Rattle snake round up competitive trail ride revised
Rattle Snake Round Up Competitive Trail Ride
After the breeding evaluations in Vernon I decided that I wanted to give a
CTR(Competitive Trail Ride) a shot with my three gaited Icelandic mare Aurora
from Moondance Acres. Aurora unfortunately had a poorly shaped back (sway
backed and forward sloping) which I knew when I started her would make it
difficult for her to tolt. After having the experience in Iceland working with these
three gaiters, I knew for an Icelandic that had a hard time doing tolt, their life
would become a possibly unhappy one being constantly pulled in the mouth and
pushed together to get the gait. So I decided to train her just as a three gaiter. One
winter I competed in a gymkhana with her where she was one of the top three in
pole bending, barrel racing and keyhole race. Doing Competitive Trail Rides was
another possible job for her to do! Her lovely temperament made things fun and we
always have had fun on the trails and in the mountains. Being the goat that she is,
I figured she would ace any difficult terrain. So at the end of June, we started
training for it. Five days a week we would go out for an hour doing trot and canter.
Sometimes we would do 15kms. Often we did eight km. Because of my job
training horses and teaching, I just didn't have much more time than that. In hind
sight I needed to do more longer, slower distances. But I just didn't have the time
for it. Another setback was not enough hill work. At home we have some good
rolling hills but not with the steepness that we needed. Unfortunately because of
the flooding here in Alberta, the parks were closed for the majority of the summer.
So we had to make do with what we had.
I made sure to feed Aurora plenty of good feed to help build her condition and
keep her healthy as well. She was given electrolytes after the sweaty rides to keep
her from getting dehydrated. I also started braiding that mass of mane she has to
help keep her cool.
A few weeks before the CTR, I had more time to do longer rides every now and
then. By the week before we were able to do 23 kms doing some trot and canter
and she still seemed to have energy for more. So those last few days we took things
easy to let her rest and repair for the big ride.
Friday morning Maria Badyk and I packed up our tack, feed and equipment into
Maria's trailer, loaded the two mares and headed on our way to the CTR. Maria had
brought her red mare Raudka fra Fitjamyri. Raudka is one of those once in a
lifetime horses. She had scored very well at the breeding evaluation that spring
(second highest overall at the show with 8.20 conformation and 7.70 ridden
abilities as a four gaiter) and yet was a fantastic trail horse with a wonderful
temperament and endless endurance. Two years ago she had won the Novice
division at the Rattle Snake Round Up so this year they were going back to defend
The CTR was being held in Writing on Stone Provincial Park near the town of
Milk River which is just east of Lethbridge. It took us almost five hours to get
there. Writing On Stone is the most amazing park. Driving up to it, there's nothing
but endless bare, flat prairie. Then you take the turn off and go down into a canyon
were there was a rodeo grounds nestled beside the river. Odd rock shapes of
sandstone were everywhere and the Milk River was...well...milky blue.
We had arrived in good time. We were able to park, get the horses settled and set
up camp. We went to the registration tent, got our forms and filled them out, were
given our vet check packs and markers to write our numbers on the horse’s butts.
We then went back to the horses and brushed them off, drew on their numbers and
brought them over to the vet check area. My number was 309 and Maria was 308.
We had made sure to tell the lady at the registration tent that we were riding
together. That way when we started in order the next morning, we could start
together. While we waited at the vet check area, our Icelandics drew an audience.
The comments of "what a beautiful pony!", "are they being ridden in the CTR?"
"amazing manes and tails!", "she's so cute!" were often heard. But one guy
remembered Raudka from two years ago. He commented on how great she was
then and asked if she was here to defend her title. Maria and I were then busy
talking to everyone about the breed, how fantastic they were in their temperaments,
how sure footed, how quick their heart rates and breathing slows down, their range
of colors, what they can do, etc. We had quite the audience of interested people!
Then it was our turn to vet in. Maria brought Raudka to the vet and stood there
with her while the vet checked her over. The vet checked for any and all visible
scars, scrapes or cuts. The reason being is that at each of the vet checks during the
ride, the vet looks for any new swellings or cuts. If any are found, the horse is
docked points. So it was important to have the vet informed of any visible
blemishes. As well the vet checked and recorded her heart rate, mental alertness,
capillary refill (the vet opens the mouth and checks how fast the gums fill back
with blood after pushing a finger in one spot) and respiration. Then Maria had to
walk with Raudka away and towards the vet to check for signs of lameness. Then
trot was asked for. Then trot in a circle. She was given a mark for the quality of
movement. As well the horses receive a score for temperament. If a horse acts up,
that horse gets docked points. Even if they fight to have their mouth opened, they
are docked points. After that the vet logged everything into the vet check pack we
have to carry with us and Maria and Raudka walked away. Now it was Aurora's
turn. She stood like a champ and even did a curtsy for the judges to see if they
carried cookies. She allowed her mouth to be opened with no problems and then
trotted out with a couple of head tosses. Our booklet was filled out and that was it.
Afterwards we set up our sleeping quarters and then went for a quick ride. We
walked the horses around the rodeo grounds talking to people about the breed. One
group thought the Icys were welsh ponies. I was quick to shout out "Nope,
Icelandic Horses!" Both mares were very energetic and powerful walking around.
Aurora was prancing sideways sometimes. Then when both mares had settled a bit,
we put them away, fed them and then went to the meeting place for the talk about
the course. The course was outlined for us with explanations about the dangerous
terrain, the rules of the park and the rules of the CTR. The map was no help really.
Basically we had to follow the red and white flags for the first loop and the blue
and white flags for the second loop. We were told there was no lunch break, that
we had 5 1/2 hours to complete the 25 miles in the novice division and there would
be a surprise vet check along the way. At the completion of the first loop, we were
to bring the horses for a third vet check and then the final check would be when we
completed the ride. Afterwards we headed back to the campsite to get some sleep.
Our ride started at 7:30am which meant we had to feed the horses at 5 am to allow
some time for digestion.
Since it was September, it was freezing at night. When I asked about running the
generator at night, the answer was no because people didn't like the noise. Uh… ok
so everyone freezes? Luckily I came prepared. I had 4 patagonia sweaters, three
pairs of long underwear, my winter riding coveralls, sub zero ski-doo mitts, neck
warmer with head liner, a toque and 40 hand warmers. I figured I could fill my
snow suit with the hand warmers and I would be good and toasty.
Yeah, I boiled and ended up throwing out the hand warmers.
The next morning after a terrible sleep, we got up and prepared. The horses were
fed, tack organized, dressed in lighter clothing for the day, packed our light
lunches, groomed the horses, tacked up and started warming up. We were in the
Novice division which is for riders just starting out in the CTR sport. We had to
travel at an average speed of 5.5 kmph. Next is Intermediate which has a shorter
time frame to complete the 25 miles at an average speed of 8 kmph, and then Open
is for the more experienced horses. They had to go 50miles that day at an average
speed of 8kmph. As well there is a Junior division, a lightweight division (up to
150lbs including your tack) and a heavy weight division (151lbs +).
We walked our horses around, enjoyed the beauty of the sun rise and joked with
other fellow riders. I took a picture of Maria and Raudka standing next to a huge
Morgan gelding and his owner. Raudka is a mere 13.1hh while the gelding was
approximately 17hh. In the background of the picture on the top right hand corner
was a big mule deer buck. That fellow ran down the road beside us in a huge trot.
Soon our time came to start. The starter called us over by our numbers and yelled
"30 seconds!" We stood together waiting for the cue to go and then off we went up
the rocky hill. A friend of mine was running late and had to pass. Aurora was
really mad about this. Always before when we rode with someone, we all stayed
together. ”So why was that other horse allowed to gallop ahead and we had to stay
behind at a slower trot ?” So she fought and fought to race ahead after the other
horse for probably a good two to three and miles before settling in. Then my saddle
bag came loose so we had to stop and fix that.
The scenery was so beautiful. And I have seen my share of beautiful scenery. The
sun was making everything glow gold and reflecting off of the sand stone.
We rode at a good clip. Especially since Aurora was still mad. We had to cruise
over a goat trail where the rock jutted out along the trail. Aurora wasn't too
confident with the big drop on the one side so she squeezed herself against the
jutted rock, effectively crushing and scraping my knee and saddle. A little bit of
inventive swearing was vented after that and a learning experience. Next time raise
both knees over the front of the shoulders along the neck to stay away from the
rock, because rock doesn't give for knees.
We crept up and down the landscape, cantering and trotting when we could. We
almost got lost several times as the ribbons were not always easy to see. Often they
were tied to a piece of grass or there would be 50 feet or more before seeing the
next one. At one point we headed down a field, and didn't see any ribbons for a
while. We decided to turn around and go back when one of the other riders came
up over the hill motioning that, yes, we were going the wrong way. We ended up
riding with these three ladies for a lot of the ride. We had some barb wire gates that
needed to be opened and shut as well and some bad gopher and badger holes to
watch out for. Raudka just missed stepping in an old fence post hole. We later
learned that a rider's horse had stepped in that same hole and had fallen, rolling on
its rider. Further on we had a river crossing. It was just high enough that our boots
got wet. The horses drank well and we continued on.
The terrain was varied. From steep climbs and narrow goat trails to open fields;
good for galloping. It was a lot of fun going along with the other three ladies. The
Icys powered along. Their trot was faster than the big horses trot. We jumped
crevices, leapt up small cliffs. The terrain was demanding but nothing worse than
what we had done in the mountains. Midway on the first loop, Aurora started to get
tired so instead of galloping across the open field, we walked. Other riders raced
by us. At this point Aurora was starting to accept being passed by the other horses.
The field was a long hill so the gallop would have been all up hill. Once we
reached the top and started our decent, we then picked up the pace and had a good
gallop. At the ridge of the downhill field we were in, we slowed and had a look
over, and then slammed on the brakes. The surprise vet check was 50 meters away.
Clever of them to be hidden below that ridge after majority of the horses were
probably galloped for a long distance. Lucky for us we had walked the uphill part.
We arrived and had 10 mins for our horses to pulse down. We stood them quietly,
loosened their girths. Raudka pulsed down and was breathing normal like a pro
after three minutes. Aurora on the other hand took nine minutes for her breathing
to slow. Her pulse was just a little over the first one taken. A little nerve wracking
but her second vet check was good.
Once we had the clear to go, off we went in a galloping dramatic exit. Then we had
to stop because Maria's water bottle lid came off and was splashing all over her and
Raudka. We thought, so much for the dramatic exit. Water bottle emptied and then
off we went again!
Anywhere that we could trot and gallop, we did. Some places were too steep or
narrow so we had to walk. The scenery continued to amaze us with the canyons
and rock shapes.
After 11 miles, we came to the two mile marker. At that point, we were not
allowed to get off our horses or stop unless it was to allow our horses to drink at
the river. We were with a fairly large group of other riders at this point. We had
been travelling well and were passing groups during the last bit of the first loop.
Everyone in the last two miles did trot or canter at the bottom of the canyon. We
hit the river and let the horses drink. Both mares were thirsty. We heard later on
from an experienced CTR rider that if your horse drinks well at the river crossings,
its heart rate and respiration will come down much quicker than those that refuse to
drink. As well their capillary refill will be much better. We waded through the
river and headed the last bit back to the rodeo grounds. We now had 10 minutes for
our horses to pulse down, for us to eat and hit the bathrooms. Almost impossible
and we ended up having to leave late. As well, I had to add some extra padding to
the inside of my knees as they were starting to burn. Here was another learning
experience. Newer riding pants needed for next time and possibly Band-Aids in
place BEFORE the ride. Aurora's vet check was awesome this time. She pulsed
down really quickly, probably because of the water intake just before. Her
respiration was even better than when we left. Her score is below:
The vets and the organizer threatened us that they were going to steal our horses in
the night. And they said others were planning on doing the same. lol. They were
loving how tough the Icelandics were and how quickly they were pulsing down as
well their wonderful manners.
Bathroom breaks over and off we went. The second loop started with a tougher
river crossing where the horses had to wade across deeper water and then leap up a
three foot bank. Both horses had no problems. Naturally. They are Icelandics. The
second loop was a lot more technical and a lot more tough than the first loop.
Rarely were we on flat ground this time. Three quarters of the 11 miles we had to
cover were up hill. We saw rattle snakes slither across the path with their tails
rattling. The third one we saw was the biggest at about three feet long and it's head
was the size of my fist. Both mares just cocked an ear. On and on we went. The
second loop also felt like the longest. It was so tough. Both mares were starting to
tire. But after a brief rest after an uphill climb, both got their strength back and
ploughed on at a good walk. The canyon on this ride was much deeper. Such an
amazing views again.
At the turn around to head back home, we had to descend into the canyon. A
photographer with his little flying helicopter camera buzzed over us. We had been
warned that it sounded like 1000 bees about to attack. And so it did. Aurora had
the expression of "what the ..." when she saw it come up above us. The canyon was
really neat to be in. The air was cooler and the creek zigzagged back and forth. We
got to one spot where there was a really neat over hang.
Climbing back out of the canyon was tough with steep climbing for a good mile or
more. We had to take stop breaks often because the horses were breathing so hard.
This is what really took all the power out of Aurora. She got completely exhausted
with the difficult hills especially the last hill. It was so steep our stirrups were
parallel with our horses. We had to hold on to the manes to stay in the saddles.
After that hill, Aurora's knees and joints became rubbery and I decided then that
we could only walk home. It was tough because we really wanted to show well
against the big horses but Aurora needed much more conditioning than I had done
with her to finish in the time allowed. Raudka was tired as well but after a certain
period of walking on flat fields, she was ready to go again. It was a true testament
to her endurance level.
The six mile walk home was disheartening. We knew we were going to be at least
an hour late from the finishing time. Riders are allowed to be either 15 minutes
early or 15 minutes late from the finishing time. After that riders are docked points
up until one hour late and then disqualified after that. Riders can't be early either or
they are docked points. Maria had the choice of leaving Aurora and I behind, but
she decided against that. She said, "you never leave your riding partner, even if it
means being disqualified together especially on such a dangerous ride." I'm so
lucky to have such a great friend. Luckily the walk back was all downhill. Aurora
was able to recoup some energy to the point that we were able to do some trotting
on the two mile stretch. At the final river crossing, Aurora was drinking water with
her bit in. The slurping of water and air wasn't getting her enough of a drink to my
liking so I slipped the bridal off her head and let her drink with just her rope halter
on. This was much better. She drank and drank. Then, her fabulous nature kicked
in and I was able to ride her through the river and up the bank with just the halter.
Once we were on dry land, I stopped her, leaned forward and placed the bridal in
front of her face. She grabbed up the bit like I taught her and I slipped the headstall
over her ears. We then continued on to the rodeo grounds and the finish line. Our
time was over an hour late so we were disqualified. Had we still had a final vet
check, Aurora would have been great with her heart rate, respiratory, and capillary
but her mental alertness would have been poor. But I was glad that I hadn't really
pushed her like some of those horses were pushed. They came in with foamy necks
and flanks and exhausted looking. We put the mares away in their pen, fed them
and then I went and had a nap. Riding 10 horses a day for 1 hour ish each does not
mean a person is in shape for riding 25 miles of hard riding. It's a very different
type of riding. It is very demanding physically and mentally as well because it's up
to you to keep your horse out of the trouble that they might not see.
At dinner time we went to the rider dinner that the CTR had for everyone. We sat
with some of our new friends and talked about the ride and how it all went, how
the horses did, how others did, etc. It was then that we found out some of the stats.
Of the 40 Novice riders that started the ride, only 17 riders made it in the finishing
time. The rest were all disqualified for either not finishing or coming in late. Riders
had pulled out or been disqualified because of lameness and lack of fitness at the
vet checks. Many had been bucked off. And one woman was still out there and
very late coming in. My friend that had passed us at the beginning of the ride was
the winner of the Novice Division Heavy Weight with an almost perfect score of
298 out of 300 points.
The dinner was fantastic and we had a lot of laughs. We made some new contacts
which was great. However as darkness crept in we heard that the missing rider was
still missing. This was a serious problem. The committee organized a search party
and went looking for the woman using the helicopter camera and ten riders. They
finally found her riding up the first loop away from the rodeo grounds. What had
happened is she had been bucked off twice by her horse and became disoriented.
She then took the wrong fork and was heading away from home. She was in shock
and was taken to the hospital while her horse was ponied back to the grounds. In
the dark she could have easily taken a wrong turn and fell off a cliff. The RCMP
had been ready with dogs, search teams and helicopters but it ended up getting too
dark. Luckily she had been found by the riders.
The next day after a good sleep, both Maria and I felt pretty good. Not tired, not
stiff and sore like we thought we would be. And so we packed up our camp,
loaded our horses, said goodbye to our friends and exchanged contact numbers for
So I'd say that this ride was one of the longest and toughest I've been on but we
made it through. As you are reading this you are probably thinking "yeah right, I'm
in no shape for that and neither is my horse". But I was looking at all the riders that
competed that weekend and I'd say at least 80% of the riders were retired people
with nutty horses that had too much energy to do anything but go long distances.
So that just goes to show you, that no, actually you could do it if you set your mind
to it. The horses there were all shapes and sizes. All types of breeds with Arabs
being the most popular. But some of those nasty things were throwing their rides
all over the place and who wants that? It's been proven that the lighter built your
horse is, the better chance it has at doing well and between Aurora and Raudka,
that was definitely the case. Raudka has the light build show horse type while
Aurora has the similar bone structure but a quarter horse roundness and muscle. So
Aurora has to work a lot harder to condition for this. There are a lot of things I plan
to change for next time. Number one, I'm not going to start with the hardest, most
demanding ride of the year. The first rides of the season have much less hill work
and more simple terrain. And I only plan to ride in the CTRs if I can condition
Aurora properly with the longer distances. Not just an hour a day. Was it
rewarding? Oh god yes. Being out on a ride like that with your trusted Icelandic
horse only forms a stronger bond. Trust is huge in a ride like that when you are
climbing steep climbs or sliding down into a river, climbing rock like a goat and
watching the scenery unfold. I marvelled at how surefooted these horses are.
Would I do it again after all that blood, sweat and tears? Hell Yes