Back in 1972, a small group of Northern California distance horseback riders gathered to create an organization to recognize their riding accomplishments, standardize ride rules, and work to preserve trails. Still going strong, this month the American Endurance Ride Conference celebrates its 40th anniversary.
AERC is still headquartered in the self-proclaimed "Endurance Capital of the World" in Auburn, which continues to be a hot spot for endurance riding 40 years later.
Riders crossing the Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge, commonly called No Hands Bridge, as they make their way to Auburn, during a 1970s running of the
Western States Endurance Ride (Tevis Cup 100).
Much has changed in the sport – the six simple rules adopted in the 1970s have become a 10,000-word document – but the basic premise is the same: a rider, a horse, and a trail.
Perhaps the best known of all endurance rides is the venerable Western States Endurance Ride, commonly known as the Tevis Cup, which traverses the Sierra Nevadas from near Lake Tahoe to Auburn under the full moon one summer night each year. Today, hundreds of rides are sanctioned by AERC across the U.S. and Canada, ranging from 25 to 100 miles per day. Also popular are Pioneer Rides, which are a minimum of three consecutive days and 155 total miles.
Endurance riding grew from its humble California beginnings to become an internationally recognized sport. Hundreds of endurance rides are held annually around the U.S. and Canada, with everything from small, low-key rides to ultra-competitive races. The nation's top riders are gearing up for the World Endurance Championships to be held August 25 in England and the AERC National Championship rides September 20 and 22 at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.
Ruth Waltenspiel and her Arabian gelding Cheyenne XII at the Cooley Ranch Ride. Ruth, who is in her 70s, has amassed 30,492 endurance rides (of 50-100 miles) and 1,005 limited distance miles (of 25-35 miles).
Photo © Rene Baylor, Baylor/Gore Photography.
The welfare of the horse is paramount in endurance riding, and veterinarians acting as control judges check the horses before, during and after the competition. Most new endurance riders begin with the 25-30 mile rides in the limited distance division. While there is no minimum time for completion of a ride, the maximum time for a 25-mile ride is six hours. When riders are ready to move up to 50-mile rides, the time limit jumps to 12 hours, including mandatory rest stops. For the 100-mile rides, horse-and-rider teams have 24 hours to complete the ride.
All equines are eligible to compete, and while Arabian horses proliferate, there are a growing number of gaited horses participating. Mules and Quarter Horses are common mounts, but even Draft horses and at least one Zebra have competed in endurance.
Endurance riding is truly a sport for every horseman with a fit horse. And one of those original six rules which is still in force is that "everyone finishing a ride shall receive a completion award." As the AERC motto states, "to finish is to win."
All ages are welcome at endurance competitions. "Endurance riding is truly a family sport, allowing lots of family bonding time while traversing some beautiful countryside," says AERC Executive Director Kathleen Henkel. "Moms, dads, and even grandparents can participate on the trails with junior riders."
Rachel Shackelford crosses the American River
at the 2011 Tevis Cup ride. She and B.R. Cody De Soi finished the ride in second place.
Photo © Bill Gore, Gore/Baylor Photography.
Rho Bailey, one of AERC's founders who works part-time at the office, says, "Nothing matches the satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment of finishing a 50- or 100-mile.
Being able to see territory and trails you would never see otherwise is one of the special things about endurance riding." The other is the bond that develops between horse and rider. "You really depend on each other out on the trail."
No matter how much the sport has changed, she says that three things will always remain the same: "It will always be fun, competitive
The organization's national office tracks miles and points for all members and their horses, and confers annual awards in both regional and national competitions, including a family award and an award given to the rider 65 or older who completes the most miles each year.
AERC's monthly publication, Endurance News, includes an extensive ride calendar and awards standings each month as well as education articles and features.
Ruth Waltenspiel of Healdsburg, taken at the
Derby Ditch Ride back in the 1970s.
Photo courtesy Charlie Barieau.
Memberships are $75 per year, with a 15% discount for first-time members.
More information on endurance riding is available by visiting
www.aerc.org or by calling the AERC office at
Press release provided by AERC.
AERC Rules (1974)
The term endurance riding is defined as an athletic event in which the same horse and rider cover a measured course and conforms to the following conditions:
1. The first horse to finish (in the least amount of time) in acceptable condition is the winner.
2. An award is given for the best-conditioned horse.
3. There can be no minimum time limit.
4. The ride (horses) must be controlled by veterinarians.
5. Everyone finishing a ride shall receive a completion award.
6. The ride is open to all breeds of horses.