Competitive Trail Riding

Dad and I stopping to stretch our legs while trail riding in the Buffalo National Forest in Arkansas.

As a little girl growing up, one of my favorite things to do was to go trail riding with my daddy. I never had any formal lessons growing up. Everything I knew about a horse I learned from my dad. Packing a lunch and hitting the trail with our horses was a special activity that my dad and I shared. It was how we bonded, stayed caught up in each other’s lives, and when I found out how special my dad was. He would take me on the most amazing trail rides through national forests where we would ride way up in the mountains of Arkansas and then down into the valleys where we would cross the river and swim with our horses.

This past weekend, I got to once again do one of my favorite horseback activities. Jeeper, Meredith, Mikey Priour, and I decided to give a competitive trail ride a try. The American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) hosts trail rides all over the United States. ACTHA began with the concept of trail riding as a sport: six miles, six natural obstacles, and six judges to bring it all together. So at 6:30 in the morning we loaded the horses in the trailer and took off to Pipe Creek, Texas to L Cinco Ranch. It was fun to be back in a western saddle with my cowboy boots on. We have been playing so much polocrosse that I almost forgot how comfortable a western saddle was.

Meredith and I ready to go out and hit the trail.

At the start of the ride, we were very unsure of what to expect. It was our first time to compete in an ACTHA trail ride. We had six obstacles spread out throughout the trail ride. The obstacles were: controlled stop, labyrinth (weaving your horse through a maze), river crossing, steep incline, brush crossing, and a bridge crossing. Jeeper volunteered to go first through all of the obstacles so that we could see how it was done. Everyone did great on all of the obstacles. The river crossing, however, gave Meredith and Mikey a hard time. Our horses are use to crossing the beautiful, clear Guadalupe river. This river was pretty murky.  At our final obstacles, the bridge, we all had a little bit of a hard time. It was a very narrow bridge, and our horses were very unsure about it, but Mikey and I were able to get Wally and Choice over it.

We had a great time competing and just getting to spend time together out on the trail. One of the best parts about trail riding is getting to visit while you ride and take in beautiful scenery. The Stewart crew had a pretty successful first competitive trail ride taking first through third place in the Scout Division. I won first, Mikey won second, and Jeeper got third. I was so excited to tell my dad that I won our division! I told him that the 18 years I spent trail riding with him helped me to win!

About the Author

Jane Ragsdale

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Jane Ragsdale (Mrs. Dick Howell) is the director of Heart O’ the Hills. She was a Heart camper and counselor, and served as program director from 1978-87. She has been one of the owners since 1976, and director since 1988.

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