Trail's Open: Endurance Riders Hit the Trail After COVID-19 Lockdown
Walk through any endurance ride camp, and you might raise your eyebrows at some riders’ fashion choices. But with the added specter of life during coronavirus, ride camp at the three-day City of Rocks Pioneer endurance ride June 13-15 resembled a masked bandit convention in the Wild West. Underneath those masks, though, were smiling riders delighted to return to the endurance trails.

With the entire horse sport industry, including endurance riding, shutting down for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, City of Rocks in south central Idaho became one of the first three rides allowed to proceed with American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC)-approved safety regulations.

Ride manager Regina Rose and riders had to adopt and adapt to new protocols. As a longtime ride management assistant and a rider, I got to experience both aspects of the reemergence of endurance after the COVID-19 lockdown.

This ride was a sort of test pilot for developing the new conventions during coronavirus: mandatory online preregistration, social distancing in camp and vet checks, masks worn in vet checks, only one handler per horse in vet checks, no ride meetings, no communal meals, no awards ceremonies.

The month Regina spent developing and writing a COVID-19 plan the AERC approved just weeks before the ride resulted in a 34-page rider information packet emailed to preregistered attendees.

In addition to the usual ride management tasks of setting up camp and marking trails, in camp we staked out a social distancing vet check area; marking off spaced-out boxes for incoming riders, each with its own hay and water bucket; and designated vet lanes with spaced-out waiting areas for horses and multiple hand sanitizer stations for hands and stethoscopes.

I rode Day 3’s 50-miler with Naomi Preston, a veteran endurance rider and AERC board member who voted on approving Regina’s COVID-19 plan for the ride. “As a rider,” Naomi said, “I was extremely impressed how smoothly the vet check procedures went.

“From the perspective of being an AERC board member for the Northwest Region, I was extremely proud of how our ride manager was able to successfully hold a three-day event, leading the way for a new ‘normal’ in our sport,” she added. “I was also proud of our endurance community, pulling together to support Regina.

“Riders were happy to wear masks and social distance, with no complaints – just happy to be riding their horses!”