In which it takes an (endurance) village: a story of two riders

At the Foothills ride last weekend, there was a "keyhole" section of trail. Basically, it looks like a lollipop on the map:

Riders approach the watertanks at the base of the lolly. A sign on a tree at rider eye-level says "OUT --->" . There is also a sandwich board on the ground that echoes the message: "Out --->" and ribbons on the trees leading riders in the correct direction.

After completing the keyhole, riders approach the watertanks from the other side, and are greeted by another pair of signs. These signs read "<----IN".

Pretty clear, right?

But you know: If it can go wrong, it usually does for somebody.

Two riders went off-course at this location.

The first was a young lady new to the sport. She was riding an elegant foxtrotter stallion who had clearly spent a lot of time in the show ring, but was sufficiently conditioned to do fine in the 25-mile event. Somehow the rider got turned around, missed the keyhole, saw the ribbons leading back to camp and followed them. This process clips about 8 of the most challenging miles out of the ride.

When they got to camp, the ride managers immediately saw that a mistake had been made--this rider hadn't travelled nearly so quickly on the first leg of the journey, and it's unlikely that a horse will spontaneously double his speed over these distances. When they questioned the rider, she realized that she made a mistake.

"What can I do?" she asked ride management.

Now, here I must insert some words about our endurance village.

The managers of this ride are not only very experienced ride managers, riders, and leaders in our regional organization, they are experienced parents. They know what to do when somebody goofs: explain the options available, and offer whatever help is available.

In this case, the rider could call it a day, have a beer and a bowl of gumbo, and chalk it up to experience.

Or she could go back out to the spot of trail she had missed, do the trail, and return to camp. She would not be able to make it back to the finish line by the deadline, but they could give her "completion only" points, which means she would not have placing in the finishing statistics, but her mileage would still count.

The rider made her decision: she mounted back up, checked the directions once more, and headed out onto the trail. When she returned to camp, we clapped.

Another rider also mis-navigated the keyhole.

This rider is an experienced rider who has been competing for at least 14 years. When questioned about her mistake, this rider first denied cutting trail and was rude to ride management in a very loud voice. When the managers held their position, she admitted skipping the section of trail because she "figured she had been out there long enough." Then she stomped away and refused to talk to anyone else for the remainder of the day, despite having plenty of time to go back onto the trail to rectify her mistake and still finish the ride and get a placing.

Yes, our village is filled with all types of people. I'd like to say that the rude ones learn good behavior or they go away...

but it's not true.

Sometimes they stay. Like all the villages I've ever been part of, ours contains people that I don't like.

Sometimes we are able to teach them some better behavior, as I hope we were able to do with The Dude (though I doubt it).

Sometimes, they just aren't invited to the campfires to swap stories.

If you are new or interested in moving to our village, I should tell you that we have some rules. Although we don't talk about them much, we enforce them absolutely:

1. Safety is the most important thing. Not placings, not points, not records, not your picture in the yearbook.

2. Safety is the most important thing, and that means keeping everybody safe, including the vets, the pulsers, the kids in camp, and your horse. One of the vets says that if a horse runs over one of the staff, he'll check the ride manager's pulse and write THAT on the vet card--ensuring a DQ for the horse.

2. Safety is the most important thing, and politeness and kindness are right up there too. We won't ever let you do anything unsafe, but we also won't let you be rude to vets, ride managers, your horse, your dog, your spouse, or your child. If we think you're being rude, you may find yourself separated from the focus of your rudeness. We do this politely and safely, of course. (Sometimes the process makes for some very humorous stories to be told around the campfires in the evenings.)

3. Safety is the most important thing, and we also want to remind everyone that this is a game. Endurance is not world peace. Nobody "needs" to win a ride for the prize. We've seen too many bad consequences in sports where people lose sight of this. Statistically, horses are at risk just by participating in our sport, but we minimize the risk by keeping our vetting strict and our peer pressure strong. We'll remind you of this if we think you need reminding.

4. Safety is the most important thing, and if you goof up and get hurt, we will feed you, take care of your horse until you feel better, go with you to get your stitches put in (ahem, Lytha?) , send you flowers (or rum, depending on the circumstances) and make sure you have a brand-new helmet strapped on tight before we let you climb back aboard your horse. We will also rat you out if you do risky stuff before the docs clear you for takeoff again. (ahem, I think you know who you are, lurking blog reader).

As I have said often before, endurance people are nice, they are fun, and they are kind.

They help new folks learn, they share their knowledge and experience with you if you ask them...or even if you don't.

Our village is very safe. And very opinionated.

We don't always agree, and we don't always like everybody who lives in our village. But that's okay.

We like it that way.


  1. Sounds like a great bunch of people. So tell me again what's the most important thing LOL?

  2. I applaud the rider that returned to the trail, completed it, and came back.

    I wish I could say I would do the same thing, but I think I would be so embarrassed that I missed it in the first place that I’d want to go back to my trailer and “hide.” I am hard on myself that way 

    I like your “unspoken” rules. They are all very good and I think I would feel very welcome among your group (if I only lived in the area). I especially like #3 and feel that more equine activites should adopt and follow this rule!

  3. That keyhole sounds tricky. Have you ever made the mistake of getting turned around in it, too?

    I agree about safety being first and most important. Which is why, the other day I called up my friend and ACTHA affiliate to tell her I'd be opting out of riding both days of the Halloween Competitive Trail Rides, as much as it saddens me :(

    Between me being out of shape and not riding for 4 months and my horse being out of shape, too, along with the possibility of her mysterious lameness striking her while out on the trail, it's just not the worth the risk, just to compete, even for fun.

    So, instead I was asked to be a CTR judge both days. I'm ok with that because at least I'll be involved in all the hustle, bustle and excitement. Just being around all the beautiful horses make me happy.
    But I sure will miss riding my mare.


  4. Amen. Um. Are you SURE it's not World Peace? :)
    You could get the Nobel Peace Prize...
    After all, it takes a village, indeed. Not always perfect, but most frequently right.

    (I vote we ride for World Peace)

  5. Great post and a good read with my next race coming up in November.

  6. Leah Fry: check with me after class, honey.

    Carol: you know, we'd meet you at the finish line with a piece of apple crisp and a standing ovation. worth going off-trail, sez me.

    Laughing Orca: it's not a Real Ride unless I get off-trail at some point! But Sky had done the keyhole part of the trail in previous years, so we trotted on through, no worries. (We did miss a flagged turn on an earlier section and had to turn around and find our trail again...that's pretty normal for me)

    Jane: maybe if somebody would hand out nifty t-shirts for World Peace, we could get us some. You wanna head up the prize committee with me?

    lifeshighway: good luck at your next ride!

  7. I would have passed on going back out as well. Not from the self-mortification, but would not have wanted my horse to do those extra miles because of my screw up. (I'm still mad at myself for the missed ribbons....) ~E.G.

  8. however, EG, I *know* that you wouldn't blame the ride managers and cuss at them in a loud voice! You are still invited to come to my campfire.

  9. Great post!! Endurance riders as a whole are pretty wonderful and WAY more fun than some other sports I'm involved in. But, it seems there's always someone with a bad attitude. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Aarene? What is Jim doing to that poor chicken (turkey?) in the photo on the sidebar?

  11. @Becky: Jim is feeding Twelve some corn chips. Twelve will jump for chips...sometimes she jumps in his lap to beg for them.

    She is a very odd bird.

    Also for @Becky: check the "other" blog at for a review of a new dystopic book that you will LOVE!

  12. Safety is the most important thing, and having fun is the next most important thing. I'd'a just been really crabby if I forgot to put my Dr Pepper in the fridge before I left in the morning.
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  13. @Merri, you are TOTALLY right! Safety is the most important thing and having fun is the other most important thing. Whew. Thanks for reminding us.


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