In which we take a twenty-mile mosey and they give us a t-shirt

We went out to the nearby trail system yesterday at the invitation of a neighbor and fellow endurance-rider. Kathy has ridden endurance for many years, but her real love is for one of our "sister-sports" : Competive Trail Riding.

Unlike endurance riding, which rewards all riders who finish the course with a healthy horse in the time allowed with no maximum speed limit, the goal of CTR is to cover distance in a specified time and speed.

Along the way, horses and riders are judged by a trained CTR judge and a CTR veterinary judge not only for the objective criteria of heartrate and respiration, but also for the grace and correctness of their technique over common trail obstacles and conditions. Open Division riders trotted most of their course, and Novice Division mostly walked.

Our task for the day was to "drag" the novice trail. In other words, we were asked to ride last on the loops, making sure that riders didn't get lost on the flagged trails, and offering help if a horse or rider got into trouble. The first loop, we followed the last rider, whom we called "Lady Grey" because she was riding a lovely grey gelding. We couldn't figure out how she did it, but Lady Grey got off-trail six or eight times on a ten-mile trail. We generally waited at a polite distance behind her until she realized that she had taken a wrong turn and came back. At least twice we didn't realize she'd gone off trail until she showed up behind us.

The first judged obstacle event that we saw was a little figure-8 trail littered with low step-over logs. We took the obstacle course just for fun, since we weren't being judged. It wasn't very challenging, but it was kind of fun. There was a P/R stop on each loop, and they gave the results in numbers that seemed strange to me: 11 and 4, meaning the number of heartbeats or breaths in a period of 15 seconds. (In endurance we use "normal numbers" like 44 beats per minute.)

There was also a judge on the second loop watching riders navigate a steep downhill/steep uphill area. When I asked her, she said she was looking at the rider's posture through the slope--are they laying down on the horse's butt like that scene in Man From Snowy River, or are they riding lightly with their spine parallel to the tree trunks?

On the uphill, she wanted to see riders who are out of the saddle, leaning forward to help the horse negotiate the steep climb. I thought that was interesting.

They also had a trot-out exam...but the horses were trotted with a rider on-board! That's just really weird.

Because there is a specified pace that riders should travel in this sport, we sometimes came upon horses and riders who were ahead of schedule, standing around with their horses, waiting for time to go by. Endurance riders will stop on the trail to let horses eat grass during the course of an event, of course, but the idea of standing around on a ROAD looking at my wristwatch just seemed very strange.

During the lunch break back in camp, we sat on the truck tailgate to eat sandwiches and drink ice-water. The horses were enthusiastic about the hay bags.

Fiddle ate for about 15 minutes and then fell fast asleep. Story used to do that at vetchecks when she was doing endurance: no matter how far she had trotted and no matter how many miles we had left to go, she would eat for 15 minutes and the sleep for the remainder of the vetcheck and nothing-but-nothing was going to interrupt her nap until I put my foot back in the stirrups. Looks like Fiddle is going to be another vetcheck-napper!

Our reward for walking our horses 20 miles was a nifty t-shirt emblazoned with a horse and rider, and the date of the event. Not bad pay for riding our own trails!
After participating in the event and meeting the players and seeing the rules in action, I decided that the slower pace was interesting and probably good training for a young horse. Riding 20 miles of familiar trails isn't much of a challenge, but perhaps riding 20 miles of new trails would be more interesting, even if I had to walk most of the way to meet the event criteria.

It was really more like a 20-mile horse show than anything else. So if you give me the choice of a 20-mile horse show, or an ordinary horse show where you get 5 minutes to do a bunch of circles in an arena, I'll probably take the CTR. But given the choice between 20 miles of moseying and 50 or more miles of trotting up and down mountains, the trotting will get my vote every time.


  1. I'm a moseyer, myself. That may have something to do with the fact that I still can't sit a trot to save me life.

  2. The two disciplines I'm most interested in are orienteering and endurance. However, if I have to fight just for a couple of hours on the weekend to be able to ride, I don't think it's ever going to happen for me. Especially with endurance, you have to spend so much time keeping both you and your horse in shape when you aren't racing. Maybe I can live vicariously through you!

  3. Leah Fry: no need to SIT the trot, gal--you can post the trot or two-point to your heart's content in an endurance ride!

    NuzMuz: There's an orienteering ride just north of home at the end of the month, and I'm hoping to take Fiddle for her first CMO experience. It's a fun sport.

    Endurance will alway be the True Faith as far as I'm concerned. Where else could you pay your entry fee and see up to 100 miles of the planet's most beautiful trails in 24 hours or less. Ahhhh!

  4. It was about 25 years ago that I was first introduced to both endurance and competitive trail, in Montana, and I'm sure both have evolved bunches (for instance, I didn't know that CTR had added the idea of judged obstacles).
    What I liked about CTR was that it seemed to be more about conditioning and horsemanship than just speed--tho, granted, GOOD endurance necessitates good conditioning and good horsemanship. I just saw too many endurance horses run into the dirt for the sake of speed. And the fact that one could be competitive in CTR without having an Arab was a plus.
    There was one older lady who rode an older Appaloosa on both kinds of rides, and never worried about placing in the endurance rides, just seeing the sights (she would stop a munch on wild strawberries if she felt like it)--but she regularly placed in CTR, because they were such a good team.
    I guess it's a case of "to each, his own."

  5. I have been there trail riding when one of the CTR's was going on. We talked to a woman about it. She was trying to get us to check it out.
    We went riding today, were they going to be there today too? The trailers were still up at the bathrooms. Looked like they were all in the covered area, doing an award ceremony.
    That is neat that you got to help out. Sounds like fun!


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