Frequently Asked Questions

What is NATRC?

NATRC is NOT a race. It's a timed, judged trail ride - a competitive trail ride or CTR. Your ability to work as a team with your horse and be a SAFE rider and handler are "judged" by a "horsemanship" judge, while you horse's condition, soundness and trail ability/ manners are judged by a vet judge. There are three divisions, Novice, Competitive/ Pleasure (CP) and Open. You can enter a ride at any level you choose, but understand that Novice is for younger horses, or for less experienced riders or horses, or for anyone new to the sport. You can stay in Novice as long as you want to, just so long as you haven't won the division more than 5 times. Novice and Open have "lightweight" (under 190 lbs with tack) and "heavyweight" (190 and above) classes. Yes, sorry to say, you will have to get weighed to enter Open or Novice! CP doesn't have weight classes, and is designed for the more experienced rider/horse who doesn't want to do the additional distance or speed of Open. In general, CP is timed the same and follows the same trail as Novice. Distances range from the 15-24 miles for one day Novice/ CP rides to 50+ miles in two days for Open.

How is Competive Trail Riding different from endurance racing?

There are a couple of conceptual differences between endurance racing and CTRs. The first is that CTRs are NOT races - and endurance races are. A CTR is more like a sports car rally, where you have to maintain a specific pace over time and varied terrain within a minimum and maximum time. The other big difference between CTRs and endurance races is that the horses and riders are judged separately - so it's possible for a horse to win best horse in their class and have the rider come in out of the standings. Or vice versa: I've heard of riders winning the horsemanship prizes with comments from the judges such as "Excellent job with difficult mount." So in CTR, a tolerant and brave horse can't make up for an inept rider, and an ill-mannered horse doesn't automatically disqualify a skilled and conscientious rider. This plays out in one other way: camping with your horse. You are in competition from the time you vet in until you vet out, so the way you set up your campsite for your horse is part of the horsemanship score.

In addition to the conceptual differences, there are technical differences in rules. A BIG difference between LD endurance and NATRC rules is that you can't have "forward motion" OFF your horse in a CTR. You can get off and walk back the way you came, get off and hang out any time, but you cannot proceed down the trail unless you are mounted. This often riles the endurance people until they realize that NATRC is timed in such a way that you don't need to "rest" your horse by walking him. In addition, it means that every horse and rider has done the same "work" by the time they get to the P&R so judging condition is on a level playing field. In addition, there is usually a "mandatory forward motion" point before a P&R. This means that everyone will bring their horse into a P&R having done the same amount of "work" to get there. In endurance rides, you regularly see people hand walking their horse into the vet checks (me included) so they will pulse down faster, while in a CTR, every horse is judged on a 10-minute recovery. In NATRC rides, the end of the ride includes a two-mile "forward motion" marker: you can't stop, get off your horse etc., until it's over. You can, however, hang out at the marker, killing time, resting your horse etc., for as long as you want to (as long as you have it to spare and can finish on time). A rider has to at least pace their horse for the last two miles, and it also ensures that someone doesn't finish before their minimum time and just hang out right before the finish line.

How is Competitive Trail Riding (NATRC) different from trail trials?

First, CTRs are much longer than trail trials, running anywhere from about 20 miles a day for Novice up to 35 miles a day for Open division competitions. Second, in Trail Trials, the important thing is for you and your horse to be able to negotiate obstacles, so all the emphasis is placed on creating challenging situations for you and your horse to address, and you're judged on your performance on those obstacles. In CTR, the ENTIRE TRAIL is the obstacle, so the judges stage themselves at various (unannounced) points along the trail, and you are judged on how you and your horse go down the trail. The points are usually selected using the insight of the ride manager who planned the route, so that the judges are usually found at creek crossings, steep hills, places with trees across the trail, etc.

Can kids participate?

You bet. There is a junior class in the Novice and Open divisions. Competitive/ Pleasure is all one class that includes heavyweights, lightweights, and juniors. The article "Taking Juniors to NATRC Rides" was written by two very experienced NATRC riders who have introduced many juniors to the sport.

How long is a CTR?

For a one day ride, Novice goes 15 - 24 miles at about 3.5 mph. Open division typically goes 25 -35 miles at about 5 mph.