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.

24 thoughts on “A weekend with AERC’s cousins: NATRC and Ride and Tie

  1. Great post! So good of you to haul your friend’s horse up for the ride. I hear you on having some memento of the ride, they are often hard-“won” and evocative of awesome and epic experiences. Glad there was at least a ride photographer!

    Really bummed I didn’t get to participate in the no-doubt hilarious and fun RnT practice, it would have been useful to you guys to for screwing with Farley’s head! Blargh. Saddle fit issues. Yeah, do that post next…

  2. Why did I not realize Dixie was that tall??? I mean, I know I’ve not met her in-person yet, but somehow the fact she’s that tall never registered in my brain.

    I’m so glad you’re doing the RnT with Mel!!! We cooked up a plan (at a way-late hour at convention) of me possibly being a backup person, but considering I am for sure The Worst Runner Ever and my grand plans to taking up running keep being thwarted by a cranky knee…it’s a good thing your’e available to partner with her. :)

  3. I’m with Merri: “NATRC, hmmm.”

    RaT is fun, though. Not on my personal calendar at the moment (not on the calendar at all until Hip #2 is repaired, which will hopefully be a few years out!) but I acknowledge the niche fun insanity of it!

  4. Aarene, Merri – that’s pretty much my conclusion for the weekend! It was a nice pleasant trail ride and good for a few training goals, but I have no desire to go to NATRC rides just for the sake of going to NATRC rides. They’re a bit.. slow for my taste, if nothing else.

    I think I’d be more disappointed at the lack of awards if I felt like we’d accomplished anything. I mean, we made it through and all, but it didn’t feel very momentous? I did get a new rider Region 1 bag! But I was looking at it really as a group-competition-mindset training ride, and not so much a ‘we DID something’ ride. (And I realized after the ride that everyone else had their trailers labeled with numbers, but I’d completely forgotten/not realized that was supposed to happen, so Adventure was perfectly happily unlabeled the whole time. I probably lost points there. Oh well!)

    • Also – had I realized awards were going to take so damn long, I would have politely excused myself and gone HOME at a reasonable hour. It was a mix of horror and awe and HOW LONG CAN THESE FOLKS TAKE! – because like you, I figured folks would want to, y’know, go home sometime the night after a moderately short ride.

  5. LOL you have such a way with words. You did NOT squish the frail naked pony, and it was a total blast. I can’t wait until we try and execute this is IRL at a short course ride and then totally conquer championships.

    well, less conquering and more finishing. Must go find out if there is a time limit…

  6. NATRC, *spit*

    R&T, awesome. I’ve only done one 10 miler and with no tying, if you can believe it. I only ran when people were watching, the rest of the time I walked. I loved the attention of the endurance riders as they passed, they’d say, “Respect!”

    CMO, most fun ever on horseback.

    German endurance awards = trophies. Seriously. And little plaques you can nail onto your stall.

  7. RnT is becoming more and more appealing sounding. (And my memory of how shitty my ankles really are when I run is becoming fast forgotten -again-.) Mayhaps I will pursue some running + horse time in the future. You two make it seem SO fun. And doable. And enjoyable.

  8. Whooooooo, parking ninja!

    I am mostly unmoved by awards and prizes. I mean, I like cool stuff as much as the next guy! And horse treats are always welcome. But I have enough trinkets and most of the “useful” prizes I see, I already have like twenty of whatever the thing is and I really wish we could skip the whole awards-ceremony thing in favor of destroying the buffet and then taking a nap. An hour-plus-long awards ceremony might actually make me cry.

    Based on this comment thread, maybe the same gene governs finding fun in judged obstacles as does finding fun in extended raffles? SCIENCE!

  9. Nice pics and post. I think having a good horse is one of the most important parts. Looking forward to hearing more!

  10. It looks so pretty and fun, until I’d actually have to do the “running” part. But what a fun new sport to try out! But boo on the NATRC award ceremony. One, way too long. Two, everyone should get mention. I say just make up a damn prize if you don’t have an official one! I don’t really want a “thing” but some sort of mention is always nice.

  11. Some NATRC rides do give completion awards. It is up to ride manager. Sorry to hear the awards ran so late. Our rides in Region 4, (TX, OK, LA, AR) are usually done by about 4 or 5. We also try to recognize those doing first ride with some special trinkets, a hat, map case etc. We are trying to get the sport to grow again in CA. It started out there, but has dwindled down to only a handful of rides. It is actually older than AERC. I started in it (in the 70’s) and then did endurance. It gave me a great start on understanding pacing, metabolics etc. Glad you gave it a try. If you have any first impressions on what they could do different to get riders back, feel free to dro me an email.

  12. I’m all about the completion award. We both know I am not an endurance rider, but I am already onboard with AERC in spirit. RnT: You are officially a crazy Californian. One heck of a tough, brave FIT Californian!

  13. Hello would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re working with?
    I’m going to start my own blog soon but I’m having a tough time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and
    Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most
    blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique.
    P.S My apologies for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

    • Glad you like it!
      It’s WordPress, running the Twenty Eleven theme – I really like the theme, it’s very clean. WordPress has a lot of vulnerabilities, but I host with Pagely, who are rather spendy but have amazing security. I’d rather pay a little more every month and not worry about my blog getting hijacked or overrun with spammers.

  14. Congrats on the pregnancy! And you are right – your blog, your story. I’ll be interested in reading about both horse and baby.

    I think all regions are probably a bit different in NATRC. I have only been to one that had a raffle and it was for a rider’s grandchild who was getting cancer treatment. Most of the time the awards go rather quickly. Since many times the classes aren’t full, you kind of “place” by “default”. (Six riders – wow, I got sixth place!) I do like it when the classes have more than 6 riders so I know I have earned that placing. It also sounds like the ride your friend went to was a “B” ride (one day). Most over here are 2 day rides – “A” rides. Novice rides up to 40 miles and Open maybe 60 miles? I think its a happy medium between pleasure riding and endurance. I know we pick up the pace vs pleasure riding and open is probably a bit more.

    I think what I have learned this past year is its great to have a horse that can do the distance – whether NATRC or LD. I am not sure I am made for a 50! :) In our area, there are more NATRC rides than endurance and even those, we have to travel quite a ways to attend.

    Like AERC, our horses get mileage for completed rides and points for a completion. So they add up eventually.

    Ride and Tie sounds fun… except for the running part. 😛

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