A weekend with AERC’s cousins: NATRC and Ride and Tie

So instead of spending my weekend doing AERC endurance prep stuff with my AERC endurance horse, I went for a drastic change of pace and did NATRC and RnT stuff with other peoples’ endurance horses. Fascinating, right? Read on!

Friday afternoon, I hauled M’s Fetti to a NATRC ride at Mt. Diablo. She’ll post about it soon, I hope! She says she took lots of pictures, and it’s beautiful country over there. Anyway, my part of her adventure was to show up on Friday outside of Santa Cruz with the trailer, haul Fetti up to Mt. Diablo, leave the trailer, and come back for them Saturday afternoon. Easy, right?

Yep, easy. Except for traffic. The 85 mile trip from Felton to Clayton took us three and a half hours, when we’d naively assumed we could do it in two. Instead of showing up at a comfortable 5:30, we got the trailer dropped at seven pm, during dinner/meeting. Eeek! I was super hungry and sick of driving, so I just made sure Fetti had food and water and bailed on M. Sorry about that. Well, a tiny bit sorry about that. 😉

Saturday morning I did some errands, then came home and cleverly napped all afternoon. We were originally supposed to go to a party Saturday night (my thinking: “LDs take six hours, therefore I’ll pick up the trailer in the afternoon and traffic won’t be so bad and I’ll get Fetti home and drop the trailer and head over to the party kinda late”) but Graham was sick and apparently NATRC really wants you to stay for awards, so the party got back-burnered. (Sorry K!)

At six I headed back over to Clayton. I knew M had finished happily, and I wanted to see the awards and cheer her on. I wasn’t sure what they were offering or how much tickets cost, so I ate ahead of time and showed up at seven, after dinner and just before awards began.

I knew a few people — well, to be honest, a few people recognized me, but you may remember I’m face-blind so it’s really, really hard for me to recognize casual acquaintances “out of context.” Anyway, the point is, there was some crossover between AERC people and NATRC people.

So here’s how AERC awards usually go: Filthy, tired people trickle in and eat a vast amount of food. Ride management gets up and talks a little bit about the day: unforeseen obstacles, accidents, weather, how good/bad all the horses generally looked. They call out all the finishers, last to first, usually LDs then 50s (if there’s a hundred, most of them are still on the trail, and they’ll have their own awards the next morning). Everybody gets cheered as they go collect their finish award. Top Ten gets extra loot. If there are bonus awards (mid-pack, oldest team, turtle, whatever) they get extra loot too. One of the vets gets up and talks about how wonderful the top-ten looked and how it was so hard to determine Best Condition, then announces BC, which gets extra cheers and even more loot. The meeting breaks up into people going home and people staying overnight (who continue drinking and giggling).

NATRC awards were different. First, the people look clean and well-rested (they’d only ridden 27 miles, and they’d finished hours earlier and cleaned up). Then they raffled. I don’t mean they raffled, like, three halters, those people raffle like woah. It took over an hour to raffle everything off. Next, the one of the judges got up and talked about the trail. Then they called awards for a bunch of categories — NATRC does three weight divisions (heavyweight, lightweight, junior) and three classes (open, novice, and competitive pleasure, and I do not pretend to understand the differences, and there’s also “distance only” which isn’t eligible for awards). They placed out to 6th for some of the weight/classes and to 3rd, I think, for the rest of them. First place got lovely handmade plaques; the other placings got certificates. And to top it off, they ran through each class twice: once for horsemanship, once for horse. (So a superior horse with a less talented rider could win its horse class, or a great rider on a horse that didn’t look as good could win her horsemanship class.)

The way it played out in real life was that out of 40 teams, about ten teams got called over and over again, and a couple of teams got called once, and everybody else didn’t get their names called at all. I knew, intellectually, how NATRC does awards, so I wasn’t surprised … but as we trooped out (at nine pm, egads) I was surprised to realize how sad I was for M.

Coming from a non-show background to AERC endurance on a never-gonna-win horse, I really embraced AERC’s “to finish is to win” motto as a personal standard. I didn’t realize that because AERC really thinks we’re all winners for finishing, AERC puts a priority on acknowledging us all for our personal “wins” vs. the trail. That’s why ride meetings call out all the finishers. That’s why everybody who finishes gets something for finishing.

The something isn’t always very impressive — I’ve gotten everything from a ride photo (so lame!) to logo drinkware (woooo yeah!). But I have a physical memento of almost every AERC ride I’ve ever done. I have proof that we did the thing. M bought an average number of raffle tickets, but didn’t win anything. Her sweet mare followed all the rules and got her through the whole day, but M has nothing tangible from completing the ride. I’m a little sad for her, y’all. Yeah, she’s got her pictures and memories, and there was a ride photographer, but ride awards really do matter. I can point at every single completion award I’ve ever gotten, and I’m so proud of all of them.

So that, oddly, was my big takeaway about the difference between AERC and NATRC. NATRC doesn’t give completion awards and it sounds totally petty, but even a tiny leather keychain means a lot to the rider. It brings back good memories every time I look at my High Desert brush or my Twenty Mule Team wine glass.

Anyway, awards wrapped at nine, and M got the remains of her camp packed while I hitched the trailer back up. We left camp at maybe 9:30 and got back to Fetti’s barn at 11. I’d already decided nap or no nap, I was too tired and cranky to try to re-park the trailer in the wee hours of the morning, so I just zoomed home. I got home at one and fell straight into bed.

At six, I popped back up in a panic. I’d set an alarm for 5:30, but I’d left my phone on vibrate so it didn’t do a damn bit of good — but waking up at six was close enough. I flung on some running clothes, fed the dog and cats so G could sleep in, and bolted out the door. I whizzed over to the barn, parked the trailer perfectly on the very first attempt, and headed for Yuba City. Mel and I were going to practice ride’n’tying.IMG_1850Totally bragging. Nailed it. IMG_1851I first read about RnT back in 2007 or so, when I’d first stumbled upon endurance as A Fun Hobby Idea. One of the few websites I found back then was this crazy lady named Lucy in California, who wrote extremely entertaining stories of her hilariously disastrous endurance rides… and her hilariously disastrous RnT career. I read the RnT section with the sort of smug air of a sane person who was never, ever going to try anything that stupid. Fuckin’ Californians!

Much to my surprise, I eventually moved out here, met Lucy, and gradually became infected with whatever it is in the air that turns sane people from away into fuckin’ Californians who think it’s a good idea to run through the woods in the summer for fun.

Then Mel started RnT’ing. I consoled myself with the fact that Mel is a runner, and extra-crazy, and I just wanted to ride a hundred miles. I mean, I pay a lot to keep my horse; the least she can do is carry me.

Then I started running “to help her recoveries.” Let me warn you, getting off and jogging “to help her recoveries” is the gateway drug of RnT. You have a bunch of engraved carabiners and haybags just from riding your horse, and you slowly realize that you’re actually running like, a couple miles without dying, and people races give t-shirts, just for finishing, so you stumble through a couple of 5ks, but you spend the whole time missing your horse, and then before you know it you’re driving a hundred miles on four hours sleep to practice RnT.

Mel and I consulted with our responsible adult mentors (M, who is active, and Lucy, who’s retired from RnT) and sort of came up with a half-ass plan, as one does. I brought a helmet and some pretty climbing rope that felt nice in my hand, and Mel supplied the horse. It is worth noting that Farley had never RnT’d and I’d never ridden Farley, but she’s a hundred mile horse and that’s about as broke as a horse gets. I met Merrylegs (who is so charming, and I am completely smitten with her) and we loaded some stuff in the trailer and headed another hour north, to Lake Oroville.IMG_1854This is Merrylegs. You’d never guess that she and Farley are half-sisters, would you? IMG_1855There’s a reason Mel rides short horses. 😉 

Mel’s post goes into gear and theory in a little more detail (and she has the pictures of me!) so make sure you read it too, if you haven’t already.

At the trailhead, we finally made our Tie Rope. The Tie Rope is the only additional piece of gear you really need to RnT (and it’s optional if you already have a tailing rope). Lucy had helpfully sent an essay on the attributes of a good tie rope, which we’d both read a month ago, and Mel seemed to remember how M’s Stashi’s tie rope had been constructed. Basically, it’s a long-ish rope with a carabiner on each end and a loop about a third of the way from the horse end. You gallop along holding the reins and the tie rope (this is why hand-feel is important), then when you’re far enough ahead of your partner, you leap off and tie the horse to a tree and run away. At some point your partner goes thundering past on the horse, and if you keep running long enough (and you’re lucky) you will find the horse tied further down the trail. Easy!IMG_1860I brought my camera… phone. In my camelback. So I had to unstrap the whole thing and dig out the phone to take pics. Next time I’ll bring the fanny pack, which is much easier to dig the phone out of!

We did think that perhaps we should teach this to Farley before our first race on her, so she’d realize that sometimes one human ties her and run away, but another human will appear to untie her momentarily. I wish that we’d had one or two riders passing Farley while she was tied, but otherwise, it was a perfect practice session. She was rather alarmed at first, but by the third time I ran up and found the horse (so about six ties for Farley) she was staring back down the trail, waiting for me.

We covered the six mile loop at Oroville. I’d call it only slightly hilly (the one benefit of training in steep hills is that almost everything else seems flat) and it was a livable 85 or so, but the air quality was absolutely horrible. I never get the exercise-induced asthma, but I was a little wheezy by the end of the trail. It’s pollen/mold/smog season, yay?IMG_1862Yes, we are taking pictures of each other.

Farley was a blast to ride. She wasn’t too sure that I was qualified to operate her at first — “are you sure we need to chase Mel? Let’s just go back to the trailer, she’ll find us eventually” — but she got with it pretty quickly. She’s 14.2 compared to Dixie’s almost 16 hands (Dad, that means Dixie is about 6” taller than Farley) so mounting was a dream. Dixie’s barrel is sort of oval-shaped, while Farley has the traditional Arab round barrel — my legs drape differently over her. She’s very bouncy, even at the canter — I thought it was way easier to two-point her canter, while Dixie’s canter is so flat and smooth that I always sit it. And of course Farley has a huge range of trot speeds, from a tiny jog for the easy downhills to a trot that’s faster than D’s canter. (Dixie, of course, has a huge range of gaits instead of a range of speeds within a gait.) Farley corners so tight that she’s like driving a sports car, whee! The front of Mel’s saddle is unkind to my ladybits, but when Farley’s going forward with impulsion it’s not bad — I could definitely do a short-course RnT in that saddle.IMG_1863We all enjoyed ourselves. Once Farley figured out the game, she loved it. I had a great time riding a strange horse, and Mel was delighted to suck someone else into this crazy niche sport. I definitely think a practice session (or two, if you can manage it) is crucial preparation. Running is one thing, and riding is another thing, but riding while thinking about the person on the ground is something totally different.IMG_1866Each of us ran too fast for one segment, then came to our senses. Then we tied way too early a couple of times — I kept coming around the corner as Mel was tying, and vice versa. We eventually figured out the timing thing (ride for ~3 minutes after you pass the runner, depending on terrain) and got in the groove. And because we were practicing RnT mechanics (not trying to go as fast as possible), we stopped and talked a few times. A lovely, wonderful day.IMG_1868I am officially a RnT hopeful now. My next task is to convince K that this is so much fun that it’ll be worth trying on my tall steed. (K has a delightfully short Arab, but he’s on injured reserve for the summer, and any horse is better than no horse, even if the backup horse is a giant spotted monster.)IMG_1869I am not so fat that I squished the tiny pony! Happy mare :)

Next up: Hannah wanted more deets on my recent saddle fitting victory, and/or I wanted to put up the videos from Dixie’s trip to the vet last month.