What's the perfect family sport for horse-crazy parents and their four young children? As the Yost family of Pocatello, Idaho, found out, endurance riding is a great way to spend time together doing what they love.
Gentry Yost, 36, and wife Laura, 35, schedule their ride season around their children?s soccer, gymnastics and school activities, but last year managed to complete 2,620 miles of endurance rides.
?It is hard for me to think of another sport that would allow a dad to spend close to eight hours of uninterrupted time with a daughter,? said Gentry. ?At our last ride, Chandler, my 14-year-old daughter, and I rode close to the back throughout a 50-mile ride. We talked and joked without interruption from cell phones, e-mails, friends, and work obligations. It was a blast and a day I will always remember.?
Adds Laura, ?There isn?t anything better than spending time with your kids riding, working, roasting marshmallows, joking out on the trail, and simply sitting at the trailer after all the horses are tucked in and seeing the happiness dance in their eyes after a long 50-mile ride.?
Last year the Yosts hauled their trailer to six rides. Most they attend are multi-day rides, including Utah?s Strawberry Fields Forever, Color Country, and Paunsagaunt XP Pioneer Randy Coleman Memorial rides, the Owyhee Fandango ride in Idaho, and the Fort Schellbourne ride in Nevada. There they can mix-and-match riders and horses so they all get a chance to ride at least one day.
The family plan is to finish well, but not necessarily go for wins. ?We do not race very often, but on one ride Laura, daughters Chandler (now 14) and Kennedy (now 11) and I found ourselves in front because the leaders took a wrong turn. We were first into the last vet check and our horses were all doing well, even Kennedy?s 14-hand gelding Shadow,? said Gentry.
?We left the vet check with about 12 miles to go knowing Christoph Schork, a nationally-known rider, was going to be chasing us down. He passed us with about four miles to go,? said Gentry. ?After briefly deciding to slow down and not chase after him, we had a quick family vote and decided to try and run with him. It was the best four miles we have ridden as a family. Christoph ended up beating us by a couple minutes, but Kennedy was sure happy to place second on Shadow.?
The one endurance ride the Yosts attended last year that wasn?t a multi-day was the venerable Western States Endurance Ride, better known as the Tevis Cup?a difficult 100-mile expedition in the Sierras from Squaw Valley to Auburn. Gentry explained, ?Chandler and Laura both completed with Kennedy and I crewing. What made it even more special is that my mom, Kara Yost, also finished, creating three generations of Yost women completing the Tevis together. Kennedy and I also had the help of my dad, Chris Yost, with the crewing.?
Laura?s all-time favorite ride was the 2006 Tevis Cup. She rode without the company of family, although Gentry, Chandler and Kennedy were along to crew. ?The best and most memorable part of the whole day was when I crossed the finish line and was waiting to cross over to the crewing area,? said Laura. ?In the dark, I heard a little voice saying, ?You made it, Mom. You made it.? Those simple words made all the stress, fatigue, hours of conditioning, time researching, and the experience of vomiting off my horse the last five miles all worth it!?
Whether riding or crewing, Laura says, their family goals are to have a great time and take care of their horses. ?We all clean up after our own horses, we all keep the food and water full, and we all have equal responsibilities. My children have earned my respect with their devotion and dedication to their horses.?
While the Yost kids thrill to the cheers when competing in gymnastics or soccer, endurance riding is very different. ?There are no crowds, no scoreboards, no teammates to pass the ball to, and not many high fives,? explained Laura. ?It is just you and your horse; this is your team. I tell them that their horses are putting it all on the line for them and they need to do the same in return. They all have learned the importance of proper nutrition, proper conditioning, the importance of a good farrier, tack that fits correctly, and always try to learn more.
?Whenever one of them gets scared or is hesitant about riding through or over a difficult spot I remind them that their horse has trusted them with their care,? said Laura. ?If they have done everything they could to prepare that horse, it is now time to turn the trust around and let their horses take care of them for a while.?
When the children struggle with school or friends, their parents remind them of their accomplishments on horseback. Gentry remembers the trouble Burkleigh, now 10, had on the Outlaw Trail endurance ride in Utah. ?Multiple difficult water crossings -- including one where I ended up upside down in a creek with my horse on top of me, time spent trying to find the trail, and leading horses up a cliff covered with four-foot snow drifts made the ride difficult,? recalled Gentry. ?When Burkleigh gets frustrated and says she can't do something, I'll say, ?Hey aren?t you the girl who rode the Outlaw Trail???
Gentry said, ?Because endurance is hard and the rewards are so fulfilling, I think it teaches kids that they have to work hard to get rewards in life. There are also disappointments that come with endurance riding -- pulls, sick and injured horses. When kids learn to handle these setbacks that are part of the sport, I think it prepares them to handle disappointments that are part of the everyday real life of adults.?
The Yosts haven't experienced much in the way of disappointments lately. Last year their combined 2,620 American Endurance Ride Conference-sanctioned miles earned them their second consecutive Bill Thornburgh Family Award, named after one of AERC?s most-beloved ?endurance dads.? The only sticking point for the family is son Evan?s reluctance to ride horseback; he prefers motorcycles.
Even devoted family proponents like to take some time for themselves. ?Laura and I always try to get to an endurance ride each year without kids,? said Gentry. ?It is amazing how much easier it is to pack for two riders and to care for two horses before and after rides. It makes for some pretty relaxing rides for the two of us.?
Since one of their dates early in their courtship, where both Laura and Gentry were bucked off their horses on their first ride together, the Yosts have discovered the glue that holds them onto their saddles and their family together.
As Laura said, ?I believe endurance riding teaches one to endure, to be selfless, disciplined, consistent, responsible, and tough mentally. Though there probably are many things on this earth that can teach a person the same traits, there is something special that horses bring out in a person. I cannot quite put my finger on it but it is something magical and unique, a special feeling that will never go away.?
A poem written for school by Burkleigh Yost, age 10
I'm on the trail
All I can see are his ears,
Blue sky and open range.
I hear his feet
On the damp dirt,
No rocks, just
Clip clop, clip clop