How many of you live in the Northeast USA?

My article today is to talk to those of you that live in my competing region, the Northeast.  This includes the states from Maine to Virginia and Rhode Island to Ohio.  It even includes parts of eastern Canada.

Why am I talking to you?  Because our Distance competition season starts in March 2014 and I am hoping to see more of you come out and try this sport.

I am recommending to you to look at the ECTRA (Eastern Competitive Trail Ride Association) website and see which rides are close to you this year.  Attend one!  We offer everything from being a volunteer on the ground to a clinic ride (distance of 12 to 15 miles) to a multiday 100 mile ride.  If you have not had experience with this sport, getting involved with Competitive Trail Riding is a great start.

CTR events are different from Endurance events.  I am going to concentrate on the CTR side of this sport to introduce you to what you can expect so when you come to one of these rides in 2014, you will be prepared.  I want to meet you, so when you arrive, please ask the ride management if I have arrived and if I did, come and find me!!!!

First, the entry.  All ride managers will put out their entry form 90 days in advance of the ride.  This give you plenty of time to have all your paperwork in order.  Most states are requiring health certificates if you travel across state line.  In the NE Region, we are allowed to get a “Show Season” health certificate.  Here is what is required.

1.      Current year coggins – I draw my coggins in February in preparation for the season to begin in March.

2.      Current year rabies and regionally required vaccinations.  In my region this is Tetanus, Equine Encephalomyelitis, Eastern/Western/Venezuelan, Influenza,           and Rhinopneumonitis (EHV-1 and EHV-4).  In my particular area, botulism is an issue so I do an annual booster for that as well.  Not required, but recommended are West Nile Virus, Strangles and Potomac Horse Fever.

3.      A veterinarian certificate that the horse is healthy and disease free.


Complete the entry either on your computer or in your nicest printing handwriting!  The ride manager needs to be able to read what you wrote, and while you BELIEVE your handwriting is the best in the universe, to someone else it probably is just gibberish!  Make a copy of the above information.  Never send originals.  Make a copy of your horse’s registration paper.  Send all this to the ride manager with your entry fee. 

Second, the ride manager will contact you when they receive your entry registration and paperwork. If something is missing, they will let you know what to bring with you to the ride.  Don’t panic, just be sure to put it in your truck to take with you.  I keep a copy of all my current paperwork in my truck in a folder so if I arrive at a ride and they are missing something, I always have copies to show them.

Third, arrive at the ride management has requested.  You will receive a “ride information” letter either with the ride entry form, or when the ride management contacts you.  It will have the address of the ride, directions to the ride, the time of arrival, time of vetting in, time of dinner, time of the ride meeting….it’s always very clear.  If they say vetting will begin at 6:00 am, try to arrive half an hour earlier so you can park, get your horse off the trailer and settled down, and you are not rushing around.

Fourth, check in!  When you arrive, before you do anything else, go find the ride manager and check in.  They will have a packet for you and will welcome you to the ride.  Things will be hectic for the ride management so be prepared.  They are caught up in the hustle and bustle of getting all the riders checked in.  There are usually a handful of volunteers hanging around the check in that can help you with any questions you may have when you arrive.

Fifth, get your horse settled.  Take him off the trailer and for a little walk to see and get used to the hustle and bustle.  A settled horse will be better prepared for his vetting in process and the walk will help you to relax, too!

Sixth, be prepared to wait in line.  In the interest of good manners, teach your horse at home to stand quietly with you while you wait.  At some check ins, you can stand for a good 30 minutes creeping along with the line as the horses in front of you are being vetted.  The time to teach your horse how to graze quietly while you hold the lead line is NOT at the ride!  So this at home.  Ask your friends to join you with their horses and stand in a close contact line up and practice.  I have seen many injuries at rides and most of them occur in the waiting line.

The vetting in process at a CTR is more involved than at an Endurance ride.  At a CTR, your horse will be seen by two people.  A veterinarian and a Lay Judge.  They will evaluate your horse from nose to toes to tail and make notes of anything obvious like a boo-boo, or a splint, or a soreness in the back or legs.  They do this not to be critical, but to lay the field for your horse’s condition at the end of the ride.  You start with 100 points, no matter what.  If your horse has a boo-boo before the ride, and that boo-boo does not change for the worse during the ride, you will not lose points for that boo-boo.  It is important for you to be honest with the veterinarian and Lay Judge during the vetting in and tell them any issues a horse may have so they can make a note of it.

You will be asked to trot your horse straight out, in a circle to the left then a circle to the right and then trot straight back.  This is to get a baseline on your horse’s overall manner of traveling.  This is especially important for gaited horses!  If your horse is prone to be excited and do a perfect 4 beat running walk at the beginning of a ride but at the end of the ride when he is tired and less excited he does a racking pace step, this can cost you points!!!!  Teach your horse at home to travel in hand before a ride and again after a ride.  Get consistency of gait.  If the horse understands what you want him to do when he is doing his circles, he will do it well even at the end of a ride when he is tired.  PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!!!

Your horse now has two score sheets and throughout the ride all notes will be made on these two sheets.

Now, you should know what number you are and what your starting order will be.  At a CTR, groups of horses go out at a time designated by the timer.  This is so that all horses are on the same playing field.  You will all have a minimum finish time and a maximum finish time.  At a 25 mile CTR, that time will be 4 hours 10 minutes (minimum) to 4 hours and 40 minutes (maximum).  As long as you complete your ride in this time frame, you will not be penalized.  If you come in too early,  you will lose points.  If you come in over time, you will lose points.  If you are over 15 minutes past the maximum time, you are disqualified.

You can tack up your horse now and get him warmed up and ready to go.  You will be traveling at speed for most the ride so be sure he is lose and stretched and has a good 15 minutes of walking under saddle before it is your time to start the competition.

A 25 mile CTR will have one vet check in the middle of two loops.  Typically the loops are broken out into two 12.5 loops or a 10 mile loop and a 15 mile loop.  At the vet check in the middle of the ride you will be given a white slip of paper when you arrive back at the base camp.  This is your horse’s check in paper!

You will have ten minutes to check in with the P/R checker.  (Pulse and respiration)  At the ride meeting the veterinarian will have give you the halfway parameters to meet.  Typically this is  a 64 heart rate.  As long as your respiration is under the heart rate (example: 60 HR and 20 Resp) then you are good to go.  If your horses respiration is over the heart rate, this is indicative of a problem and you will be pulled aside for some different testing.

After your ten minute P/R check, you will then do a trot out for the vet.  This is a straight out and straight back trot out.  The purpose is to check the horse for lameness or fatigue of gait.

When you have been at the hold for 20 minutes, you can now leave for the second loop.  This is not a lot of time.  It SOUNDS like a lot of time, but it isn’t.  Generally, by the time you’ve done your P/R and trot out, you have exactly 3 minutes to go to the bathroom before you get back on and ride again (chuckle).

Upon completion of the second loop, you will be given a blue piece of paper.  This is your final vet check paper.  You have 20 minutes to get your horse’s heart rate down to 40.  This is what a CTR expects a horse to be at with a 20 minute rest.  A lot of factors will play into the final heart rate. 

1.      Overall condition of the horse

2.      Overall fatigue of the horse

3.      Weather (hot and humid will elevate a horse’s heart rate)

4.      Breed of the horse (some breeds have exceptionally quick or slow recoveries)

5.      Excitement!  Keep your  horse calm and relaxed during this 20 minute wait.

There are many ways to get your heart rate down and the most important way is to cool your horse with water.  Spend the 20 minutes sponging your horse and letting him relax.

After you do your P/R check at 20 minutes, you now wait for the final “Hands On” procedure.  Now you have time to take you horse to the trailer and let him eat and drink and brush him off and get yourself all cleaned up.  The will do the hands on in the order of completion.  Pay attention and when they announce you are “on deck”, quickly get your horse down to wait in line.  Take along some hay or mash to keep your horse occupied during the wait.  Remember, he just did 25 miles and needs nourishment!

Now, the final check over of your horse will determine how many points you lose.  If there are no changes from the start of the ride to the finish of the ride, your horse will score a perfect 100 points.  I have seen those scores and it is my all time wish to get one of those scores.  The highest I ever received was 99.5.  Typically, I finish somewhere between 95 and 98.  My lowest score was an 89.  I still completed and was awarded my mileage.  The problem I encountered was inconsistency of gait from beginning to middle to end and I lost 9 points just on the gait.  This is why it is important to train your gaited horse to always do the same gait while working in hand.  I learned a hard lesson at that ride.

After all the horses are vetted, the ride management will tally the scores and there will be an awards dinner.  Usually, everyone that completed will get a completion award.  Those that completed well (in the top 10) will receive additional awards. 

It’s all about the completion.  It’s not about the awards!  “To Finish Is To Win” is the motto of every distance rider.  I wrote a book with that title and it is available for sale through FOSH.  The book is about all the mistakes I made through the years and I wrote it to help people get into this sport without making those same mistakes!

Good Luck to you and I truly do hope to see you at a competition in the Northeast Region this year. 


Dodie Sable  01-17-14