Sunday, May 24, 2009

My first CTR!

A friend and I did our first CTR event this weekend. What a blast! Basically, CTR is a long trail ride where they stop you along the way to test your horse's physical ability and make sure he's ok and they judge you on your horsemanship. I could really get into this sport. They fed us, the trails were marked beautifully and the people were friendly and welcoming.

We left about 4:30pm in Tammy's trailer and truck. She has a rear tack so the trailer loading is single width. That was new for Rain and she wasn't so sure about getting in. We took a few minutes and she was good to load. I got in first so she could follow me, then I backed her out and sent her in. She was great, always looking to me for reassurance. We took the matress out of my trailer so we could sleep comfortably in hers. I had enough stuff packed for a 4-5 day trip. Oye!

We arrived about 6pm and unloaded our horses. Right away, we were fed dinner and given maps. The ride meeting was about 7:30 and took about an hour. Several spoke; the trail master, the judge, the vet, the president of CTR... The judge said a few things that struck a chord for me. She said, "Basically, I'm looking for a horse-human relationship that shows harmony." And then, "I want to see riders and horses with smiles on their faces." And the statement I loved most was, "I expect you to be asking yourself what your horse is trying to tell you". These were all very inline with how I view my partnership with my horse and I was so pleased.

They explained the trail and where the P&R's would be. They didn't talk about the obstacles or judging areas very much - those are meant to be surprises. They did explain what they were looking for with the trailer setups, the horses (groomed and clean hooves), feed and water neat and organized, etc...

We were ready to go about 7:30 am after a rough nights sleep in the trailer. The horses were restless all night the trailer was constantly moving. I slept lightly and I was a little tired at the 5:30am wakeup time. However, I wanted to make sure I put a fresh a mustang roll on Rain's front feet before we took off and I knew we'd probably be feeling unorganized with our first time doing a CTR. And as we tacked up, down came the rain...

We waited for the open riders to leave. The starter calls them by number and they leave one by one. Then came the Competitive Pleasure riders. There weren't very many CP riders. Then the novice - this was the biggest group of all. We were safety riders for the novice group. This meant we'd carry safety gear on our saddles (no one told us what was in the pack) and we'd wear orange vests. We were all covered in rain gear, too. There were several safety riders - probably 7 or 8 of us.

We left camp about 8:15am, bringing up the rear of the group. The trail started off just amazing - soft trail, very few rocks, trees and beautiful scenery. The safety riders had varying skills and it seemed some of them were on horses that hadn't been ridden in a while. A few displayed terrible horsemanship and I was sad for their horses. One jigged for the first hour or two and the rider reacted by hitting the horse with the reins in the face and sometimes punching the horse in the neck. I was appalled. Several showed their frustration by pulling on the horse's face repeatedly or kicking them and calling them names. These were not my people.

Rain and I went happily along, however. She and I have a great partnership and a clear communication system established. She was willing to do what I asked, ride in front or back, slow or fast, up close or far behind the rider ahead. I was so proud of her! She's a gorgeous horse with a great foundation of training and just a fantastic partner for me.

My friend that I'd come to the ride with had a little trouble with her Thoroughbred, but all in all they did quite well. Her horse can sometimes get jiggy and high on adrenalin, but Tammy always takes it in stride. Rain led the safety riders group for quite a while and she did a great job of steady leading. We rode in all places of our group, front, back and middle. She was fine everywhere.

The first P&R was at around mile 5. There was also a judging stop where riders mounted their horses for the judge. They could either mount from the ground or on a natural obstacle. There was a large rock right there that riders could use if they chose. The riders were lined up for their turn to be judged and it took a while. While we waited, a coyote went trotting past, not at all concerned with the 60 or so riders and horses lined up for judging or waiting to move on.

We seemed to ride for a quite a while after that without a judge or P&R stop. The trail was gorgeous and even in the rain, the view was amazing. The clouds were settled on top of the hills giving them a dramatic look. The sky was thick with clouds and I was just happy to be with my horse. There was some climbing but nothing too strenuous. The pace was often just a walk with the occasional trot or canter.

We then hit P&R number two. The judge was watching the riders trot by, making sure they were looking happy and using good riding position and techniques. Apparently, several riders had come in bunched up and they are supposed to be spread out pretty far. We saw one rider and horse team get pulled because the horse was showing some lameness. The P&R's are slow because 60 horses are showing up at relatively the same time. Interesting process of getting everyone back on the trail. They took our horses P&R as well, Rain coming in at a pulse of 48 and Ruby at 40. Both of our girls were doing just fine.

We rode out and stayed behind a solo rider who was going quite slow. Turns out, she really enjoyed the sound of nature and not the sound of other's conversations, so she kept a good distance between herself and those in front or behind. We tried to respect her and stayed far back. Tammy started to have some trouble with her horse at this point and I stayed back to support her. We ended up riding alone for quite a while, which was nice. I stopped for a moment in the bushes (more nature called) and saw a deer go hopping away. Sorry, Mr. Deer!

We played with our horsemanship and felt our horses wanting to hurry back to the trailer. Rain even got a little forward and anxious - a good time to work on sideways and shoulders or haunches in. We were the very last ones in and people were already taking off after the lunch break. We watered our horses, fed them, covered them up from the rain and ate sloppy joes!

Thirty minutes later, back on the trail for 7 more miles! We were the last to leave camp so we had an opportunity to gallop alone to catch up. Tammy's horse is way faster than mine! lol We laughed hard. Then, we caught up to the last of the riders and hit the next P&R. There was no judging at this stop. The trail from here was muddy and very hilly. That was kind of cool. We took our time and let the horses find their best footing. Then, the terrain changed again and we were crossing lots of water. It was beautiful here - lots of trees and a creek and pretty stone formations.

We were coming to the end and I have to say, I wasn't ready for it to be over! I'm a trail freak and I could trail ride every day. I'll be looking for more competitions to enter this summer. I love it.

My family was at the camp when we got back. The rain was coming down and we had to get our horses ready for the ride home. I could have stayed for the second day and I wished I'd planned it that way. It's ok, I had a great time.

We'll be back for more CTR's and I can't wait!

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