Frequently Asked Questions

What is NATRC?

NATRC is NOT a race. It's a timed, judged trail ride - a Competitive Trail Ride or CTR. There are four divisions: Novice, Competitive Pleasure (CP), Open, and Leisure. You can enter a ride at any level you choose, but Novice is where many teams start: Novice is for younger horses, or less experienced riders or horses, or for experienced teams new to the sport. Novice rides are usually in the 15-24 miles per day at 3.5-5 mph. You can stay in Novice as long as you want to, until you accumulate a certain number of miles or points or awards. CP is designed for the more experienced rider 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, but the judges (see below!) have heightened expectations. Open division is for the more experienced and fit teams - an Open ride will be 50-60 miles in two days at average speeds of 4 - 6 mph. In addition to completing the distances in good shape, you'll be judged on how you and your horse handle various trail obstacles - downed trees, creek crossing, etc.

Leisure division rides are one day rides of 8 - 12 miles at an average speed of 3-4.5 mph, and stabling is not judged - so you don't have to spend the night. There is only one judge, who combines evaluations of the horse and the rider. For people who might be interested in NATRC, the Leisure Division provides a venue to try it out, without committing to big miles or overnight camping. It's also used by experienced riders with elderly horses or horses in rehab.

In Novice, CP and Open divisions, your ability to work as a team with your horse and be a SAFE rider and handler are evaluated by a horsemanship judge, while your horse's condition, soundness and trail ability/ manners are judged by a vet judge. The Leisure division has one judge who evaluates the team. Novice, Competitive Pleasure and Open divisions are divided into "lightweight" (under 190 lbs with tack). "heavyweight" (190 and above) classes and Junior (10-17 years old, no weighing). Yes, sorry to say, unless you're a Junior, you will have to get weighed to enter Open, CP, or Novice! Your horse will be evaluated by the vet judge at (1) check-in, both to verify fitness to start and to establish baseline metabolics and soundness, (2) several times in the course of the ride, and (3) as the ride is completed. YOU will be evaluated by the horsemanship judge pretty much all the time - stabling at your trailer is checked for safety, your handling of your horse on the ground during vet checks is evaluated, and your riding on the trail will be checked and graded.

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, so that you finish within a minimum and maximum time. The other big difference between CTRs and endurance races is that, in CTR, 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. Another difference is that 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 in CTR, you can't have "forward motion" OFF your horse. You can get off and walk back the way you came or 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. And 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 about 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 all divisions. 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?

Do you mean "long" as in days or distance? Because for Novice, CP, and Open rides, you're typically required to spend the night before the ride at the venue, so your stabling can be judged - which means you have to get to ride camp the day before the actual ride. In terms of "long," as in how far you ride, for a one day ride, Novice and CP go 15 - 24 miles at about 3.5 mph. Open division typically goes 25 -35 miles at about 5 mph. Multiday rides essentially keep the same average speed and average distance per day - but the distances can be divided differently; that is, a 40 mile, two day ride can be set up as 25 miles on Saturday and 15 miles on Sunday, so riders can pack up and head for home (a) before it's dark and (b) while they still might stay awake for the entire drive!