Home > Trip > Dispatches > Daily Dispatches 2013 > Daily Dispatch #121

May 11, 2013: Trail Trial Travails

The first annual Mat-Su area Morgan Horse Club Trail Trial Competition was held on Saturday, May 11, at the Peters Creek Horse Park. I decided to enter Raudi, but then discovered that an EIA was required. As luck would have it, I was to have my horses tested the following week. So I instead switched gears and focused on giving another entrant, Dick Stoffel, an assist with his mare Karmen. There were beginning, intermediate, and advanced divisions. Dick had entered the advanced, or Sourdough Division. Together, we spent two days, six hours total, preparing for this event.

Neither Dick nor I knew quite what to expect, which made preparing for the trial trails a lot more fun. Dick and Karmen have logged untold hours on the trail. Day One was (for me) an assessment day, that is one in which I randomly worked with Dick in a very unorganized fashion, trying out this, that, and the other. What I determined was that both would be extremely nervous in an arena setting. So that night I wrote out a plan that I hoped would benefit both horse and rider while under the duress of competition.

Day Two was from the onset, more organized. Dick unloaded Karmen in the driveway, and I then sat us both in lawn chairs. I then (with list in hand) proposed to Dick that we first do some ground-based centered/connected riding exercises. My rationale was that this would loosen him up. TTeam body work on Karmen would follow. My rationale for this was that this would further relax Karmen. We’d next walk my home-based trail trials course. My rationale for this was that Dick would better learn to visualize how he might take Karmen through the course. Lastly, he’d ride it. My rationale was that this way, both would become more familiar with course specifics.

Dick was enthused about my proposed plan, and remained so as we first did the ground based activities, and then did my course under saddle. We’d made some equipment changes on Day One, which we again implemented on Day Two. Karmen would, we decided, do the competition in my bit-less bridle and Len Brown Orthroflex saddle.

The Day One home course consisted of a gate (open it, go through it, close it); a rock, bucket, and an attached rope (lift bucket over the horses’ back, set on the other side); three cones with a stick inserted in first cone (pick up stick in cone, do serpentines, put stick in furthest most cone), two barrels, two buckets, and a rock (go up to first barrel, remove rock from first bucket, sidepass to second barrel, put rock in second barrel), sawhorse, poles, and tarp (step on tarp, and walk over makeshift bridge that spans a water-filled trench), wood planks (boundaries for backing), and a teeter totter. I also made sure that the goats were out and about. Lastly, I’d insisted that after practice that we’d go for a brief ride; this way, Karmen could blow off some steam.

I noted on Day One that Karmen had difficulty sidepassing, so I put a plank across the two barrels, this way she’d have a boundary. And I laid out tires so that horse and rider would, in doing serpentines, become more flexible. The gate, as it did on Day One, proved to be problematic, with Karmen becoming increasingly more agitated after being asked to stand still. I repeatedly suggested to Dick that he focus on his breath, and I repeatedly stroked Karmen’s legs with a wand. This was to no avail, so I suggested that we move on. And move on we did – the pair had little trouble with the remaining portion of the course.

The following day, Dick and I drove together to the site of the trail trials. I was pleased to discover that the official arena-based trail trials course resembled my own. The thirty-or-so contestants would be required to open a gate; sidle up to a mailbox; remove a flag, wave it, put it back in the box; enter and exit a trailer; circle around a reindeer in a pen; go over a log pile; grab a rope and pull a tarp over to a mud puddle, then drop the rope; walk across a sheet of black sheeting that contained a white and double yellow road stripes; amble over to a gasoline can, dismount, have their horse lie down, pass the can over both sides of the horse; move a rope around a barrel; remove an Alaskan flag from a barrel, trot or canter to the far end of the arena and back, and then put the flag back in the barrel. Lastly, they would, before leaving the arena, take a bow.

Riders would not, as I presumed, have to back their horses in an L shaped obstacle, or go up to a fence and sidepass. Nor would they have to cross a bridge or go over a teeter totter.

I felt some regret in seeing this course because I knew that this setup would have been to Raudi’s liking. On home, and on the trail, we’d dealt with most of these things. Furthermore, the trailer obstacle was identical to our own. The one saving grace was that I’d been able to put all my energy into being Dick and Karmen’s coach.

We parked next to Vickie Talbot, who had signed up to compete on Hunar. Vickie and I are no strangers. We live near one another, and often ride together. I’ve also watched her compete and do clinics. So I was able to spend my down time talking Icelandic horses with her and Dick.

The two horses are a study in contrasts, and as well reflective of the fact that Icelandics are not in appearance, uniform. Karmen is a beefy red and white pinto, who is well muscled in the forequarters. And Hunar is a lean silver dapple who has equal muscling throughout. However, both have thick, lush manes and tails, and as well, kindly eyes. It was for this reason, perhaps, that the entire time they were the object of admiration and affection of a pre-teen named Ashante, who followed their every move.

We soon learned that Vickie was to go first, and Dick was to go fifteenth.

I rightly suspected that Vickie and Hunar would do well together, having over the past few years trained for and competed in both local dressage and jumping competitions. And they indeed did the course in a controlled and efficient fashion. Hunar willingly put himself in position so that Vickie could open the gate, and when asked, he hopped right into the trailer. He was also poised and collected when asked to pass the reindeer and cross the white and double yellow line. The pair did have a bit more difficulty with the flag and tarp pull. Vickie also passed on having Hunar lie down; however, she was easily able to dismount, pick up the gas can, and put it on his far side.

My heart was in my throat when, finally, Dick and Karmen entered the arena, for I wanted them both to do well. The importance and value of even limited pre-competition work made itself apparent as the pair dealt with the gate. Dick was able to open it, walk through it, and then close it. Karmen handled the mailbox obstacle fairly well, and after going into and out of trailer, waltzed past Mr. Reindeer.

The phrase, with horses you never know, then became a truism. Karmen, for some inexplicable reason, resisted when asked to walk over the logs. Remember that this is a horse who has many, many years of trail riding under her belt. And, after, she became increasingly more fractious. Finally, she blew, running off with Dick, who was quick to get her back in control.

Like Vickie, Dick exited the arena with a smile on his face. And like Hunar, Karmen then basked in the admiration of her growing fan club. After what seemed like a long wait, but was most likely ten minutes, the winners were announced. Vickie and Hunar had placed eighth and Dick and Karmen had placed ninth in the Sourdough Division. The Icelandic Horse High Point award (which was sponsored by the Alaska Icelandic Horse Association) went to Vickie Talbot. And Dick received a $10.00 gift certificate to Animal Food Warehouse.

In my mind, these supposedly low placings were a moot point. Quite obviously, the judges had no idea just how much progress Vickie, working with Hunar, and Dick, working with Karmen, have come in the past few years. Neither are steady eddy horses. Rather, they’re both strong willed, sometimes excitable individuals. I said to an onlooker that I was most impressed with both Vickie’s and Dick’s determination to keep working with their mounts. Lesser horse people would most likely have not arose to the challenges these two horses have presented.

I also felt a great sense of pride in the high degrees of professionalism and horsemanship exhibited by both Dick and Vickie. They both did wonderfully – and came away from the competition well knowing what things they’ll need to be working on this coming summer.

Next: 132: 5/12/13: Mother’s Day, Daughter’s Day