We were all thrilled to go because it was a great learning opportunity for kids and adults, alike. Not to mention that many of the kids on the mountain use their horses extensively in the arena, and they develop problems and bad habits that can be broken by just giving their horse a different job and a change of scenery. Horses get bored doing the same thing every day, and time spent riding outside of the arena keeps a horse from going sour.
We had to arrive the night before the ride to check the horses in and get instructions.
The horses were each given a stall, and the riders were judged on how clean they kept it, and how well they cared for their horse. We all had a BBQ dinner and an informational meeting before camping around the pens that evening. The next morning, the ride started bright and early before the afternoon rain hit.
(The kids were required to ride with both halter and bridles on. Usually that's a big no-no around our place, but it was so that they could attach a lead rope during stops and vet checks.)
There were three lengths of trails and categories for different age groups:
Pee-wees: 3 miles
Juniors: 10.5 miles
Seniors: 15.5 miles
The horses were vet checked the night before the race for soundness, and to get a baseline pulse and respiration while the horse was at rest.
All riders were stagger started a minute apart, and instructed to set their watches to 12:00 at the start of the ride.
They were given a map of the course and followed trail markers along the way. They had to learn to pace their horse so they wouldn't go too fast or too slow, and to help them with this, they had a time slot to arrive at each point along the trail. When their watch read 12:10, they should be at the first crossing on the map, and to the second point when their watch read 12:25 etc. This helped them to know if they were going too fast or too slow.
Along the course, there were obstacles that they had to complete for points: going over logs, crossing bridges, dismounting and mounting, going up and down steep washes, opening and closing gates, etc. Judges were there to mark their score while each task was completed, and points were added or taken away based on technique and horsemanship.
Also along the course were two vet check stops where you had to rest your horse, and have it checked for lameness and sores. You could not continue until the horse's pulse returned to normal, so if you pushed your horse too hard, or it was in bad shape, you were held back for additional time until the horse was rested.
In the end, you had a window of time to finish the race in. (The juniors had between 3 1/2 and 4 hrs to complete the course.) If you arrived too early, you were docked a point for every minute, and if you came in too late, you were docked a point for every minute.
After unsaddling, you had to report to the vet exactly 45 minutes later to have your horse checked a final time. If their pulse and respiration were still high, then you were docked another point.
It was a whole lot of information and many things to remember for our 3 elementary school kids, but they did fantastic! I was impressed that they were very aware of their timing throughout the whole course. They had to read maps, follow trail signs, read their watches, and be aware of their surroundings... a lot for a young kid to handle, but they rose to meet the challenge.
Our littlest pee-wee rode Jake for the 3 mile fun trail ride with no scores kept, and our two oldest rode in the Junior division with my husband riding behind as one of the "safety riders". Our middle daughter rode Cade, and the two guys borrowed our friend's crazy barn sour horses just for fun so they didn't have to miss out on the ride. I don't think the two borrowed mares had been ridden in over a year, so we weren't expecting much in terms of technique, but I'm so proud of our son. He stuck through some crazy horse shenanigans the first few miles with his unfamiliar and irritable mare.
My husband's borrowed horse was bronc-y the first 22 minutes of the ride, and we all joked that the "safety rider" needed a "safety rider" for himself. She had a little bucking fit just before the race, but he stuck on the beast like glue, and showed her who was boss. I can't stop laughing at the entertainment value of the whole scene. HA HA! By the end of the ride, his borrowed mare was compliant, tired, and broke.
My husband turned to me and said, "We have GOT to find some good horses to buy!"
A fun day was had by all, and ended with three tired kids sleeping in the cab of the truck, and a flash flood and thunderstorm to load the horses up in. The two older kids both tied with a score of 89.5 points out of 100. Not bad for their first time, and especially for our son who was on an unfamiliar and undisciplined horse for the first time.
We can't wait to do it all again next year!