Tuesday, 26 January 2016

CTR’s aren’t always rainbows and unicorns....

.....but they sure are addictive!

Written by TRAC Junior Member Sierra Paterson

I was introduced to CTR’s by a family friend.  When she mentioned she wanted us to try it, I thought she was absolutely crazy…riding 25 miles in 5 ½ hours? No way!  But…it was supposed to give me a lot of time with my horse so I agreed. 

In the first year I enjoyed training with my horse and learning about new feeds and getting to travel.  I also loved getting ribbons (sometimes being a junior means as long as you finish the race you are bound to get one as there aren’t many juniors yet.) and my absolute favourite part was winning a blanket for Novice Junior High Point thanks to Charlene (up until this year she has been the TRAC membership director and in charge of anything “junior rider” related) who wanted the juniors to feel special so she included them in the high point awards (normally reserved for adult riders) at her ride.  That inclusion really gave me a desire to continue for another year. 

Now…. As I said, not everything CTR is rainbows and Unicorns.  There are some difficulties.  For instance, training for and competing in the rides can sometimes leave you tired and grumpy and at odds with friends or family.  And at one ride I was devastated when I lost my ride booklet; I felt panicky and sick and wanted to quit for most of the ride knowing I’d be disqualified without it.  Charlene came to the rescue when she decided that she would rather me keep going then quit because of that lost booklet (and luckily I found it at the end of the ride).  This grace for a junior allowed me to finish (and get a ribbon!) and feel positive enough to try another ride. 

You can also find your horse in trouble.  I encountered this during my second year when I attempted to do my first 2-day ride.  We had competed and placed on the first day.  The decision was made to ride again on the second day AND try the next level up which is the same distance but at a faster speed.  Being young and inexperienced I didn’t realize this could be a problem if my horse were not truly conditioned for that level of competition. 

With 8 miles to go my horse was acting a little off but at the next p and r (pulse and respiration check) he pulsed down great and I was very happy with him. However, when it was our turn to trot out for the vet, he would not move.  I thought he was just being stubborn and was starting to get mad at him.  Another rider looked at him and gently said, “that horse is done for today”.   

We had to push him to the trailer and have him taken back to the camp.  The vet on call checked him and decided he was probably in the beginning stages of tying up.  He treated him and helped me to understand what was happening and then I began to learn more about how to help horses prepare for rides like this, what to feed and other important things about nutrition, hydration and conditioning. 

He was going to be okay and I learned a lot as I had to keep a close eye on him while he recovered (checking his pulse and respiration, getting water into him, feeding him what he could handle, and reporting to the vet). 

But that whole situation really scared me, and then when my gelding froze up at a later practice ride I really got worried.  I was advised to give him the rest of the summer off.  I did not know if I could make him safe for big rides anymore so I figured there would be no more CTR’s for me. 

Then out of the blue, shortly after that, I was given another gelding.  A friend from the CTR circuit had heard I was without a ride and she was looking for a young girl to take over a horse that was in need of an active home as the owner was suffering from dementia and could no longer keep him.

He was beautiful, he was registered, not too old and already trained in the basics.  But he was SO different from my first gelding.  He was bumpy and slow and didn’t like to walk out or long trot and he was FAT!    He couldn’t be safely tied up and he was afraid of water.  I didn’t think I could use him for any real rides.  I missed my old gelding.  The joy of riding in CTR’s was waning and I wanted to give up.  

Still, I did manage to get him to a first ride.  It was pretty awful.  Other people were stressed about their own horses and things, I was stressed over his flighty behaviour, and I was thinking about how things had gone badly for my last gelding and I was definitely afraid that it was going to happen again which made me not a fun person to be around.  Despite all of this, we did actually finish and even placed second.  It seems silly, but it really helps when you get a ribbon, it’s a small but encouraging reward.  We also met a lady vet at the ride who helped us understand this new gelding better. 

I kept going to 4H and lessons with him but decided I would quit CTR’s.   However as I kept riding this horse “Tambour” he and I began to get to know one another and work through our issues.  I began to miss the CTR riding and training and especially the people that showed up at every ride; the ‘regulars’ who made me feel welcome (and made me laugh when I would hear them singing late at night around the campfire). 

I decided to do the final ride of that year and ended up riding with a new sponsor (all juniors have to have an adult sponsor who rides the whole way with them).  She put a new spin on the CTR’s for me.  I regained much of my lost joy in the sport and my fear began to slow with her calm and laid back encouragement.  We did the last ride and I couldn’t believe how well Tambour did, he was calm and moved out very well.  We finished and got FIRST place!  Wow.  The bug bit me again. 

The next year we moved up with our sponsor to the intermediate level.  We did great.  More training, more time together, relaxed competition riding, and the usual supportive regulars smiling and encouraging me. 

Now I am just beginning to get ready to train for this next season.  I still haven’t gotten up the nerve or confidence to do a 2 day ride, but maybe one day.  Until then I will enjoy the time I spend with my horse and I am enjoying more and more getting to know the CTR family…the smiles, encouragement, practice rides, training tips, campfires, new goals made and met, survivor games, limits pushed, pancake breakfasts, rain, snow or shine, and always….horses. 

PS.  My old gelding “Caballero” was retired and leased to an Alberta home ranch dedicated to helping native girls find hope and healing.  He has special care given to him for his muscles and joints and is well loved and cared for…but I still miss him.  He will always be my first (and oh so comfortable) partner in the CTR world J!!

Friday, 20 November 2015

From Trail Rider to CTR Rider!

Written by TRAC Member Cheryl Peressini

My name is Cheryl, and a little over 2 years ago, my good friend from Sherwood Park, asked if I’d be interested in doing a Competitive Trail Ride, I had no idea what it was.  So did some looking at the webpage, and thought you know I could do this.

All I’ve done prior to this were trail rides, long and short, on the plains and in the mountains.  It seemed like this would be easy.  So my friend and I went to the orientation out at Wild Timber Ranch, but we didn’t take the horses.  We thought just to see what it’s all about.  We listened, watched everybody go out and do the short ride, and waited for all to come back.  When the riders started coming in, we got the opportunity to listen to the horse’s heartbeat. That’s cool!

So we went home, and started practicing doing the gum check, and listening to the heartbeat.  I know my horse;  She’s a Tennessee Walker, and I’m sure she has one, but I couldn’t hear it.  So my friend helped and we did finally get one.  Not a very loud one though.  So we decided to do the orientation again this year, only this time we took the horses.  It was very fast, met some wonderful people, learned a lot more, and listened to all the others that were first timers.

I decided to sign up to try Tees, it was the end of May, supposed to be nice, but it was cool, and cloudy.  Met a wonderful lady from Strathmore who had done CT years before, but was thinking also of trying to get back into it.  We decided to ride out together in the morning.  We were up early and fed the horses.  Saddled up and got ready to head out, at a walk.  We thought just to warm them up.  We did do some trotting here and there.  We did notice a lot of other riders passing us, but that’s ok, we had lots of time.  These two very nice ladies were following, so we asked if they’d like to pass. Well they laughed and said they were the drag team, and we were at the back.   So we got moving pretty quick, and finally finshed. We were late, but it was a very enjoyable day.

Then I decided to sign up for Ponoka, but I would be better prepared.  Would be doing the Sunday ride, and the weather was supposed to be cool, but good.  They were wrong. It was very cold, and very wet.  A friend from Calgary who wanted to try CT, came out, and her and her husband tented, it was very wet, but they stayed warm. We partnered up, and what a trooper.   We did pretty good this ride, Heike came out in third place in Novice, really good for her first time. I came in 7th, which I’m very pleased with.

I’ve learned a lot in the two rides, so figured I might as well give Milk River a go.  Jayme came with me, and made the drive very enjoyable.  Had heard it was beautiful country, and the scenery was spectacular.  There right, it is a beautiful place.  The weather was good, the trails were wonderful, and the company was great.

Looking forward to next year and improving what I’ve learned, and it’ll be a fabulous year!

Monday, 2 November 2015

Who knew this sport could be so addicting!

Written by TRAC Member Jayme Benoit
My TRAC/ERA journey started like most do- a keen friend looking for a riding buddy to join them on a TRAC ride. Yup, I blame you Elise for this new hobby :) 
My first ride was in 2014 at Wild Timber Ranch. A week prior to it Elise and I had been out riding the trails by my rental and we started discussing TRAC and the possibility of going to the upcoming ride just an hour away. I had done several 6 hr/25 km rides that summer with friends at a walk and figured 25 miles wouldn't be that much harder. My chunky lil AppyX Curly mare Gemini was "in the best shape of her life" up to that point. I figured if nothing else it would be a great experience and exposure for my previously green trail horse. 
Well it certainly was an experience! I quickly discovered the flashy Appy was just fine camping overnight in electric fence, was calm and cool about all the strange horses going on, easy for vetting in, but boy did she get HOT at that start line! My previously "kid safe" calm and cool pony erupted with energy ride day. Within the first 2 miles I had to stop and re-saddle after a few too many excited bucks blew her saddle half off (somehow I stayed on). After re-saddling I got back on and made up time by galloping the first couple fields.... slightly out of control. After the initial excitement however she seemed to find her brain and stride and we cruised along the rest of the trail rather uneventful and my mind started to wander to our next possible ride :) (horse people are all alil' crazy right?)

The next ride planned was Ponoka and I anxiously prepared for it, conditioning my lil pony 5x a week and working on keeping her brain in exciting situations. Alas plans didn't pan out and I had to wait for 2015 to get out on TRAC trails again. I saved my pennies and gifted myself my own horse trailer for my 25th birthday- this allowed me freedom to travel and get to arenas and new trails on my own. I also conditioned and trained my horse up all winter and counted down the days to hit the trails again!
We rode at the CTR Dressage clinic fat and fuzzy, moving onto the Bergen Intro clinic (who does that first anyhow? just wing it!), then two days of Buck Mountain ERA. The first day at Buck Mountain we flew across the fields (after alil too much pep in her step at the start line again), feeling great, until the storm hit. I then realized the "Endurance" side of these rides as we attempted to complete out 25 mile ride in the snow/sleet/rain/wind. After 15 miles our horses where stopping to turn their butts to the wind and we could no longer feel our own appendages. It was a sign. We stopped after the first loop. We did however complete the 2nd day doing the 15 mile intro course in much better weather.

Tees was our next CTR ride out and my pony was in a bit better condition (it's a learning curve for sure). I finally felt like me and Gem had this sport a little figured out. We left the gate quietly! That's a big step. We where able to lead and follow safely without any silliness in her steps. It was a great experience and really reminded me why I started this crazy sport. Once again it was me and Elise traveling the trails getting over hurdles with our horses. After each ride the horses seemed to improve and our confidence on them continued to grow. I then did the ERA ride by Innisfail and completed with a happy horse and new friends.

Next on my "to do" list was the Western Equestrian Triathlon. I have always been a fan of having a versatile horse and a new challenge. Gemini and I practiced tirelessly the dressage patterns for that day, working circles, practicing trail obstacles and keeping her conditioned for the trail ride. Trotting 9 miles a day 5 days a week with dressage work on the side became our norm. Sadly they canceled the WET ride due to lack of entries. Plan B (because I always have plans a-c) was Evansburg Endurance ride. Now my usual partner in crime ran off to get married in Ontario so this was my first competitive ride alone! Sure I condition alone lots, I do arena work alone lots and I knew a small handful of people that did both TRAC/ERA but this was still a new idea for me. That lil' Appy mare of mine proved she had the heart and trust to motor out on the trail alone for me. Sure we buddied up a few times for stuff like crossing the Pembina river (found out she can swim and learned 9 miles trotting wasn't her tiring point at all), but the majority was just me and her. We finished with our best time yet and still in good condition. I was excited to read my card to find out we did "Intermediate pace" speed and we could possibly step it up a notch at CTR.

My next challenge was just that, Intermediate. Gemini was finally in excellent condition, Stacey was crazy enough to do intermediate with me, and Trish joined us on the trail. Flying through the fields (intentionally this time) at Bergen/WTR was a blast! Gem pulsed down wonderfully even in the heat and was actually surpassing the Arabs scores for recoveries. Final scores showed I was 1 off from ribbons but I had a great time that weekend. The next day we did Dr Seuss style Gymkhana and my fearless pony placed first. Sadly that was her last competitive ride for the year as all the hills caused a sprain to her front flexor tendon along with stone bruising after loosing our boots. Swelling from a girth sore also stopped our riding. 2 months rest for her was vet recommended.

I was sad to have to quit such a rewarding year riding, when a friend mentioned I should look into a spare horse available for Ponoka. With events occurring before Ponoka each year making it impossible for me to go, I assumed Ponoka just wasn't in the cards. However, my new TRAC friends hooked me up with an excellent Appy X (just my style) to use for the Battle River ride. I once again did Intermediate and we placed 6th! Finally in the ribbons. Ridding a new horse was a new challenge but my confidence motoring down the trails had grown each time I saddled up. Kiya the Appy X knew her job well and kept me safe. I figured that was the last ride for me this year and was happy with the way it worked out.
Then came Milk River- Rattle Snake roundup. I found myself with time on my hands and I considered making the trek all the way to the Alberta/Montana border if I could find a "spare" horse and split gas. After horse A-E fell through, I asked my landlord if I could use the old ranch horse "Buster". I had taken him out a few times down the road with friends and he was the steady eddy point and go type horse. At 16 hands, long backed, 16 years old and with joints that click I figured he wasn't much of a TRAC prospect but if nothing else, it was better then him sitting in the field going to waste all year.  

Buster surprised me! Trailering 8 hrs without complaint, drinking in camp as soon as the bucket met his nose, walked out on the trail with speed and ease and relaxed like he had done it a hundred times before. Passing vet checks with flying colors and he confidently did the goat trails in just a halter never questioning what I asked of him. The speed this guy walks out at is amazing and his trot was ground covering. We got to the 2 mile marker doing novice with 1.5 hrs to spare. We got to enjoy the scenery and take in all the sights waiting at that two mile marker. There was many challenges on the trail, but I'm glad I took him. Nothing like galloping along the ridge with full confidence in your horse to get you home safely! It was a great final end to my CTR/ERA year, and the 3rd place ribbon was icing on the cake! Buster is potentially for sale by the way ;)

I have now ventured into a new challenge- an Arab. Gems sound and sassy once again but it was apparent that a plan B horse is great to have. I somehow, by some crazy luck of the draw came across a lovely Arab in my price range that already has ERA/TRAC miles on him. It seems like it was "meant to be". I hope he becomes my new trusty stead/partner in crime. Next year is sure to be filled with more adventures and I'm already planning out conditioning miles, time off and even potentially my own TRAC ride to host ( I know, crazy right).
This sport should come with a warning label! ***Caution, extremely addictive but rewarding***

Saturday, 11 July 2015

What I owe to the horses…..

Written by TRAC Rider Tawny Wadden

From the get go I was a “horse girl”. My life has always revolved around these amazing animals in some way. They have been my passion, my teachers, my friends and bringers of my own inner peace.  Some of the greatest gifts my horses have given me are the wonderful people I have met and friends I have made.

My trail riding buddy (Sam Mickelberry) and I met a few years ago, on a blind date of sorts and true friendship and love of the trail blossomed!! We were hooked! We have had many adventures in the saddle and so many laughs. We got our introduction to TRAC by the wonderful Micheline Maes and 3 years ago we attended the intro clinic. This was a sport that was right up our alley. A whole weekend with horses, camping and awesome people and exploring new trails, what could be better?? Last year, in our rookie year, we attended Wild Timber and learned a lot- mostly about ways to make life a little easier when it came to hauling water!! After such a great, welcoming experience by the TRAC gang we made the trek out the Rattlesnake Round up. I was blown away by the opportunity to ride in such an AMAZING place. It was truly the ride of a lifetime! This was one of the most technical and tough and incredibly beautiful rides, what an honor to be able to share a ride like that with my equine partner, Texas.  

Texas (Sexy Tex-e) has been a fantastic trail partner. He may not be a perfectly put together but he has more heart than I could ever imagine. I am so thankful to him; he always gets me home safe. He is brave and sound on the trail, and although our time together has been relatively short our experience in TRAC is continuing to strengthen our partnership.

2015 has started out on a strong note with an awesome time in Tee’s at Back on TRAC! We even got another friend hooked on TRAC with us, welcome Amie Barnes!

Thank you so much to all those who organize these wonderful events! Being able to ride trails we may not otherwise have access to. I feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world, with the best view in the world from the saddle. Looking forward the next ride!!!

Happy Trails! 

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

“I can’t believe we are actually doing this!!”

Written by TRAC rider Sam Mickelberry

My adventure in TRAC began with my favorite pony pal, Tawny Wadden. Long story short, we met each other for the first time out in the mountains with our horses (her mom thought we would be great friends, Thanks Tracy!). It was both of our first times to the mountain trails with our own horses and it was obvious that we would be hooked for life.  To this day, it is one of my favorite memories. All we could say was “ I can’t believe we are actually doing this!” And I am pretty sure we still say that before, during and after each trail ride we do.  8 hours later…we were still smiling from ear to ear and have been friends ever since. As for TRAC, it was our friend Micheline Maes that got us started in the competitive side of trail riding.  We attended the Info Clinic in Blackfalds 3 years ago to see what the sport was all about. The following year we made sure to attend a few of the competitions. Our first ride was the Wild Timber Ranch ride, and boy did we learn a lot that weekend. (Note to self: invest in a wagon to haul water like the rest of these geniuses). We were welcomed by smiling faces and beautiful horses everywhere. Our “tent” that night was an air mattress in the back of the horse trailer, because who doesn't like a little eau-de-horse. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to the clearest sky and coyotes howling. I remember that feeling of pure happiness. The trail that morning was amazing and everyone was so helpful to us newbies. Unfortunately, my mount Jackson slipped on the mud and tweaked his hind leg somewhere between the first and second vet checks. The vet said I could still continue if I wanted, but I made the decision to pull him out to avoid further injury. I was already super proud of him so I wanted to make sure he was happy and healthy.

Our next ride was the Rattlesnake Roundup at the Writing on Stone Provincial Park. AMAZING. This ride we put our new found knowledge to the test. We had water wagons this time!! I was riding my monster, Adagio. He is a 17.2HH Dutch Warmblood. Show jumping beast turned trail master. He is the sweetest, most gentle giant, with a heart of gold and a stride that is hard to match- just ask Tawny J. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this spoiled show princess would ever make a good trail horse, but man has he proven me wrong. For a horse that used to be terrified of mud and water, he now likes to lie down in the middle of rivers (with or without you on his back..) and will tromp though mud as if it doesn’t exist. As much as trail riding is good for the human soul, I think it is equally as good for our four legged partners in crime.  

This year we started off with a bang and the Back On TRAC trail in Tees, AB. I think we finally got the hang of things this time, although I did forget a pillow and blanket... I cannot wait for the rest of the adventures this season will hold. Thank you to everyone involved in putting on all of these rides! Thank you to my perfect horses! And thank you to my pony pal Tawny, you teach me so much everyday and I am beyond grateful for your friendship and our pony adventures! Here’s to MANY more. TRAC, you have created a couple of trail junkies who will be around for a while. Happy Trails new friends!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

2015 Performance Horse Seminar

Written by TRAC Member Margie Moore

Performance Horse Seminar at Horse In Hand Facility

It was my second experience at Horse 'n Hand near Blackfalds with Christine and Lindsay coaching TRAC and ERA members on the Positive aspects of Dressage for our performance horses.  The added bonus of having Dr. Louise Corbeil from Moore and Company discussing Lameness certainly made for a complete learning weekend!

Horse 'n Hand is an amazing Equine Events facility with the owner and staff making things flow so smoothly it looks like 'no work at all' - which as we all know, is totally the opposite!

On that same note - Ken and Marlene organizing the weekend and producing ALL the GREAT MEALS  - they too make it ALL looks so effortless!!

I gained a lot of useful information/techniques some of which I hope to use in my conditioning - competitive routine as well as in simply pleasure riding.  Anything we can do to help keep our equine partners physically fit and sound for many years is worth every penny we spend (AND saying THAT - the weekend was CHEAP!)

A BIG THANKS to ALL who made it such an enjoyable weekend!!

Margie Moore (and my 'Big Boned Canadian Mare' - Lisa)

Friday, 20 March 2015

What Winning Feels Like

Written by Kelsey Shacker

To finish is to Win…. Sure, sure that’s what losers say.

A lot of the TRAC rider’s mottos can include “to finish is to win” or a variation of that sort.  I liked the motto for the feel goodness I had after a ride if we didn’t ribbon, but never really bought into it until recently. Every time I mounted up at a race in the back of my mind was, are we prepped for this ride, how can I beat my last score, possibly be in the top 5, and how can I keep me and my horse safe and look after her. I thought I knew most of my mare, Bella’s, strengths and weaknesses and have been working within her limits, but once again she proved me wrong and showed me how much more she could do! 

We had a super strong first loop of Rattlesnake Round Up, and passed our halfway or so vet check better then we began. But then trouble started immediately as we climbed up away from camp. Within the first 4 miles of the second leg, we were unable to keep up pace with our group, and fell behind. Bella wasn’t herself, she would go faster with much convincing, but continued to drop to a walk. Finally at one gate as I dismounted to get it, I heard a good clunk and noticed a front shoe had just rotated half off her hoof.  Thankfully no nails went into her sole, and I pulled her shoe by hand. Then was the hard call, do we turn and go back, or continue and see what happened. I opted to continue and see what happened, as Bella was still willing to go, though only walk trot. But knew we still had some of the hardest terrain challenges ahead of us, and we had to challenge them alone.

This was the first time doing any part of a TRAC ride where we were alone on the trail. At different times on the route it felt like we would have a conversation, “are you sure I should step down there and turn tight” and “yup that’s the right way, trust me, we can do this”. This question and answer continued during the technical hoodoos and river sections of the ride. Each time an obstacle was faced, I became increasingly confident as I knew Bella would listen and try. She didn’t need a horse buddy to keep her going, she was trusting me 100%.

At the same time, as I continued to worry about Bella, was frustrated with the situation, and didn’t know if pushing on was the right choice, I was forced to put more trust in my mare; I learned that I continue to underestimate what she can do! At times I was holding tears of sadness, madness, and happiness all at the same time back. A new conversation developed as I was asking Bella questions that I felt she answered. The “Bellz, are you ok to keep going, is it time to stop?” and the “nope I got this trust me, we can do this” feeling back from my mare.  Another group of riders eventually caught up with us, and suddenly my mare who had been “missing” since the vet check was back. The “oh I’m ready to trot LETS GO and be in the front” mare reappeared.

I figured we had gone too slow to even finish within the allowed time, and I knew a chance of ribboning was gone the moment we blew the shoe and lost our original riding group. But what I got to experience (though hard at times), was one of the best things to go through. We did finish the ride with about 1 minute to spare. But that conversation and experience I had with my mare in those “flat tire” miles was worth more than any ribbon or award. After this ride, I finally understood and embraced the motto “To finish is to win”. I had just won more than I could imagine…