There's been a huge debate storming around on Ridecamp and the AERC Members List on how to possibly grow the organization. One of the issues that's being hotly contested is the subject of Intro Rides, or rides that are somewhere between 10 and 15-ish miles in length. AERC already has sanctioning and rules for Limited Distance (25-35 miles) and Endurance Distance (50+ mile) rides.
I've several blog posts on the subject and have skimmed through a lot of the list debates, so thought I would go ahead and weigh in with my humble opinion on the matter. Should AERC SANCTION and/or track miles for Intro Rides? NO Should these rides still be offered and available for people to participate in? YES Here's why I feel this way...
Generally, someone that is going to become a full-fledged AERC member, someone who will renew their membership beyond the first year and attend events as they feasibly can, is someone that already knows they're interested in at least TRYING endurance. These are people who have heard of the sport, and for one reason or another just haven't had a chance to officially get started.
Newbie 1) We met through a mutual online friend who knew we lived in the same general area. She had emailed that other person, hoping to find a mentor to get started in the sport. She had a young green horse and I had a (semi)steady campaigner. I had finally gotten comfortable with the 50-mile distance and was toying with the idea of trying a 100. We met in the winter and conditioned together as we had time and the weather cooperated (or not, one of the MAIN benefits of a riding buddy, it helps get you out the door!). In the spring, I rode her first LD with her, which we both finished successfully and she won the LD Best Condition while my horse received High Vet Score. Win-Win! A few weeks later, we rode her first 50 together. Again, we both completed without any issues. She fledged out on her own after that, and has since become very competitive, having an amazingly talented horse, and has gone on to complete a 100 and is planning on doing Tevis soon.
Newbie 2) We met through her blog. As fate would have it, I started to follow her very shortly before it was announced she would be moving to my local area. Again, she was interested in doing endurance, but had never been to a ride. We rode together off and on as possible through the winter (seems to be a recurring theme) and attended a few local non-AERC club rides that offered 10-20 mile rides to participate in. She didn't have a trailer, so was my captive partner in helping me to get MY young, green horse out and exposed to the world. As things worked out, I was out of town the weekend of the first AERC ride of the season, so I loaned her my trailer so she could participate. They happily finished the LD ride and have gone on to complete a 50 and are still active participants and planning for more.
Newbie 3) She had heard of endurance but wasn't ever interested in participating. We started riding together and she realized that she liked being out on the trail and going along. Again, we did a few gradually longer trail rides together, and then I took her to a couple of the local club rides. She happily finished the 10-mile distance and knew they could do more. The next one, she and her horse completed the 20-miler. However, she still has no desire to do endurance, or even try an official LD. She probably will attend some of the local rides again, but may not ride the longer (20-25) distance. Both she and her horse are quite happy and their fun tops out around 15 miles. Could they finish a LD, yes, absolutely. Does she want to, no, and that's okay!!
Thus why I stand on the opinion above in regards to Intro Rides. Having these shorter distances *available* allows people to get their feet wet and see if it's something they would like to do (they don't even need to be conducted under the AERC umbrella, we have a very successful local club that ONLY offers shorter rides). But the Intro Rides should not be official AERC events with recorded mileage. If people are TRULY interested in being distance riders, they will set their goal for such and work their way up. Once these rides become official, then Ride Managers may feel pressured to include them. Better to have it be like it currently is, where they're fully at the discretion of being offered (in whatever type of format) solely by the Ride Manager.
Both of the Newbies above who have continued on in the sport, already had an interest in doing so. Exposing the third changed some of her opinions (we don't just bomb down the trail balls-out), but it's just not her cup of tea. She has expressed interest in joining me at some out of state rides I'm hoping to attend, that both offer the shorter intro rides. She knows she doesn't want to be an actual AERC member but would like to take advantage of the shorter rides and the camping and socializing opportunities. I understand that AERC likes to offer a "big tent" atmosphere and be inclusive of many types of riders and their goals, but I feel we do need to draw the line somewhere in regards to the official and sanctioned direction of the organization.