Monday, January 24, 2011


Back on January 1st, my friend Lorie Fleenor held an ACTHA-recognized competitive trail challenge at her family's farm in Bristol, TN. Lorie had asked me to be an obstacle judge, which I enthusiastically agreed to. I had heard Lorie and her mother-in-law, Kay Fleenor, talk about the ACTHA rides before, yet I really didn't know much about this and wanted to learn more. Basically, these trail challenges are trail rides over a pre-marked trail that are furnished with anywhere from 5-10 "obstacles" that a horse/rider pair will negotiate for a score (0-10). Some of these obstacles include a water crossing, jumping a log, dismount/mount, back, banks, crossing a tarp, passing through "vines" (a shredded shower curtain), and other similar tests that gauge a horse and rider's skill at various questions that they might be asked out on the trail. Lorie had set up and ridden the course the previous day and she estimated it was about 7 miles and would take about 2-2.5 hours to ride.

Riders leave the start for the January 1st ACTHA CTC
at Magna Vista Farm

(Photo courtesy of Kay Fleenor)

As a regular jump judge for cross-country at various USEA horse trials, I felt I was fairly experienced enough to be an ACTHA obstacle judge, and I really enjoyed learning about the obstacle I was assigned to, as well as the requirements and judging criteria of this question. I judged an "injured animal rescue" obstacle, which consisted of a stuffed sheep, a mounting block, and a barrel. The riders had to stop at me, I explained the exercise and what they were allowed/not allowed to do, and then the rider would proceed to cross through the start cones, halt at the mounting block, dismount on the ground (there were certain criteria that deemed the dismount acceptable from 0-10 points), pick up the "injured" sheep, mount from the mounting block (there were grading criteria for the mount, as well), walk to the barrel, then set the "injured" animal on the barrel and pass through the finish under 60 seconds. It sounds fairly easy, but as the stillness and obedience of the horse is gauged, as well as the technique of the mounting/dismounting rider, it gets kind of picky. I was pretty generous, though, as this ride was the first that Lorie and Kay have hosted and the riders were out having fun (not competing for a championship or anything). It also made me wonder how well Eddie and I would do, since the horse is not allowed to move at all during the mount, and Eddie is typically squirrelly when I mount, which would seriously affect our score for something like this!

I was later explaining this ACTHA ride to one of my eventer friends (who had never heard of this before, either) and we were talking about how much fun this would be for eventers in the off season. For those of us who can't train/clinic, fox hunt, or do hunter paces a lot over the winter months, this sounds like a great way to have fun and also get in some hacking/conditioning as well. Riders and horses go out in pairs, so it's also a great opportunity to grab a friend and go for an enjoyable ride.

Even though the January ride in Bristol was cold and rainy, there were 10 entries and everyone had a really good time. It was good experience for some local riders, it was great for Lorie and Kay to get started as venue hosts, and they got the chance to see what worked/didn't work in preparation for another ride they will hold in April. I enjoyed judging an obstacle, as I got to see all the riders and how they negotiated my question, but I would like to ride next time and see how Eddie and I do. Maybe Kelly Wallace and Stryder would like to come along with us and we could have a "chat-and-hack" and get a little conditioning in, as well. Sounds like a good time, to me!


mgallaway said...

I did this once with my psychotic eventing mare, it was a lot of fun, and very affordable. She didn't score very well, but it was great exposure for her. And the stuff (like the stuffed sheep or dragging a log) that she saw there was a lot scarier than anything she would ever see on a cross country course. I’m a firm believer in taking horses out of their comfort zone to kind of sack them out. That’s why I’ll take my eventers trail riding over terrain that isn’t perfectly groomed or my finished reiner on trail rides or play with cows. It keeps their brains fresh.

Holly said...

Megan, you are absolutely right about it being a new and beneficial challenge. I think to myself, "my horse will jump a little house, or a log carved to look like an alligator, or a wooden table decorated with plates, cups, and a red/white-checked table cloth, but I do not know if he would trot through an archway with a shredded shower curtain hanging from it, or stand still long enough for me to mount properly without getting a zero score." These trail challenges seem more about the skills and lessons that can sometimes be avoided on cross-country. It doesn't matter if my horse is obedient enough to stand while I mount, so long as I can gallop him down to a 3-foot coop and get him to jump over it! Doing different things is good for their little brains and for their general curiosity and well-being. I'm looking forward to trying this with Eddie sometime soon!