Sunday, July 14, 2013

CTC: Camp Highroad

Yesterday, I took my trusty steed out to Camp Highroad in Middleburg, Virginia for my second foray into some kind of competitive trail.  This particular competition was called a Competitive Trail Challenge (CTC) and is one of the Triple Crown series of events in Virginia.  Much like the Judged Pleasure Ride I did last month, this ride was about 4.5 miles with 10 judged obstacles.  But it was held at the coolest summer camp location ever.  I am now wishing that I was 12, so I could go to camp at this place.  It was huge, with tons of trails, tree houses, and crazy obstacles (for people).

I was lucky enough to have a friend to ride with, so that made the trail more enjoyable and gave me (and Nimo) moral support at the obstacles.  Our first obstacle was, horror of horrors, a mailbox.  I believe I have previously mentioned that my horse is highly fearful of mailboxes.  Despite riding by them frequently on our neighborhood rides, he has never come to believe that they contain anything other than micronized equine assassins.  I wish I could tell you that things were different on this ride, and I guess they were...a little.  We went over time on approaching the mailbox, but eventually Nimo did go up to it, sniff it, and allow me to pull the trail map out of it while dancing around in extreme discomfort.  Not a great start.

But, at obstacle number two, we really showed our stuff (note that I am not being sarcastic here).  We had a choice between cracking a hunt whip or walking up to a steer head on a sawhorse and roping it.  Because I have dedicated at least 8 years to teaching Nimo to go faster whenever he hears the crack of a whip, I opted to try to rope the "steer" so as to avoid ending up in West Virginia in 3 seconds flat.  However, please understand that I have never roped anything before and I barely have the coordination to walk upright.  If you don't believe me, let me just mention the time I was walking on a flat concrete surface in flat-soled comfortable shoes right in front of my house.  Somehow, I managed to put my right foot down in such a way as to cause the entire foot to twist and me to fall down, writhing in agony.  I had to go to the emergency room for x-rays (nothing broken), and ended up on crutches for over a week with an injury that took almost a year to fully heal.  Anyway, even the judge looked skeptical as he handed me a rope that wouldn't loop properly and proceeded to follow me to the roping area.  Unbelievably, my horse calmly (but very alertly) walked up to the steer (we had to stay about 10-15 feet back).  In what I am pretending was some sort of knowledgeable fashion, I unwound the roping loop of the rope (I have no idea what it is called) and enlarged it like I had seen done at all the rodeos I went to as a kid.  I harnessed the inner roper in me and threw the loop at the steer...resulting in a perfect toss.  Yeah, that's right.  I roped that steer's head on the first try and my horse, bless his heart, stood there completely still like we'd done it a hundred times.  The judge was floored (as was I), and I'm pretty sure we got a perfect score.  That obstacle was worth the whole ride!

Moving on to obstacle three.  As typically happens on trail rides, there was a large beach ball hanging from a tree branch.  The object was to take a bat, walk up to the ball and whack the ball.  Again, an activity that is routinely performed on trail rides.  We were told that the original plan was for the ball to be a pinata, but the threat of rain led the organizers to choose the beach ball instead.  I guess I should be thankful for small favors...Nimo was fine taking the bat, but he definitely relegated hanging balls to the same category as mailboxes.  We were able to approach the ball and gently tap it with the bat, but Nimo was pretty happy to see the back of that obstacle.

Hoping for something more natural at the next obstacle, we rode on through what were some really lovely woods and some really muddy trails.  Arriving at obstacle four, we saw a little tiki hut and two baby pools with water and ducks floating in them.  Oh dear.  The object of the obstacle was to take a long stick with a microscopic hook on the end and use it to grab a duck in one pond and transport said duck to the second pond.  While my brain was thinking there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell of this ending well, I dutifully took the stick and walked my horse up to the duck pond.  His reaction wasn't quite as extreme as I expected, and after some dancing around during which I somehow managed to drop the stick (the nice judge gave it back to me), he did in fact stop right next to the pool and allow me to pick up a duck.  He wasn't super excited to learn the duck would be temporarily accompanying us to the next pool, but we successfully transported the duck to its new home.  Whew!

Our fifth obstacle was the dreaded Hanging Vines, which are never really hanging vines, but instead some kind of artificial material that looks like the last thing on earth a horse would want to walk through.  This time the material was what looked like shredded strips of blue and green tarps.  Wonderful.  The lady I was riding with thoughtfully attempted the obstacle first in hopes her horse would show Nimo how there was nothing to be afraid of.  Alas, her horse tried several times to explain to her that it made no sense to go through the obstacle when there was a perfectly clear path around the obstacle.  Eventually she believed him, and waited on the other side for what I assumed would be a similar performance from my horse.  Amazingly, despite watching another horse avoid the obstacle, Nimo walked pretty bravely through the strips of tarp.  I'm sure having another horse on the other side helped, but he could easily have gone around and I think he might be getting the hang of this type of obstacle.

For the sixth obstacle, we finally got to do something that was a legitimate trail challenge.  A creek crossing.  And not just any creek crossing.  With the 147 inches of rain we've gotten over the past few days, the fairly steep descent into the shallow creek was really muddy and torn up from all the horses that had gone through it previously.  We made it through, slowly, but surely, although I could tell Nimo struggled a bit with the unstable footing.  And can I just say the judge told us we got 8 and a half points out of 10.  While the score was reasonable, I question the need for half points...

Anyway, moving on.  The temperature was rising, the humidity was still at 130% and we have a ways to go yet.  At obstacle number seven, we encounter a huge back-up.  But, I'm sure the horses appreciated the opportunity to relax for a bit.  With all the mud, the footing was a bit of a struggle to get through in a lot of places on the trail and there were quite a few short, steep hills, so the horses were huffing and puffing.  I'm not sure why there was such a line, but the obstacle was to simulate doing something stupid on the trail.  As in, I'm wandering along, not paying attention to the footing, and Oh my gosh! I've just walked my horse into wire.  Now, I need to get off, remove the wire, and get back on using this convenient mounting block.  The wire was really a lead rope, and my horse did great except for taking a couple of steps after I got back on.  The real win was that I was able to use a TWO-step mounting block to get on instead of the usual three-step block.  I lost a huge amount of flexibility while I was pregnant and have been having trouble getting it back.  As a reminder, my horse is just shy of 17 hands and I'm 5'3", so my position is that using the three-step block is perfectly legitimate.

Now, we're nearing the end of the ride with three obstacles left.  The first of these three (obstacle eight) is a series of 7 pylons out in a field, arranged in a sort of semi-circle.  We had to walk from pylon 1 to 2, trot from pylon 2 to 3, canter from pylon 3 to 6, trot from pylon 6 to 7, then halt and back 4 steps.  I admit that I have not been doing nearly enough arena work and it is amazing how quickly you can lose those skills.  So I figured I would have a tough time getting the canter at all, much less the correct lead, and my horse might just wander aimlessly around the field.  Thankfully, my horse actually did the pattern pretty well (with the exception of channeling his inner barrel horse as we rounded the circle) and did not just dump me and run for the trailer, which was now in sight.

Obstacle 9 looked deceptively simple.  There were two pylons with a three foot log in between them.  The task: walk your horse over the log.  No trotting, no jumping, no skipping the log altogether.  Much like with the hanging vines, the horses tend to think, why go over when I can go around?  After some hemming and hawing, Nimo did go over the log, but he jumped it (in his defense, it was a pretty big log), so we lost points for that.  Still, I wasn't sure he'd go over it at all.  And this brings me to a brief description of this amazing video I recently saw of Ingrid Klimke (daughter of dressage master Reiner Klimke) jumping her horse over what looks like a single 18" wide and 3'6" tall jump in the middle of nowhere.  The video is actually a short segment on her barn on this website for horse shoes, but the jumping thing was pretty amazing.

And finally, obstacle ten.  It was truly inspired.  We had to walk up to a table with a cooler on it, open the cooler, and get a cold drink.  Which we did.  And then we had to trade it in for a different beverage because I grabbed a Diet Coke, which is possibly the most horrifying substance known to my taste buds.  After settling on a Ginger Ale, we lazily walked back to the trailer and I congratulated us on a job well done.  I gave Nimo his customary post-ride mash and then had a lovely lunch that was provided by the ride.  WhooHoo!

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