Wednesday, May 7, 2014

NATRC vs AERC LDs : some conclusions

I came to NATRC as an AERC LD rider.  I know the AERC rules - there aren't very many and they're pretty common-sense, straightforward types.  I knew NATRC had more.  I still find myself kind of fuzzy on a lot of them.  Some of the most major differences I noted:

NATRC: no help allowed.  Rider is the only one doing stuff with the horse from the time you're vetted in to the time you vet out (or maybe a bit before/after, I was a little confused on exactly how this was supposed to work - but not having crew, wasn't worried about it).
AERC: help allowed and even encouraged!  Others can hold your horse, groom, tack up, whatever.

NATRC: forwards motion must be on horseback.  No walking with the horse, not even a half-mile down the trail to find a better log to use to get on.  Walking back down the trail the opposite direction is fine, though, you just can't proceed forwards.  Also applies to P&Rs/vet checks, where you have to ride in.
AERC: forwards motion is forwards motion, on or off the horse.  Totally okay to walk/run with your horse, tail up, jog down, whatever.  Often used to try to make it easier on the horse, sometimes used to make it easier on the rider, sometimes just a nice option to have.
I understand why NATRC has the rule, but this is still the one most frustrating to me coming from endurance.  I like being able to get off and walk from time to time.. down big hills, into checks, when I'm not sure I have her brain, etc.  It's a little intimidating to know I don't have that choice.

NATRC: minimum AND maximum time (roughly 30 minute window to aim for). Goal is pacing your horse slowly, not racing in.
AERC: minimum time.  To finish is to win, but indeed you could race if so desired.

NATRC: scored for horse & horsemanship & camp set-up - and frankly I'm not even sure what else, but I know there was more.
AERC: no points, just pass/fail criteria at the vet checks based on how your horse is doing.  Either you're doing well enough to continue, or you're not.

NATRC P&R stop: stand still for 10 minutes at the check, then have pulse & respiration taken. 16 (64) pulse OK, 17 (68) and you need to wait 10min and try again.  There are also points having to do with whether your P&R stays the same/better/worse all day, so folks may ask for a recheck if you think it should have been different.
AERC vet check: pulse taken as soon as you're ready when you come into the check. Vet check follows and looks at the whole horse.  At least in my experience out here, 60 is fine, anything higher is not. Recheck whenever you're ready.

That covers the basic differences that really stood out to me, but it didn't exactly end there, either.
[Side note: a lot of folks that commented on Funder's post seemed anti-NATRC.  I'd love to know why and what everyone else has seen!]

NATRC has three divisions.  For this particular ride, Novice and Competitive Pleasure were essentially the same from what I could see, same ~22(?) mile trail with a speed of 3.5-4mph.  Open - what I rode in - had ~26 miles of trail and a speed of 4-4.5mph.

I know there were people in the N/CP division who stayed at a walk the entire time.  They may all have been on gaited horses, but that just struck me as appallingly boring.  People didn't want to ride Open for various reasons - too fast, too hard, horse not conditioned enough, etc.

Open riders were praised effusively at awards for doing such a long distance and such a fast speed.  Mount Diablo is supposed to be a particularly difficult ride to make time on.  People chose not to ride Open because they felt their horse wasn't well-conditioned enough.  For Confetti and I, Open was not a challenge.  I feel like we could have done it at a 5mph pace - or at least gotten close to it! - without even getting close to running out of horse.  It never felt like she was really working, though. She was more willing to walk towards the end, but she never got tired or thought about quitting. I held her back almost the entire ride.

I rode the horse I had at the ride. I sat the trot up and down the hills to discourage adding speed. I hauled myself and camelbak up onto the horse - not much grace, but she tolerated it and we generally find bigger hills or stumps at home. I ground-mounted during the ride where needed.  We worked through some herdboundness and never totally lost her mind.  As a training exercise, it worked pretty well for us.

If I had really been training for those obstacles* and all the judging and stuff, I'd be disappointed at not getting anything. AERC has made me a convert, though - I finished the ride with a happy, sound, energetic horse who would have done another loop if I asked.

We had four obstacles, if memory serves - I haven't gotten my scorecard back yet since I opted not to stay later in the evening.
- judged mount first thing in the morning
- navigate off-trail briefly following the ribbons
- sidepass to a tree, pin ribbon, sidepass away
- big trot/canter on a loose rein, halt, back up, trot off

Would I do it again?
Short answer: maybe.

At this point, I have no desire to ride a NATRC ride just to ride a NATRC ride.  Confetti and I find joy in doing a brisk trot down the trail, flying up hills, jogging together down particularly steep sections.  I'm not interested in chasing points and doing things a particular way just because some idealized rule says they should work that way.
I don't regret going, not at all.  It was a great training ride for us.  Everyone was friendly and helpful (even though I was the last one into camp and I think the first to leave!), willing to share advice, answer questions, etc.

I think NATRC Open rides would be a great sort of intro-ride for folks looking to get into LDs but who aren't sure about the speed & distance combined.  If you can get through 27 miles at a tiny trot/mostly walking 4mph?  5mph may not seem so bad.  I've mentioned to several friends that I would happily go with them to this ride next year.

If or when Confetti deigns LDs to be too much/too difficult, I will probably consider taking her to NATRC rides as 'retirement' from AERC.  Slower rides, shorter distance, keeps us with a goal to work towards. 

I can appreciate where NATRC is coming from with their bunches of rules and scoring even as it's not something I aspire to currently.  No hate for NATRC from me, it's just not my thing!


  1. Wow, that is less speed-and-mileage difference between the divisions than I would have expected! Although I guess it's another hour or so in trail time when you do the math.

    Most of this is really similar to our local CTR. (ECTRA CTR does pointed-based judging but all in terms of horse condition at the vet checks; there are no obstacles and no in-camp or horsemanship judging.) I'm liking it a lot as a venue in which to learn and it's the same group of people who do the endurance rides. But no-forward-motion-dismounted and wait-to-pulse-in are not my philosophical favorites. (Also no booting for leg protection, which I don't currently do anyway but it is an option that I like to have available.)

    My resistance to the judged-obstacle rides is admittedly poisoned by descriptions I've heard of our local judged pleasure ride group. They seem like very nice people and I'm glad that the activity they enjoy is available to them! But everything I've heard sounds like they value quiet, quiet, quiet horses (which is fine, but not my personally cuppa) and like the obstacle judges are anybody who is willing to volunteer. Which is totally understandable and I'm totally okay with that practice for, say, XC judging where you get some inevitable variation in judgment but the rules themselves are objective and easy to understand. But if I'm being judged subjectively, I want the judge to have some training and credentials. I've ridden backyard hunters, you know? It's great as a schooling venue, but not something I'm going to get super-invested in.

    But for your purposes, this sounds great, and I think it's awesome that you're looking outside the box to get your miles and exposure in. I have a late-March gap in my ride schedule and if something like this were available in the right time/place to fill that gap, I would be pleased to try it out, too.

    1. I was a bit astonished at the tiny speed/mileage differences. I think because it's considered a difficult ride, they try to keep the time for Open riders slow. I'm very vaguely thinking that if you're encouraged to only trot flat stretches, that would indeed make it a difficult ride to make good time on. (Fetti doesn't believe in only trotting flats, though.)

      I would have huge, huge resistance to subjectively judged obstacles with volunteers who have little-to-no training. I'm not a huge fan of the obstacles to start with, but at least I knew I had consistent and well-established judges, and it was the same two all ride! And yes.. I think the no-leg-protection rule is in place out here, too, I just didn't pay it any mind since I don't boot (or have any) anyway.

  2. Thanks for writing this post! I was surprised about the pace - for some reason I thought CTRs had much faster paces. I'm training for my first LD and a 4-4.5 mph pace sounds like a perfect way to check distance on my big, slower guy. I don't like all the additional rules, but my guess is that they have them because the pace is slower so the obstacles and restrictions help separate out the top placers. Much like you, I wouldn't care if I placed or did well on the obstacles as long as my horse was fit at the end of the ride. And it would be nice not to feel so outpaced by the crazy...I mean, very fit, Arabs of the endurance world. Although a western jog pace does sound a bit like torture. Anyway, glad things went well for you and I might actually give a CTR a try now:)