Try It Tuesday: Competitive Trail Riding (CTR)

competitive trail riding 2If you and your horse enjoy trail riding, then the sport of Competitive Trail Riding (CTR) might be a good fit for the both of you. A Competitive Trail Ride is not a timed event like endurance where the fastest time wins.  It is probably closer to Eventing in that riders are out on the trail one at a time and negotiate obstacles.  There are also mandatory vet checks.  And, like Eventing, success comes from the trust and communication between horse and rider to safely complete the course.   A CTR is usually held on a weekend and can run one, two or even three days.  The competitors usually cover a distance of 15-40 miles per day.

In the United States and Canada, as well as in other countries, there are several organizations that sanction competitive trail riding. In the United States, they include North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC).

In NATRC competitions, the horses are evaluated by an approved veterinary judge, and riders are evaluated by an approved horsemanship judge. The judging begins at the preliminary examination, usually the day before the ride, continues during the ride, and concludes at the final examination one or two days later. The equines (horses, ponies, and mules) are evaluated on condition, soundness, their trail manners, and way of going. Riders are judged on horsemanship as it applies to competitive trail riding. The judges will examine the horses at the end of a day’s ride and again before timing out on the second day. The final vet check, after the ride, is similar to the pre-ride examination. Competition is over when this final vet check is done.

Most any horse can compete in Competitive Trail Riding, but both training and competitive trail riding 3
conditioning should be a part of the program before you attempt your first event. Training aims at teaching the horse not only to obey commands, but also how to handle rough terrain and obstacles such as steep climbs, rocky descents, deep creeks, fallen limbs or logs, etc. Conditioning toughens the horse and builds stamina by improving the muscles, heart, lungs, tendons, ligaments, skin, feet, etc. In the peak of condition the horse will not tire readily. His breathing will not be as rapid as when he was “soft”, nor will the heart have to pump as fast. And since he is trained, he will handle himself better and waste less motion through inexperience and nervousness.

To find out more information, click HERE to visit the North American  Trail Ride Conference website.

.photos courtesy of the North American Trail Ride Conference

Try It Tuesday: Clicker Training


horse clicker trianing

Whether you’re trying one of the new horse sports or just continuing to work on your current discipline, clicker training can help build understanding with your horse.  Long-used in dog training, Karen Pryor’s force-free clicker training  has crossed over to other animals, including horses.  

Clicker training is a science-based training method. It traces its origins back to the work of B.F. Skinner. Karen Pryor, one of the early pioneers of marine mammal training, coined the term clicker training and helped expand the work into the broader training community.  The name “clicker training” refers to the most commonly used marker signal, which is a hand held clicker. In clicker training, the marker signal is paired with a primary reinforcer (usually food).  There are several types of clicker training:

Capturing: This is what many people think of when they first think of clicker training. You wait for the animal to perform a certain behavior, and then you click and treat. This marks the behavior and makes the animal more likely to repeat it.

Shaping: This is the essence of clicker training and a clicker trainer’s main tool. Shaping is the name used to refer to the process of starting with a small piece of the behavior you want and transforming it over time by carefully reinforcing those efforts that lead to the final behavior.

Shaping is also sometimes referred to as training by successive approximations. The key point about shaping is that in shaping you are building behavior in small steps. You get from one step to the next by selecting what behaviors you choose to reinforce and allowing the horse to experiment a bit to figure out what behavior gets clicked. It is a very creative process for both trainer and trainee.

Luring: Luring refers to using the food directly to get a behavior that you can click and reinforce. Most clicker trainers use luring sparingly or not at all as part of the reason clicker training works well is that the food is used to motivate and reward, but since it is only delivered after the click, it does not become a distraction.
Molding:  The horse or a part of its body is physically put in the desired position. If trying to teach a horse to step on a mat, pick up the foot and place it on the mat. The goal is to show the horse the desired movement and then encourage the horse to initiate the behavior on his own.

Shaping using pressure and release: This is one of the most common ways that clicker training is used with horses. It is a subset of shaping, but it is a directed form of shaping where the horse gets information about what you want through standard pressure and release cues. It is combined with clicker training so that the horse is rewarded by the release of pressure AND a treat. The addition of the marker signal adds a level of precision and timing that makes the training process clearer.
Targeting: Targeting is the behavior where an animal learns to touch a body part (with horses we usually use the nose) to another object (the target). Targeting is a behavior that is taught through capturing or shaping, but once learned, it becomes a valuable tool in its own right.
Clicker training allows you to pinpoint and reward desirable behavior. As a result the horse doesn’t have to try ten ‘wrong things’ before it gets it right. The one ‘right’ thing it does is rewarded and the undesirable behaviors ignored. With positive reinforcement horses become very eager students and lessons are quickly learned.

photo credit:

 Karen Pryor, Clicker Training:

B.F. Skinner, Operant Behavior:

Try It Tuesday: Working Equitation

ease of handlingWorking Equitation, a fairly new horse sport, celebrates the partnership between horse and rider no matter what your preferred discipline.  And the best part is that you don’t need special tack or attire or a particular breed of horse to participate in Working Equitation. You can compete as an individual and/or as a team. There are 4 trials or tests in a Working Equitation competition.  The first three – dressage, ease of handling and speed – are required for both individuals and teams.  The final test – cattle handling – is used in team competition only.

WE dressageDressage is much like traditional dressage tests as is their purpose-to test the horse and rider as well as to service as an aid in training, whether for a dressage horse or a cattle horse. Again, you may show in either English or Western attire and tack, or in the attire and tack  specific to the traditional and documented the country, breed, or discipline. For example, riders must use footwear appropriate for showing in the tradition in which they are dressed. Heeled boots are the norm, although when a specific tradition mandates use of a different type of footwear (such as the Portuguese Ribetejo tradition), this shall be acceptable.  Qualities of impulsion, submission, quality of gaits as well as rider’s position and effective use of aids are all part of the judging. For a sample Novice Dressage Test, click HERE.

WE ease of handlingEase of Handling tests the horse and rider’s ability to traverse a series of obstacles, being scored 1-10 on each one.  The judges look for a smooth, symmetrical performance. As with dressage, submission, impulsion, quality of transitions, etc. are all considered.  A course map must be provided to competitors at least two hours before the start of the trial. In addition, the competitors are allowed to walk the course (on foot with no horses) during the designated course walk for their class. This allows riders to memorize and plan their course prior to riding it.At the Introductory, Novice, and Intermediate levels, riders may complete this trial using two-hands on the reins. At the Advanced and Masters levels, riders must ride one-handed.  For a sample obstacle course, click HERE.

WE SpeedSpeed tests use typically uses the same obstacles from the Ease of Handling test, but rather than being judged on quality and smoothness, the event is timed – the faster the time, the higher the placing.The final time for each horse and rider combination is calculated by taking their actual time on course minus any bonuses, plus any penalties, so accuracy through the obstacles is a must! Knocking over any barrel during the figure-eight between them gets 5 seconds per barrel added to your time.  Want to see how it’s done?  Click HERE.

Cow trails test the ability of horse and rider to work both individually and as a team with cattle.  At this time, most Working Equitation competitions in the United States do not offer the Cow trial. Shows will begin to offer this trial as the sport continues to grow in popularity. The Cow trial takes place in an enclosed rectangle (minimum size of 70 meters by 30 meters). On a team of 3-4 riders, the objective is for each rider to individually sort, cut and herd a predetermined cow from the herd and, as a team, put it in the designated pen.   Each combination has three minutes to cut and herd their selected cow. Combinations who fail to herd their cow to the demarcated pen are disqualified from the trial and receive zero points. The fastest individual overall time (including any time penalties added) is placed highest in the Cow trial.

Working Equitation WE United logoWE United is a member-led, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the sport of Working Equitation throughout the United States of America. They were officially incorporated as a  nonprofit in early February, 2016. They formed:

  • For the integrity of the sport.
  • For the benefit of competitors.
  • For the strength of a united team.

For more information on Working Equitation, upcoming events and rules, click HERE.