Sunny Does NATRC - Again

Constant readers may recall that Sunny and I did a NATRC (North American Trail Riding Conference) ride in May. It was Sunny's first large group ride and my rationale for taking her to a NATRC ride was that everyone had a stake in keeping things calm. It worked to perfection, we had a great ride (thanks, Marybeth!), met some fun people, and we even won! I haven't done another because there were only a couple this summer and we had schedule conflicts; but it was definitely part of my plan to do more.

It could have just stayed a plan for quite a long time (I'm like that), but, fortunately, my mother-in-law, Kelley, came to visit from east Texas, where it's been over a 100 for a month, with high humidity, and there has been lots of stress due to various illnesses in the family. As soon as Kelley knew she was coming to Santa Cruz, she requested a trip in my camper - a show of womanly solidarity since, Wayne, her son/my husband, refuses to have anything to do with the camper, including going camping in it. She's that kind of mother-in-law.

With encouragement like that, I *had* to find a camping opportunity, and fortunately there was one: I asked Kelley to crew for me at the Jackson Forest NATRC, a 2 day ride. Day 1 mileage was 19+ miles, Day 2 was a little over 11 miles. Jackson Forest is between Willets and Ft. Bragg, about 200 miles north of Santa Cruz, so I was glad it was a 2 day affair - Sunny would probably go on strike if we trailered that far for a day ride! Kelley accepted the job and we were a go.

We got to the campground in Jackson Forest about noon on Friday and it was gorgeous. The day was clear but cool. The campground was dedicated to horses, and filled with beautiful trees - they might have been redwoods, they had that stature - and was bordered by a large creek, which we could hear from our campsite. Best of all, for the purposes of de-stressing Kelley, there was absolutely no cell phone coverage.

As happened at the last NATRC we went to, several people came to help me get the rig parked, so that went quickly. We set up camp and met our neighbors, then I went over and checked in. When I checked in, I had to take my tack with me, so I could get weighed with it to see if I was a lightweight (<190 lbs total) or a heavyweight.

After weigh-in, I got my rider's packet, with my maps, and numbered bib (for me), numbered ribbons (for Sunny), and numbered index card (for the trailer). The trailer needs the number because you are judged on how your campsite is set up - it has to be safe for your horse and others. So, for example, I lost a point because I didn't "lock" the quick release knot that tied Sunny to the trailer - the judge felt that if Sunny got mouthy, she could untie my knot and get loose: not a pleasant prospect. By the way, this time, the maps were understandable - looking at them, I thought I could navigate. Yah! I felt *so* much more confident.

I put the numbered items where they belonged and took Sunny down to vet in, which she did in fine form. Part of the check is a trot out: you and your horse trot away from the vet in a straight line, then turn and trot back towards him/her, then stop and send your horse around in a circle at a trot, once in each direction. Doing the trot out, when I was making the turn to trot toward the vet, I just let Sunny go in a wide circle around me, like I was lunging her. After we got done with the entire pre-ride check, a young woman came up to me and told me that the judges liked to see the change of direction done with the horse on the inside, with the handler moving the horse's shoulder, to demonstrate that the horse respects your space. This is how NATRC is: everyone seems to be willing to help, even if you're competing against them.

Anyhow. That night we had a potluck and a ride meeting, then retired. Kelley had been having trouble sleeping, so I set her up with about five novels and a book light and headed for bed, since they promised to have a campsite wake-up call at 5:30. In the morning. However, before I even got settled in my bed, I could hear Kelley snoring lightly. Whoo hoo - it was working! And it continued to work: I got up every couple of hours to check on Sunny and I must have stuck my rear end in Kelley's face every time I got in and out of the camper, and she never budged.

They played a loud bugle song at 5:30, so I got up and started cleaning Sunny. Our neighbors, Tammy and Doug, were riding Novice, too. Tammy is a novice, technically, and Doug was last year, but is recovering from an injury, so he just rode to keep Tammy company - they call it "Distance Only". Anyhow, we got to the start line at about the same time, so they invited Sunny and I to ride with them, which we did. Oh yeah, just as I was leaving the campsite with Sunny, Kelley appeared in the camper door in her bathrobe, with a cup of coffee in her hand, and waved good-bye.

Lark, Tammy's mare, led for almost the entire 19 miles. She walked between 4.5 and 5 mph - Sunny, with my encouragement, will walk 3.8 mph, so she had a tough time. We'd walk mostly, then do a little trot to catch up. I thought about just dropping back, but according to Sunny's heart rate, , it was just as stressful to leave those horses as it was to have to do a frequent catch-up trot.

Riding with Doug and Tammy had the added advantage of being a learning experience: they had both ridden NATRC as young adults, before they had kids, so while Tammy is riding novice, they both are very competent and aware of the judging criteria. In particular, they had the timing nailed - we hit our timing marks within 5 minutes through the entire ride.

Sunny did really well, crossing the rivers without question, waiting her turn going through narrow spots and the obstacles, etc. The only thing that was unusual was that she yawned her way through the P & Rs (Pulse and Respiration checks). Her pulse was always under 40 beats per minute, and her respiration was usually 8 - 12 breaths per minute, but she'd stand there and yawn repeatedly for about 3 minutes before she'd just stand. I thought maybe it was because the stress was off; she didn't have to keep up with anyone for awhile. Any thoughts?

We completed the ride exactly on the minimum allowable time, cleaned up our horses and got them vetted out. I then returned to camp - where Kelley was taking a nap - and dozed off in my camp chair while Sunny tore through a *large* flake of alfalfa and about 10 gallons of water. Actually, the day had stayed cool due to fog - I wore a sweater for the entire ride - and Sunny had drunk well all the way around, so I wasn't too worried about her hydration, but I was glad to see that she was taking care of herself.

After about two hours, ride management dispatched some juniors to round everyone up and we all had dinner together and they gave out awards for the one day novice riders. It turned out that Tammy, with whom we'd ridden, was a one day rider and she had a perfect score! She won the one day competition - fortunately, we weren't even in the running for that.

After the awards, there was a short ride meeting for the next day and we went back to camp, where we had a repeat of the previous night. Kelley assured me that she wouldn't be able to sleep since she'd slept all night the previous night and had napped during the day - and she was *sound* asleep within 5 minutes of going to bed, and again, stayed asleep as I banged around checking on Sunny, then getting ready to leave.

This time, Doug and Tammy were gone - and they took their horses with them! Sunny was worried, but actually stayed pretty composed as we rode out. The woman who left just before us waited as we clocked out, and asked if we wanted to ride together and I gratefully agreed. This was the woman who'd given me the tip on the trot out, and her name was Laura. She was riding a Missouri Foxtrotter, named Tango, who walked (this is not a joke) at *6* mph! Sheesh! Sunny had her work cut out for her again.

The ride was great. It was 11 miles which, after the previous day, seemed like nothing. Also, the fog cleared where we were and the ride took us to the ridgetops, so we could see all the hills around us, with a sea of fog in the valleys. It was gorgeous. The obstacles on Saturday had been natural ones, that is, they were part of the trail. On this day, about 4 miles into the ride, there was a short path bounded by branches the judges had put on the ground, that made an arc, going up hill, about 5 yards long. On this obstacle, you had to stop your horse at the bottom, then back uphill and around the arc, staying within the boundaries defined by the branches.

Sunny and Tango both did very well and we walked on. About 100 yards beyond the obstacle, a pickup truck was parked right in the middle of the road. All the trails were on hillsides, and in this case, the right side of the pickup was uphill, and the left side had the drop off. Laura and I were the last riders out - novices leave last - so we figured that the judges had just moved their truck there to be ready to leave when we came through. Anyhow, there was room on either side of the truck to pass, so we motored on through on the left side. It turned out that the *real* obstacle was the truck - there was a judge hiding in it - and we were judged on whether we took the high or low side around the truck. Laura and I were both penalized because we took the low side - one of the judges was head vet at Tevas and he said you *never* go on the drop off side, if you have a choice. So. Lesson learned.

We climbed for a little more after the obstacle, then descended for a long, long time. When it finally flattened out, I got off to check Sunny's saddle for slippage and discovered that I had lost a screw from her headstall and one side of her bit was hanging loose! And not a complaint from her. Sheesh. Anyhow, I immediately pulled a zip tie out of my pocket and said, "No problem, I'll just zip this back together!" Which I did, but when I went to put the headstall back on, I realized I had zipped the bit in backwards. Dang it. Fortunately, I had a knife to cut the zip tie and Laura had a very low tech strip of leather with which I was able to tie the headstall back together, correctly this time. Sheesh.

After that, there's not too much to tell - except that Sunny and I both won again, although there wasn't a second place, so I think we won because we were the only team in lightweight novice, 2 day. But doesn't Woody Allen say that 90% of life is just showing up? Oh yeah, they had a raffle and Kelley won 3 of the 15 prizes, although the good horse-stuff was too big for Sunny and the good people-stuff was too big for Kelley or me. But it was fun to win, anyhow.