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365 Days in Horse Country – Competitive Trail Riding

Blog by Michael Stuart Webb | October 13th, 2013

365 Days in Horse Country – Competitive Trail Riding


Trail riders who enjoy competition have found their sport in an event called competitive trail riding.  Most widely sponsored by North American Trail Riding Conference, or NATRAC, competitive trail riding take place in regions all over the Canada and the United States.  It can be done with any kind of horse or tack, and it doesn’t require a large cash outlay for participation.

Competitive trail rides take place over a two or three day period.  Horses and riders are placed in divisions based on their skill level.  Novice horses and riders cover anywhere from 20 to 25 miles (32 to 40 km) each day, while those in the two upper divisions of Competitive Pleasure and Open ride 30 to 50 miles (48 to 80 km) per day, sometimes for two days.

The terrain on the trails vary according to the region and the specific venue.  Some rides cover strenuous trails that require steep climbs.  Others are mostly flat.

Unlike endurance, competitive trail competitions are not races.  Instead, riders are judged on their horsemanship, and horses are evaluated on their manners and conditioning.  Horses and riders camp out the night before the ride, which teaches horses camping skills to participants.  Judges observe horses and riders throughout the prescribed trail, sometimes stopping participants and asking them to perform certain basic maneuvers, and negotiating a trail obstacle.  Scores are calculated at the end of the ride, and awards are given that evening in camp.