Bringing along a junior or young rider brings benefits to both people, and the sport as a whole.
by Sami Browneller
The greatest gift is knowledge. That means the greatest gift to give is the knowledge of our experiences. As endurance riders we are given the opportunity to give that gift to the next generation of riders by sponsoring a young rider.
This journey began when I walked into a barn to meet a young girl. Cassadee Jaksch was about 10, quiet and shorter than me by a foot. Oh, how things would change. There were lessons, conditioning rides and plans in the works for an upcoming American Endurance Ride Conference limited distance ride. Now, I was not her sponsor at the first ride, but I was there as a backup. My job was to help as needed and, if her sponsor was unable to continue, I would then step in to help her finish.
This young lady’s horse had a thing for not crossing water. There were quite a few crossings on the trail and we had to repeat loops. We saw a lot of water that day, and the horse fought with us at every crossing. Cass never complained about being tired or about her horse misbehaving. That day she spent just under 12 hours in the saddle. She was hooked, wanting to ride more and more.
Now we have the sad part of the story
The next few years she was only able to attend a couple more rides, but the desire was still there. Then things changed. I received a call from the girl’s mother saying Cass wanted to join some conditioning and training rides with me. I said, “Let’s do it!” We planned a short 12-mile loop around one of our local mountains and had her friend join us.
I grew up in and around these mountains, so I didn’t even think about what these girls would think of it when we took off. I’m sure both girls thought it was a long ride and that I was crazy and would get them lost and possibly leave them out there in the forest! This is a true mountain trail and there are lots of ups, downs, creek crossings, low branches and downed trees.
At one point, we went off the trail and stopped to eat a few wild strawberries, the best kind of berry. We got back to the trail and both girls looked a little worried and scared. I thought maybe that would be the last time they would want to ride with me. I was wrong! They loved it! And they wanted more and more!
That season I started to sponsor Cass at AERC’s endurance rides. The first ride was perfect, and we finished in the top five. Cass was really hooked and wanted to be competitive. Now during training rides, we progressed to talking about strategy and how to do things better and better. This included pacing, a vet check efficiency plan and how to present your horse for best condition judging. We talked about keeping tack clean and organized, feeding, and changed her horse’s hoof care program, moving from boots to shoes. We finished that year ready for the next.
Early the following year I explained how we would compete differently. It was time to start weaning her from her sponsor, sort of like kicking her out of the nest. This would be the last year she would need a sponsor. Next year she could ride on her own! This meant more responsibility for Cass.
I still rode with her, but now she often took the lead and set the pace. She took a bigger role in deciding how much time to spend at a water tank, grazing or if we stayed extra time during a vet check. We had lots of challenges. We evaluated each ride, discussing what went well and what we needed to tweak for the next go. It was an additional challenge for me because I rode a horse that was a handful and sometimes I just had to concentrate on him.
Cass and her great horse, Give Us A Kiss (“Chip”), didn’t hesitate. They stepped up and helped me through the ride when I needed it. Later in the season I hooked her up with other wonderful sponsors that could teach her different ways of going down the trail.
Now for the end of the story. At 2017 50-mile AERC National Championship ride, held in LaVeta, Colorado there were lots of decisions to make. Our horses were qualified and ready, we’d done our homework on the trail, the camp, the vet checks, and the other competitors. There were long talks between Cass, her mom and myself. Cass, now a foot taller than I am and a high school soccer athlete, had done a great job. She’s responsible for herself and her horse so was it time to send her out on her own as an unsponsored junior. Her mom filled out the required paperwork. There, it was done. She would ride alone!
This was hard. I had to let her go and do her thing, pass or fail. This is where all our work would pay off. She applied what she had learned during all our years and practices. Cassadee Jaksch and Give Us a Kiss finished second, right behind me, riding Kaytwo, at the 2017 AERC National Championship 50.
To me the greatest part of sponsoring a junior is seeing that young person takes what she has learned and excels in the sport that we both enjoy. Sponsoring is an opportunity to learn more and teach the future of endurance.
To find out more about endurance riding and the American Endurance Ride Conference, visit www.aerc.org