ride in addition to the current practice of weight divisions only. Recognizing juniors competing in the 100-mile division and encouraging others to do so were also discussed.
One of the more difficult challenges facing the Veterinary Committee and the AERC Board of Directors is the rewriting of “Rule 13”, AERC’s Drug-Free rule. Due to the increased sensitivity of drug testing procedures, a horse could test positive for drugs by carrying minute amounts of a tranquilizer given weeks before for routine dental care, for example, long after any measurable effects have worn off.
Having an “absolute zero” policy with today’s sensitive tests has become impractical, thus the committee will be developing threshold levels under which a horse is no longer considered under the influence of a drug, allowing competitors to be in compliance after a reasonable withdrawal period.
AERC’s Trails Committee reported rapid growth of participation with their addition of permanent Trail Master training sites at Ft. Stanton, N.M., and Glenville State College in W.Va. Discussions are underway with the Bureau of Land Management in Susanville, Calif., for another permanent training site. In 2006, these training camps certified 62 AERC riders and 14 land managers as Trail Masters after intensive classes in sustainable trail construction.
The threat of additional Designated Wilderness sites by the U.S. government could impact many ride sites and will be a challenge in the future. One success story, which was widely reported in numerous publications, was the AERC-funded study of noxious weeds, which discredited the
theory that horse manure introduces noxious weeds on trails.
At the awards presentation a special service award was given recognizing the efforts of Mike Maul and Russell Humphries in setting up the website www.aerc.org.
Along with rider history and horse history performance records that are instantly available, the website now provides veterinarians the opportunity to take the voluntary Vet Certification test online, includes a place for trail volunteers to record their volunteer hours for tracking purposes, and has the capability to input new Post-Ride Statistical Reports for the Veterinary Committee to analyze. The website also includes a section with connections for mentors, a variety of educational articles, the latest research studies to be reported and many other options.
On a somber note, word arrived during the convention that Maggie Price, a former AERC president and Hall of Fame member, had passed away. A gracious ambassador of the sport who was loved by all, Price will be honored by a new membership drive named in her honor.
During Price’s term as president, she instituted the Each One Add One campaign, which was the most successful membership drive in the organization’s history.
International News And Notes
The American Endurance Ride Conference convention international division addressed the Zone Team Endurance Challenge, a three-star Fédération Equestre Internationale event to be held in Ashland, Mont., Sept. 22.
The major portion of the ZTEC discussion was to change the age requirement of the horses from 7 to 6 and to eliminate all pre-qualification of 100-milers for horse and rider.
Topics slated to be discussed at the upcoming World Endurance Forum in Paris (March 30-April 2) include the possible proposal to change the World Championship distance from 160 km (100 miles) to 120 km (75 miles), technical courses vs. flat groomed fast courses, and the possibility of finishing cut-offs, where there will be an appointed cut-off time after the winner crosses the line, when other riders on course will be stopped at the next vet check and given credit accordingly.
Another possibility being considered is a two-hour cut-off after the winning time. International representatives hope that with the open division for AERC members being offered at the ZTEC ride there will be an increased interest in FEI and international riding in the year ahead.