Let’s create better divisions
|July 30, 2014||Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized|
Call it “shiny buckle syndrome” but there seems to be no limit to the stupid chit we put ourselves through for a bit of bling, even with no prize money on the line.
Divisions can add that extra bit of motivation to participate in events, where just merely completing isn’t enough to climb into our trucks, fill the tank with $120 worth of fuel (and refill as necessary….) and buy a gazillion saddles in search of the holy grail.
Divisions do 2 things
- they help encourage and motivate people in the sport who never ever have a shot at winning the whole she-bang.
- they are tool an organizations can use to prod the sport to move in a certain direction.
Awards cost money and time and effort…..so it’s worth thinking carefully about how best to reward the members of your sport (in carefully constructed divisions) so that those 2 goals are accomplished.
We can assume the member’s goals are:
- to own bling
- to be recognized for milestones or achievements that they feel are “notable”.
Let’s assume the organization’s goals are:
- To recruit and retain more members
- to have as many members as possible be as active as possible
- to increase revenues
- to advance a cause or an idea
Considering these goals, there are some divisions that naturally serve the best interest of both the organization AND the members. For endurance, this seems to include:
- Overall yearly awards at a national level
- Overall yearly awards at a regional level (important to motivate members that will never be recognizable at the national level)
- Lifetime achievement awards for horses and riders. Including mileage plateus, (my favorite) the decade team award, and “the perfect 10”.
- Awards for certain categories of rides to make them more desirable because otherwise there is too high of a “cost” – such as 100 milers, pioneer rides.
- If the focus is on making this a family friendly sport, or to encourage older senior citizens to come into the sport, then the divisions of “husband/wife”, “family competing together”, and “senior riders” make sense as well.
What about divisions such as “breed of horse”?
While the members might might want it, it’s hard to justify why it’s in the interest of an endurance organization to provide it unless it demonstrably brought significantly more riders into the sport (which I’m not convinced it does).
What makes more sense is for individual breed organizations to sponsor divisions within the sport of endurance.
Having other parties promote their interests within the sport of endurance is a perfect way for both members and the endurance organization to both achieve their goals, as long as the goal of the organization sponsoring the award/division isn’t directly in conflict with the cause or idea of the sport organization.
Having a combination of outside sponsors promoting their interest within the sport of endurance (breeds, horses with a certain background etc.) and a variety of divisions sponsored directly by the endurance organization that directly support their mission statement means that within the sport of endurance, most of us have the opportunity to earn some sort of recognition for an achievement – whether it’s life time mileage, an outstanding season, or doing this sport with our family.
The glaring exception is the weight divisions.
While it serves to make awards available to a larger number of members….the actually division itself does nothing to promote the interests or cause of endurance.
While in theory it sounds logical – horses carrying a large amount a weight do not compete against horses that are carrying up to a 100 pounds less…..but in reality it’s a complete farce. Many fit guys in the heavy weight category and get off their horses and run. Some heavyweight riders never get off. Many featherweights stay in the saddle. Why we are awarding prizes to rider/horse combinations based on rider weight that the horse may or may not be carrying seems ludicrous.The only study I know of (please correct me if I’m wrong) where weight mattered was the study done at Tevis…and the results didn’t correlate success with rider weight as much as the overall rider COMBINED with horse weight.
Weight divisions may make sense in high end competition where the horses really are racing to win and since much of the ride is done at a canter and no one is dismounting…..but I think even that is stretch. This isn’t track racing where you can handicap with weight – too many different variables in endurance that negate this – like getting off your horse and running down hills.
To top it off, I can’t think of a way that weight divisions promote the endurance organization’s greater goals – longevity, horse welfare, fit to continue, or endurance in general.
Here’s my challenge to you.
Come up with other endurance sport divisions that make more sense, that promote both the member’s goals AND the organization goals. Here’s mine.
At the ride and time championships if your team was made up of a pro/amateur (as opposed to pro/pro) you were eligible for a separate category of awards. An amateur was defined as a human partner that had never completed a championships, and never completed any ride and tie over the distance of 20 miles.
This (theoretically) encourages experienced people to pair up with less experienced people and bring new members into the sport.
(alas there was no amateur/amateur division as apparently rarely do 2 people who have never done this suddenly decide it is a good idea).
How could we adapt this to endurance?
Perhaps we could base the award on the number of rides that a person mentored/sponsored a “green bean” rider for that year?
Or perhaps we give team awards. At the beginning of a season teams of 3 declare themselves, with at least one member being in their first 1-2 seasons.
Those first couple seasons are hard. If you look at the rate of attrition in most organizations, often there is a substantial drop in people that sign up for a 2nd or 3rd year. I’m not sure what the statistics are specifically for AERC, but if I hazard a guess, one of the biggest “losses” in status from “current” to “former” member happens in that first 2-3 years. Perhaps a separate division for people with less than 5 seasons total would encourage newbies. I know it was a couple of seasons before I earned my first bling in AERC – my first mileage patch. Having some recognition for the initial effort in the first seasons would have been very encouraging.
IMO the lack of recognition for adult newbies, is the biggest hole in our sport. It was really discouraging to be an early 20’s something, knowing I had the money and time to throw at this sport, and yet feeling ignored by the organization. This is in stark contrast to the junior division. The junior division is a valid division and while I am not detracting from the value that juniors bring to the sport (along with other family friendly divisions), I would like to point out that by virtue of their “life stage” they often leave the sport for their college years and more years ’til they get that first job that allows them to have a disposable income.Recognizing the older newbies that aren’t juniors may have a more immediate payoff. Keep the junior and senior divisions….and add an amateur division!
The Silver Division
What about an award for horse and rider combinations number together over 50 years? Or more? What about giving recognition to the oldest person+horse combination that finishes a ride, and then awarding an end of year prize to the rider who earned the most “silver” awards that year?
Recruit more outside organizations to sponsor divisions within AERC that promote their interests, that provide more opportunities for recognition for members.
Whether that is specific breeds, ponies, former horse careers, current rider careers, association membership, or a particular piece of equipment/tack/gear.
Think about the possibilities – how cool would it be to compete for an award based on wearing a pink helmet for all your rides? Or promote membership in your organization by offering a division for everyone who was a card-carrying member of that association?
Any other ideas out there?