When I advocate for cross-training arena horses on varied terrain, I often advise students to stay committed by setting a goal. Fortunately, numerous trail organizations and events exist to help with this. Many offer intro level divisions that do not require riders to be hard-core trail junkies, nor give up hours and hours of their lives training.
Ride and Tie
Dating back to the late 1970s, the sport of ride and tie combines your own fitness training with your horse’s. The events, ranging from introductory six or eight milers to competitive 25-mile races, involve two riders sharing a horse over a marked course. Riders alternate riding and running on foot, using strategic exchanges of the horse in order to get all three teammates to the finish line in the best shape. Learn more at www.rideandtie.org.
Competitive Trail Rides
For those looking to try their horses on a trail event without the frenzy of racing, several competitive trail organizations offer events of various distances. In a nutshell, competitive trail rides are marked courses with set time limits (generally requiring a pace of 3-5 miles per hour), but the goal is not to race. Winners are determined by the horse’s fitness level and recovery post-ride, riders’ horsemanship on course, and in some cases proficiency over natural obstacles like bridges, gates, and stream crossings. Each association runs by its own rules and emphasizes different aspects of trail riding.
North American Trail Ride Conference has six regions from Alaska to Florida with rides year-round that are very welcoming to novices and newbies. www.natrc.org
A similar group based in the northeast is the Eastern Competitive Trail Ride Association at www.ectra.org.
American Competitive Trail Horse Association hosts casual six to eight mile rides with no time limit that include a few natural obstacles along the route. Horses and riders are judged on these obstacles. For riders who prefer not to head out on trail, the group offers obstacle challenges held in an arena, some of them specifically for horses on a leadline. Obstacle and course descriptions are available at www.actha.us.
For riders who wish to focus primarily on negotiating obstacles rather than covering big distances, the American Trail Trial Horsemen’s Association holds untimed courses that allow riders to work through eight to twelve obstacles at their own speed. Riders can do the course alone or with a group of fellow riders. www.attatrailtrials.com
Originally used as a test of stamina and sturdiness for cavalry mounts, endurance rides became sanctioned by the United States Equestrian Federation in the late 1970s. Endurance riding is now one of the fastest growing equestrian disciplines. Rides of 50 to 100 miles require riders to maintain a pace above 6 miles per hour and pass vet inspections along the route. The American Endurance Ride Conference (www.aerc.org) also conducts Limited Distance events of 25 to 35 miles and, while the fittest and fastest horse wins, the sport’s mission is not based on speed alone. Underlying the well-being of the horse and skills involved with this level of challenge, its motto is “To finish is to win.”
Jec Aristotle Ballou is the author of 101 Dressage Exercises for Horse & Rider.