A timed event over a marked trail
By Wayne Tolbert
The sport of Competitive Trail Riding (CTR) has been around for at least 50 years. It occupies a niche between pleasure riding, typically casual in nature, and endurance riding, which is a long-distance equine sport. There are several CTR organizations with various histories, rules, and philosophies. I have been an active competitor for the past 13 years in events sanctioned by the North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC), so this article is based on that experience.
Competitive trail riding as practiced by NATRC is a timed event over a marked trail with competitors in each class having the same time to complete the course. Typically events are one or two days duration with distances ranging from 20 miles for one-day novice classes to 60 miles for two-day advanced classes. A very important characteristic of CTR is the use of two judges per event: a veterinarian judge, who evaluates the horse’s soundness, condition, and trail worthiness (manners) and a horsemanship judge. The horsemanship judge evaluates the rider on trail equitation, trail safety and courtesy, and how well the rider cares for the horse including grooming, proper use of tack and equipment, stabling, and trail care (water stops, pacing, timing, cooling out, etc.). The overall goal is to ride the horse is such a manner so that he finishes the ride as strong as when he started. Thus, CTR has been compared to the cavalry remount program in which horses were selected, trained, and ridden daily over long distances.
The emphasis that NATRC places on judging the riders as well as the horses encourages riders to become better horsemen and horsewomen. It fosters teamwork and a lasting partnership between the horse and rider. Some evidence in support of this is the fact that currently there are approximately 700 horses that have completed over 1,000 miles each in NATRC-sanctioned competitive trail rides. Two of these horses have over 20,000 miles each, one has almost 12,000 miles, one over 10,000, one over 9,000 and five horses have over 8,000 miles. Another 50+ horses have between 4,000 and 7,000 miles. These are official miles ridden exclusively in NATRC-sanctioned rides. These do not count miles ridden in other competitions, such as endurance rides, Nor the many miles ridden to condition/train the horses, nor miles ridden with friends as pleasure riding.
How is it possible that so many horses have such long and productive lives as competitive mounts? How is it possible that CTR successfully promotes horses well into their 20’s, which is a time that many horses have long retired or owners have gotten rid of their “old” horses?
The primary reasons for the success of our horses stems from the founding philosophies and practices of NATRC. Ride participants tend to select horses with stamina and hardiness, who are qualified to make good trail mounts. These horses are, or become with proper conditioning, superior athletes; bloodlines and color, while nice, are secondary to athleticism.
Riders receive guidance from veterinary judges, horsemanship judges, NATRC clinic leaders and more experienced riders. There is a long tradition of fellow competitors assisting newer participants. In my experience, this “unwritten rule” compels more experienced competitors to help and, at times, they may be assigned by ride managers as mentors to new riders. This willingness to share knowledge and experience makes NATRC an excellent starting point for many horse lovers and contributes to the family-oriented nature of competitive trail riding.
Riders also learn from their own experience at NATRC rides the proper methods of training and conditioning of horses. Riders learn good horsemanship skills that contribute to successful partnering with their horses. Riders also learn the best methods for caring for their horses during and after long rides without the aid of artificial methods or stimulants.
NATRC will celebrate its Golden Anniversary, 50 years of competitive trail riding since its founding in 1961, at the 2011 NATRC National Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, February 10-13. The public is cordially invited to attend this special event, a two-day program of educational speakers, 17 vendors (to satisfy all your horse shopping needs), and a Walk of Fame to honor many of the riders and horses that have contributed CTR and to NATRC. Honorees include Past NATRC Presidents, winners of the President’s Cup, Bev Tibbitts, Jim Menefee, and Polly Bridges awards. Horses with 5 or more National Championships, horses with 5,000+ miles, and riders with 7,000+ miles will be recognized, and especially this year’s national winners. A silent auction will be held and a Specialized Saddle raffled. Attendees can also visit the country music capital, hear live entertainment, and get a chance to learn how to line dance.