Welcoming Newcomers into the Fold
Story and photography by Darice Whyte
A few years back I found myself in the position of President of our local endurance club. It wasn’t really something I had aspired to, however we needed a president and apparently I wasn’t doing much else. My duties are mostly of the promotional variety, which suits me just fine. I can talk about endurance ad nauseam and am constantly promoting it to anyone who will half listen to me. I’ve had a couple of the local horse groups ask me to speak at their meetings. I am quite happy to chat with them and try to drum up more interest for our club. I think that’s called poaching, but they invited me in so fair game right?
As I tend to think the more the merrier, I set out to try to increase our participation at club meetings. Previous board members thought the meetings should only be for board members. I disagree with that theory, as I believe the more you get people involved the more invested they will be in the club. The more people invested, the better for the future of our club. AND, if all goes as it should, we get more riders to our events. If not as a rider, then perhaps they will volunteer at a ride. We always need volunteers.
The other goal I wanted to achieve was a welcoming environment. It is a daunting task to come to an endurance ride for the first time, so the warmer the reception the better.
I recently read a comment on Facebook where a person was of the belief she couldn’t come out to our endurance rides unless she was riding an Arabian. The person didn’t feel she would be accepted or welcomed by the rest of us otherwise. The comment horrified me, but it also made me sad. You cannot dispute how a person feels. The only thing you can do is assure them that our club is inclusive to all regardless of what breed they choose to ride.
Not all Arabians excel at endurance just like not all Quarter Horses can be excellent barrel horses or all Thoroughbreds be the next Secretariat. Each horse has its own unique abilities. A sound, fit horse that eats and drinks well can generally do quite well at endurance.
We cannot grow our club by catering to Arabian riders only. That just limits our numbers and, trust me, ours isn’t an exclusive club. We are a small grassroots club trying to make a presence in the ever-changing equine playing field. We want to grow and involve as many riders as we can in our challenging and rewarding sport.
For me, it is interesting to see how the other breeds can do. While I do ride an Arabian or a part bred, I have ridden with a Paint and a Canadian who pulsed down better than my Arabian mare did that day. Over the years I’ve been beaten by a variety of breeds including a Tennessee Walking Horse, a Mustang and a mule. There is a Morgan mare in our club that has amazing recoveries. I fully expect she will best me one day too. And that’s totally fine by me!
As there are many options for people to choose from to participate with their horse, we want new people (and returning riders) to have an excellent time while in our company. We want them to come back! AND even better — with friends!
I reviewed our membership list to determine what exactly people were riding this season. 54% of our membership were riding something other than an Arabian or part-bred Arab. The 54% is a wide range of breeds including Quarter Horses, Tennessee Walkers, Welsh cross, Icelandics, Rocky Mountain etc.
As I have copious amounts of time on my hands due to my avoidance of dusting I posted a bit of a rant. Ok so it was a long rant. I was just so disappointed that all of our hard work to be inclusive maybe wasn’t enough. Well, I think I heard from almost every new rider that came out this year! All posted how welcomed they felt with whatever breed they brought and how much fun they had at the rides they attended. A few posted they hadn’t made it out yet but once they were in a position to join us they would. So my takeaway was we are headed in the right direction. There will always be bumps in the road and trying to engage younger riders continues to be a challenge. We have to find a way to appeal to this segment as they are our future.
I know in the past I’ve left groups because they weren’t my people. I just didn’t feel comfortable or maybe I just didn’t speak the same language. It just didn’t feel right for me. It’s never comfortable to be part of something that isn’t welcoming and you feel like an outsider. When I found endurance I knew I had found my tribe.
My musings are finished. I think I’ll go dust. Just kidding. It’ll just come back.