Thursday, November 15, 2012

Trail Ride for Wounded Warriors

All across the country this past Veteran's Day weekend, the American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) held Competitive Trail Challenges (CTC) to raise funds for wounded warrior causes. The ride we supported was held in Anthony, New Mexico adjacent to El Paso, Texas with the six mile ride on Bureau of Land Management mananged land.

A total of 20 riders took part and they were all ladies, save for one man working a young horse, all who braved dropping temperatures and 50 mile per hour winds, with the sand blasting that come with riding in the desert during high winds, to complete this ride.  Having your horse in a dust storm or even a rain or hail storm while not pleasant sure as heck builds confidence in the rider on their horse.

ACTHA CTC's are six mile trails with six obstacles that the riders are judged on negotiating. A score is given the horse for his willingness and bravery as the horse works the obstacles and the rider is also judged on their control and horsemanship. I judged the bridge obstacle which was a frame of 4 x 4 posts and 2 inch by 8 inch planks creating a bridge over a two foot deep arroyo (dry stream bed).

Bridges, maybe more so that any other obstacle, can be pretty intimidating for horses. You can work a bridge until your horse crosses it without hesitation 100 times in a row, then move that same exact bridge someplace else and that same horse will treat the bridge like he has seeing it for the first time.

Most of the riders crossed the bridge on a loose rein with willing horses at a natural head set - what I was looking for. The Open division riders had to halt their horse for three seconds on the bridge before continuing across and we were looking for a horse that stand still, on a loose rein, until asked to depart the bridge.

I gave near as high as scores to riders whose horses showed reluctance or caution to cross the bridge, but because the riders kept their horses centered with as little pressure as necessary, the horse eventually, and within the one minute time restraint, crossed the bridge. To me this showed a good relationship and trust between the horse and rider.

These pictures above show a horse's obvious concern about the bridge he is asked to cross. The rider keeps the horse centered and allows the horse to drop his head and checkout the brige, resulting in the horse willing to cross when asked again. If the rider would have asked the horse to cross before it is ready, sure the horse may have went across - may even have bolted across - I saw this a couple times, but allowing the horse time to think, reduces his anxiety and cross in a more confident manner. This will pay off for that horse and rider - increasing trust and helping that horse become a braver horse.

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