Equestrians prepare for competitive trail ride

   Now is the time to condition for the First of Spring competitive trail ride in the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve.

   “Even if you have never tried the sport before, it only takes about six weeks for novice riders (and the mounts beneath them) to begin conditioning for a competitive trail ride,” said Bob Insko, president of the Arabian Horse Association in Ramona.

   Newcomers are invited to join experienced competitive riders for a sport that is growing in popularity. The First of Spring ride will be April 16-18 with a single day  and overnight options for the event, which is sanctioned by the North American Trail Ride Conference.

   In the equestrian realm, Arabian horses are known for endurance trials.  Ghazu, a type of desert warfare once practiced, developed the breed’s speed and distance over centuries. Arabian riders depended upon this desert-hardened breed for survival.

   The Ramona Arabian Horse Association has held equine events in and around Ramona ever since it was founded in 1984, said Insko.

   “For the last 15 years, we have been hosting competitive trail rides sanctioned by the North American Trail Ride Conference as well as with the Arabian Horse Association (AHA),” he said. “Past rides have been in Rancho Penasquitos Preserve, Elfin Forest and Ramona. The first CTR (competitive trail ride) was held in the San Diego Country Estates.  Most CTRs through the club are now being held on the Foster Ranch in Pamo Valley.”

   Competitive trail riding is a sport in which crossing the finish line first does not necessarily guarantee a first place ribbon.

   “It is one of the few sports that defines itself by what it is not,” said Insko. “It is not a race. It is a distance riding sport, similar to endurance, with novice riding about 20 miles in one day and open riding 50 miles over two days.”

   Riders are given a target time of when to be back in camp in the measured and timed event. There are two judges — a Vet judge and a Horsemanship judge — who score the riders.

   The sport has an educational emphasis on teaching riders how to camp with their horses and also how to ride the distance. The concept is to teach the rider how to “be able to go out and do it again tomorrow,” so there is a lot of emphasis on doing it right.  

   The horse and rider compete over a marked trail within a specific period of time. Experienced veterinarians judge the horse on condition, soundness and manners.

Judging begins in camp at the first pre-ride check-in and continues throughout the event. Penalties are given for finishing too early or too late. Horses are judged on physical condition during and at the end of the ride.

   The rides are typically between 20 and 50 miles. 

   Qualified judges and veterinarians will inspect the horse before the start of the ride. Horse and rider are entered in two separate categories, Horse and Horsemanship. Separate awards are given in each category.

   In the Horse category, physical and metabolic measurements are tracked. The horse showing the highest level of physical fitness throughout the ride wins. 

   The Horsemanship category focuses more on safety and if the rider is helping or hindering the horse on the trail.  A rider’s form up a hill, for instance, is not focusing on the “equitation” aspect, but the effect the rider is having on the performance of the horse. Good form equals an easier climb. Poor form can strain a horse under load.

   The event offers different divisions for the experienced horse and rider as well as separate classes for newcomers. Novices are allowed to enter in a “walk” class that allows four blue ribbons before moving up to the next class. This is the level where inexperienced riders can gain insight from more experienced riders along the trail. 

   “We are about having fun and enjoying the pleasure of riding,” said Insko.  “Our goal is to get people out with another opportunity to enjoy their horses. Many of the endurance champions began at the CTR level.”

   To win, the horse needs to complete the ride with as little stress as possible. It is the rider’s job to see the horse is taken care of. 

   “If a horse begins with a girth rub, we check to see if it got any worse over the course of the ride,” said Insko.  “The girth rub does not make a rider lose points unless it has gotten worse — that is a sign of poor tack adjustment.” 

   According to Insko, almost any equine is suitable for competitive trail riding. From mules to thoroughbreds, the breeds are varied and everyone is welcome. 

   “You don’t have to be on an Arabian to enjoy the club or the rides,” he said. “We have horses of many breeds compete, as well as mules. The NATRC does not discriminate against any equine because of breed, type or conformation as long as the equine performs satisfactorily.Horses that do well include Arabians, Half-Arabians, Mustangs, Morgans, Tennessee walking horses, fox trotters, and the ever inclusive Grade. You don’t need to have a registered horse to compete or to win.”

   Competitive trail rider Stephanie Stevens describes it as being  “Llike a car rally on horseback — all makes and models allowed.”

   During the ride, riders need to be mindful of the horse’s needs, offering water and rest when needed.  Pre-determined stops will provide further evaluations of the horse and its condition. There will be at least two Pulse and Respiration stops and, if total time is over 6 hours, a lunch stop as well. 

   Insko suggests that anyone interested in trying this sport begin conditioning by riding two hours per day at least twice a week, and getting some “hill work,” if possible. 

   Novice is paced at a walk with some, but not much, trot and covers about 20 miles in one day. Open is paced at a trot where possible — and a walk where not possible — and covers about 50 miles, 30 miles on Saturday and 20 miles on Sunday.

   Whether or not an equestrian decides to compete in a competitive trail ride again, an enormous amount will be learned, said Insko. You may even win a ribbon, or be rewarded for your good horsemanship.

   “To Finish is to Win” is the Endurance motto.  The Competitive Trail Ride motto is “Come Ride With Us!”

   This is a pre-entry event, so riders need to be registered in advance. For more information and to register, contact Insko at 760-789-0007 or e-mail rminsko@gmail.com.

   
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