In This Corner...
Are The Purists.
These are the members who want to keep endurance riding as it was in days gone by. They have caved in the past when 50 mile rides were added to the sacred 100 mile ride and then watched in dismay as people abandoned the founding distance for the simpler, shorter distance. Shortly there after they cringed as the vote got passed to add distances of 25 miles to the line up. Where was their beloved sport going? They call for a return to the roots: if you can't get a horse prepared safely for 25 miles, then you don't belong here. They see the world as being overrun by quitters. People who whine and complain when something is too difficult and force the world to dumb it down so they can participate. They see these are folks who do not wish to put forth the effort to condition and worry about tack, nutrition and hydration. Their bottom line is that anything less than 25 miles (and some still counter with anything less than 50 miles) is not endurance and should be left at home.
And In This Corner...
Are The Survivors
These are the members who only see a dwindling and aging membership with rides being cancelled due to poor turn out and rising costs of everything. They see a bleak future where their sport is relegated to a few rides a year spread out over unconquerable miles leaving most of the people without any rides at all. They want a larger umbrella: bring in the young, the old, the weak, the tired. You can't do 25 miles? Fine we will host a 15 mile ride for you. The more the merrier to spread the word, share costs and hopefully convince a few to move up the ranks. They see a whole untouched demographic of middle aged working, family raising individuals who don't have time to do a 25, but their money is still green and so why not have a place for them? This isn't dumbing down the sport. It is merely adding to it. They point to the jumpers who have classes ranging from mere ground poles you trot over to those doing 5 foot fences. They point to human runners with 1 mile kid runs and 100+ mile ultras. There is room for all without destroying the basic core at all.
This is just the latest installment of what appears to be a long standing and ever lasting argument in the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC). Recently, they added a 15 mile option - no time restraints, but you need to vet in and out. This was proposed as a way to increase membership for those who can't do the longer distances and help keep the sport alive. And then the online forums and social media outlets caught on fire with arguments from both camps.
Honestly, I am on the fence on this one. I can easily see both arguments here. I understand the need to preserve some level of difficulty to keep away people who aren't interested in putting forth all the time and effort required of conditioning a horse. The rides aren't just about the completion miles. It is about the journey of education and bonding with the horse that allows you to get to the finish line 25 miles (or more) later sound and happy and wanting more. Put the work it. It is worth it.
But I also understand that every club, every sport needs a strong base of support. You can't have a pyramid standing on the point. The elites will always be small in number or they wouldn't be elite. Where do the elite come from? Beginners who get hooked and move on up the levels. I personally don't feel like my completion of 25 or 50 miles is diminished at all by someone else "just" doing 15 miles. How does that affect me? It doesn't.
I do strongly feel, however, that if the AERC wants to add shorter distances in that two things need to occur:
1) The same rules need to apply no matter the distance. Meaning vet in, vet out, have some form of a time limit even one that is extremely easy. This will ensure that no matter what distance the rider/horse is doing they need to show up fit, prepared and with properly fitting tack.
2) Welcome them! It will only make matters worse if you allow the distance, take the money and then very distinctly make every single rider who enters those distances feel like they don't belong and are just being sued to pay for the expenses of the ride. If you hold the ride, be welcoming, friendly and happy to see all the new faces. Be open t new ideas and suggestions. Don't ignore the newbies. Invite them to your campfire and answer all the millions of questions they will have. That is the way to get people hooked and coming back for more.