Thursday, May 24, 2012

Going for our first Competitive Trail Ride!!

Competitive Trail Riding - Our first time!

On the May long weekend I signed up for a Competitive Trail Ride with 2 of my students (Marcie and Erin). We've been training since March to get our horses in shape for riding 25 miles (approx 40km)!

The Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association (OCTRA) hosts a variety of events that involve long distance riding. The one you've probably heard of is Endurance riding. Originally we thought we would like to compete in endurance, but we realized the Competitive Trail Ride would be a better start for us.

Endurance riding is like a race - but over long distances of usually 50 or 100 miles and through forest and country trails. There are vet checks where your horse will be checked over to make sure the horse is 'fit to continue', and if your horse is still healthy you are allowed to continue racing.

To ride in endurance races, and have a chance of placing or doing well, you need to be very well practiced and your horse has to be very fit. Many endurance riders choose Arabs because they can handle long distances, and their heart rate can usually come down a lot quicker than other breeds - so they are more likely to be 'fit to continue' at the vet check point.

Given that we've only been practicing since March, and we were taking 2 Thoroughbreds and a mustang, we wanted something that would be more fair to our horses.

We decided to try Competitive Trail Riding (CTR). A CTR is a long distance course, we did 25 miles. An 'optimal time' is set based on the trail. For novice riders (riders new to CTR) it was 5 hours and 45 minutes. For open riders (experienced) it was 5 hours and 15 minutes.

The goal of CTR is to have the best horse for a long distance ride - it teaches you how to pace a long distance ride, and take care of your horse during a long distance ride. You are scored at the beginning of a ride and every little scrape, swelling, scratch, etc is recorded. When you finish your ride, your horse is assessed again and you get points for every new scrape, swelling, etc. The goal is to have a score of 0.

You get points if your horse's heart rate is too high during the vet checks, the horse finishes with more scrapes/scratches/lameness, if you are too slow or fast on the ride (if you don't finish within 5 minutes of the optimal time), if your horse doesn't behave well during the vet checks, or anything negative about the horse's health could give you points.

One neat thing about OCTRA events is that it is a 'camp with your horse' type of event. People come for the weekend and set up temporary paddocks/stalls for their horses. They pitch a tent or bring a camper, and stay for the weekend. It is a very neat experience because I am used to hunter/jumper shows where typically you arrive and leave the same day, or if you need to stay over you rent a stall and book a hotel room.

We arrived Sunday morning at 6am with the first two horses - I have a 2 horse trailer and was taking 3 horses... but I only lived about 30 minutes away from ride. Dream and Shawna were the first to be dropped off. However, as Dream backed off the trailer she stepped off the side of the ramp and scraped her leg a little bit. Nothing major, but it was bleeding a small amount.

I didn't think much of it, so I headed out and picked up Thetis. So far everything was on schedule and I was back with Thetis at about 7:30am, and ready to take our horses for their first vet check. We headed over and had our vet check, but Dream wasn't allowed to ride because of her hind leg. Although this wasn't good news, I am happy that OCTRA really looks out for the well being of the horse.

So the ride manager was really nice and allowed us to delay our start time so that I could go take Dream home and pick up Flower instead for Marcie to ride. We were supposed to ride at 9:03am, but instead we started at 10:14am.

Because everyone is riding through the forest, they start riders in groups of 1-3, a few minutes a part so that the trails don't get too congested.

We were very excited and headed out on our ride - myself on Thetis, Marcie on Flower, and Erin on Shawna. Before we left we were instructed to follow the white trail. This is because there was a white, blue, and orange trail that had been marked for 3 different types of rides happening that day. We were doing a 25 mile ride and instructed to follow the white ribbons.

We head out on our trail. It started with a little loop along the field, into the forest, onto the edge of a crop field, and then we came to the road. We saw an orange arrow pointing left, but didn't see a white ribbon so we continued straight. After about a kilometre or so of not seeing anymore white ribbons, we realized we were a bit lost.

We rode back to the last white ribbon, and continued straight again. We didn't see any white turn offs so we decided to follow the orange arrow left. Sure enough we turn the corner and there was a white ribbon in sight. Silly us!!

We continue down a road that leads to another forest trail, across a hay field, down some more forest, and onto another road. This leads us to the Ganaraska forest and we spent many kilometers in the forest. Eventually we get to some water troughs that have been set out for us. We let our horses drink, and we sponge them with cool water to help lower their heart rate.

We continued riding through the forest, and then back to a road. Then we reached the ½ mile mark. There was another water trough to stop and cool your horse and let your horse drink. We were instructed to take our time, but when we were ready that we would have to trot the ½ mile into the vet check point. This is so the vet can take a pulse.

We cool our horses and then do as instructed. We trot into the vet check point. We are instructed to take 4 minutes to unsaddle our horses and cool them off. Wow does 4 minutes go fast! There was enough time to give our horses a quick sponge over, and then into the vet check we went.

Shawna had a perfect score and was allowed to continue, but Erin would have to wait for Marcie or I to ride with her, because she is under 18, she needs to be with an adult on the trail at all times. Both Thetis and Flower had heart rates that were too high, so we were given another 10 minutes to cool our horses.

Mustangs are also known to be really good for long distance, and Shawna has been training since March - so it wasn't surprising that Shawna had such an excellent recovery time. Flower is also a mustang, but she hasn't been training because Marcie thought she would be riding Dream. Thetis has been training, but is a Thoroughbred, so they take more time to get into long distance riding.

We sponged cold water on our horses for 10 minutes and then had them checked again. Both Thetis and Flower passed the heart check, but Flower was starting to get a girth rub so she wasn't allowed to continue. This was disappointing for Marcie, but at least she was able to do the loop.

The ride was set up with the start, middle, and finish to be all at the same spot. The 25 mile ride was a 12.5 mile loop that you ride twice. This meant Marcie had already gotten to see the whole trail, but just wouldn't able to ride the second half.

So Erin and I headed out on Thetis and Shawna for the second loop. This time we remembered to turn at the orange arrow! We also had to ride faster because our first loop we took extra time getting lost, but also we went slower because Flower wasn't in the same good shape as Thetis and Shawna.

I used an app on my blackberry to track our kilometers and time so I knew how fast we needed to be going. Most of the trail we trotted, with walk breaks when our horses needed them or on the gravel road. We did some gallops on the open wide stretches too.

We ended up making up all of our time and reached the ½ mile mark with about 15 minutes to spare before the optimal time. We were able to drench our horses with cold water to cool them off before going into the final vet check.

We made it back and had our final vet check. Shawna had a perfect score. She only had a few points for 'lack of impulsion' when she trotted for the vet, and her presentation - total score of 7.25 points (remember 0 is perfect). Thetis got perfect on most things except she was a grade 2 lameness on her right hind - I remember on the ride we were on a hill and she stumbled a bit, I suspect she pulled something so we took it easy the little distance we had left. Thetis also needed the extra 10 minutes to have her heart rate back down. We finished with 22 points.

We finished up, let the horses eat, and had some BBQ food ourselves. After dinner they presented the awards. Thetis was 6th and Shawna was 2nd! We were really excited about that, and it was really neat to read the score card to see how we were graded.

After a long day we finally headed home. All and all it was a great learning experience and something I am looking forward to doing again!

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