Hit the Competitive Trail!

Saddle up for a North American Trail Ride Conference event designed to promote horsemanship and horse care.
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Saddle up for a North American Trail Ride Conference event designed to promote horsemanship and horse care.

If you enjoy hitting the trail, but you and your horse also thrive on competition, check out competitive trail riding.

Credit: Audrey Pavia NATRC courses offer magnificent settings with varied terrain in which riders can work with their horses, building strong bonds of true partnership.

Credit: Audrey Pavia NATRC courses offer magnificent settings with varied terrain in which riders can work with their horses, building strong bonds of true partnership.

Sport basics: Competitive trail riding isn’t a race. It’s a timed, judged trail ride. Your ability to work with your horse and be a safe rider and handler are judged by a horsemanship judge, while your horse’s physical condition, soundness, and overall health are judged by a veterinarian.

Competitive trail riding is a family activity open to any rider aged 10 and up and to all horse breeds. Parents who compete may ride with their competing children. Family or friends who don’t want to compete can volunteer to help at the events.

Competitive trail riding builds a strong partnership between you and your horse through training, conditioning, and education. Your team will develop trust and confidence in each other while preparing for events.

About NATRC: The North American Trail Ride Conference is a national sponsoring body for competitive trail rides. It promotes trail riding and encourages good horsemanship, training, and conditioning of trail horses. Since 1961, NATRC (pronounced NAY-track) has developed a uniform judging system for all its rides.

How the rides work: NATRC divides the country into six regions, each of which sponsors and organizes its own series of rides. There are three divisions: Novice; Competitive/Pleasure; and Open.

• The Novice division is for those new to the sport or for less experienced riders with horses of any level. Novices ride at a pace of approximately 3½ to 5 miles per hour. You’ll ride 30 to 40 miles over two days.

Horses must be at least 4 years old to compete in this division.

• The Competitive/Pleasure division is for experienced riders who prefer the shorter distance of the Novice division. Competitive/Pleasure division competitors also ride at a pace of approximately 3½ to 5 mph. As with the Novice division, you’ll ride 30 to 40 miles over two days. Horses must be at least 4 years old to enter.

• The Open division is for experienced competitors and very fit horses. Open riders travel an average speed of 4 to 6 mph. You’ll ride 50 to 60 miles over two days. Horses must be at least 5 years old.The Novice and Open divisions are divided into three classes: Heavyweight (rider plus tack totals 190 pounds or more); Lightweight (rider plus tack totals less than 190 pounds); and Junior (rider is 10 to 17 years old).

Ride types: An “A” ride is a two-day ride, usually Saturday and Sunday. “B” rides are one-day rides. Normally, “B” rides are offered on Saturday in conjunction with “A” rides. “B” rides might not offer the full range of divisions and classes that “A” rides offer.

Equipment required: You may use any type of saddle and any well-fitting bridle. Your bridle can be a halter/bridle combination, sidepull, hackamore, bosal — whatever is safe and comfortable for you and your horse. NATRC has no shoeing requirements. Your horse can compete barefoot, or with any type of shoe. Hoof boots for sole protection are allowed — including boots with straps, gaiters, and keepers — provided the attachments don’t extend above his pastern. You’ll also need: a halter; lead rope or longe line; buckets; a hay bag; a blanket if it’s cool; a mucking fork and bucket to keep your campsite clean; food for you; and feed for your horse. Water for horses generally is available in camp.

Get-started tips: You and your horse will check in the day before the ride begins. After your camp is set up and you’ve seen the ride secretary, you’ll clean up your horse and take him to the veterinary judge for check in. You’re officially in competition when you present your horse for this preliminary examination.

If you’ve never done a competitive trail ride before, don’t be intimidated. Just tell ride management it’s your first ride; you’ll be surprised by how helpful everyone will be.

Contact: NATRC, (303) 688-1677; www.natrc.org.

Jenny Sullivan is a seasoned equine journalist and Quarter Horse owner who enjoys trail riding near her Colorado home.