Preparing for Your First Competition
You're definitely interested in CTR, but where do you start?
Come to a ride and volunteer to really learn what is involved and get a feel for how things are run. Ride management will be so happy to have your help! It's a great time to check out tack, trailer set up, etc.
If a clinic is being held locally, don't pass up the chance to learn from experienced competitors and simulate actual parts of the ride.
Contact one of the NECTRA members to find a mentor in your area to ride with and ask questions. We love to help new riders get hooked on this great sport!
How do you begin conditioning your horse?
LSD - Long Slow Distance
Start with a lot of walking at first, then gradually add speed or distance, but never
both at the same time!
As your horse becomes more fit, add hill work.
Listen to your horse and know when he can handle more or when he is struggling.
Learn to take pulse and respiration checks (P&R's) to gauge how your horse is
handling the stress.
Every horse is different so there is no set regimen for conditioning. There are many guidelines in magazines and on the internet, but always adjust for your horse's individual needs.
What are some other things you and your horse should know before the ride?
Your horse will be examined thoroughly by a veterinarian many times over the course of the
weekend. Make sure she will stand nicely while being touched and handled by a stranger,
including legs being lifted, back and girth area felt, mouth examined and gums pushed on to
check Capillary Refill Time, neck pinched for the hydration test, and a stethoscope placed
against her. The judge will also need to see the horse trot out willingly and under control, in
a straight line out, circling each direction and trotting straight back. Gaited horses may be more
comfortable in something other than the trot, which is fine as long as the gait is consistent and
under control. You can trot the circles in hand or by longeing, although the latter usually shows
your horse better and is less work for you!
Judged observations are a part of NATRC competitions. Your horse should know the basic maneuvers that may be needed to get you out of trouble on the trail. Sidepassing to a gate, backing out of a tight area between trees or on a hill, stopping and waiting patiently for another rider or traffic, making an upward or downward transition of gait when asked, tying a ribbon in a tree to mark trail, negotiating ditches and water crossings calmly and safely are just a few things a good trail horse should know and may be asked to perform.
Horses are stationary tied overnight as ride camp space limitations often do not allow for corrals or pens, and all horses must be kept in a like manner for fair evaluation. Get your horse accustomed to being tied with a rope that hangs 3-4" off the ground when taut, allowing enough length for the horse to eat, drink and lay down, but not dragging on the ground where he can get a leg over. Horses are very comfortable with this set up - it just sometimes takes the human a while to get used to it. :)
Should you go out and buy the latest and greatest "endurance" equipment?
No! Start with what you have and what fits your horse. As you both become more fit and familiar with the sport, you can gradually make changes to improve your performance. Make sure any new equipment is broke in and tested at home. The competition is not the place to try out new tack!
What's the best piece of advice we can give you?
Go out there, give it a try and have fun! It's a continual learning experience and even the
most experienced competitors will have moments of "judge induced stupidity". Enjoy the
trails, savor the time spent with your horse and friends in beautiful locations, and
continually learn how to improve your horsemanship and the partnership you are creating.
Nebraska Endurance &
Competitive Trail Ride Association