How to Prepare You and Your Horse for a Competitive Trail Challenge

Most avid equestrians would agree that there is nothing more exhilarating than a challenging trail ride. Add in the element of competition and riders are looking at a fun and unique experience with their equine partner. Competitive trail challenges, loaded with obstacles, are gaining popularity with riders seeking new contests and challenges with their horse. In order to participate, horse and rider but be well prepared for the task at hand; equestrians should prepare by knowing and understanding the rules, exposing their horse to a host of new situations and obstacles, condition to go the distance and practice under similar conditions. With attention to detail and conditioning, a competitive horse and rider combination will be ready to successfully complete their first competitive trail challenge.

What is a Competitive Trail Challenge?
Competitive Trail Challenges are sanctioned rides that include judged obstacles and run typically 6 to 10 miles in length. On average, different obstacles are set at approximately one-mile increments. Competitors strive to complete each obstacle with ease while maintaining a steady pace and demonstrating good horsemanship skills. Speed is not the objective. Obstacle judges are posted at each point and riders compete for the highest score.

Be in The Know:
One of the first tasks in preparing for a competitive trail challenge is familiarizing oneself with the rules. Most competitions are sanctioned by the American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) but many other smaller governing bodies exist. Competitors should be current on rules and guidelines for each sponsoring organization as there is no easier way to be disqualified or receiving a lower score than failing to follow the rules. Typically, rule books or online access to competition governing bylaws is the best way to locate information.

Prepare to Meet the Unknown
Trail riding offers its own set of challenges, creatures and experiences not often found in the confines of a standard riding ring. As such, both horse and rider need to be schooled in an environment comparable to the competitive setting. Depending on the level of rider or horse experience, there are different ways to best prepare. For the novice equestrian and seasoned horse, there is no better way than tackling an outdoor environment with a trusted friend or instructor. Experienced riders with novice horses should work to expose their mount to as many new situations as possible. If the horse has only had limited trail experience, tackling a few trail rides with a barn mate may help instill confidence in the green horse. Seasoned horse and rider combinations still benefit from training for upcoming competitions.

Preparing horse and rider for expected obstacles is most beneficial. Learning to open mailboxes, navigate water hazards, pass rain slickers, dragging items or jump logs are all examples of sanctioned obstacles with many more permissible tests available.

Go the Distance:
As competitive trail challenges may cover a longer distance than routinely schooled, riders and horses should be ready to tackle the judged distance. Conditioning of horse and rider will make the six to ten mile course seem like a simple schooling in the woods and fields. Should a horse be struggling with conditioning, or unable to go the distance, now is the time to find a new suitable mount prior to the competition. Alternatively, if a rider is unable to complete the requisite distance in schooling, additional time should be committed to schooling, conditioning and practicing before entering a competition.

Practice, Practice and Practice Some More:
Riders should endeavor to practice with their competition mount as frequently as schedules allow. In addition to time in the saddle, there are a host of websites dedicated to competitive trail challenges that offer insight and advice for training partnerships to succeed. Additionally, DVDs on the subject are available along with frequent articles in discipline specific trade publications. Local associations may also offer clinics for anyone looking for a unique training setting under the watchful eye of a skilled judge.

Competitive trail challenges are a fun and exciting way to get out with a horse and enjoy nature, with both natural and not so natural challenges. These judged rides add a fun element of competition to trail riding. With varied distances and levels available, competitors of all age and skills can participate in an area trail challenge.