This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending a Racing Under Saddle Fitness Test and Seminar.
What exactly IS Racing Under Saddle? The quick and easy explanation is you take a trotter, who usually pulls a cart when racing, and instead you stick a rider on them. This is not a publicity stunt or special event, but a real style of racing that is relatively new to Canada but has seen successes overseas.
Kirby (Twin B Excalibur), the Standardbred project that Karen and I are working on, raced under saddle. It was the first I had heard of the sport and was immediately intrigued. So when Karen shared RUS Ontario’s event on facebook, there was no question, I had to try it!
The day began with a fitness test at the University of Guelph. While it is not mandatory to pass the fitness test (if you intend on pursuing a RUS career), it gives you a good estimate of how fit you have to be before considering this sport. Coming off a wicked flu, I came close to passing… and also coughing up a lung. What do you need to do? Try this one at home:
- Run 3km in 15 minutes
- Squat to jump for 1 minute
- Wall sit for 2 minutes
- Situps for 1 minute
- Plank for 2 minutes
- Pushups for 1 minute
After we exhausted ourselves, it was time to head to Shamrock Stables to learn about the tack, horses, and most importantly give it a try ourselves!
We were divided into groups, I was in the group of “never ridden in a Monte saddle before” which had us start out in an enclosed area… because… well you can guess how tipsy one can feel when crouched atop a racehorse for the first time in a teeny tiny saddle.
I was called to mount up on Clyde, a large flashy gelding who could easily pass for a hunter – not what people would normally think of when they hear Standardbred. I got a leg up – something I havent done in years thanks to mounting blocks, but the RUS riders are strong and experienced and called me “light.” Woah, haven’t heard that in a loooooong time! I fished around for my stirrups and laughed when I noticed that I was fishing for what I thought was short… about a foot and a half below where the stirrups were actually hanging. This should get interesting, I am getting pretty close to knocking my chin with my knees here!
Here I am trying to figure out my position and balance.
Clyde is a very sensitive horse I am told, and won’t work unless you are doing things just right – pretty difficult when you are a first timer! We had a lot of start/stops which got me a little frustrated and was difficult to figure out the correct position. Occasionally I was able to tuck behind Karen’s horse and get a lap of the ring.
Despite my ineptitude, we were allowed to ride outside the ring, and walked up to the track where the group of more experienced riders were making their way around.
The group of riders was about 1/3 of the way around the track. We asked the real RUS riders… what should we do? Wait? “Just go catch up to them” was the answer. Sure. Ok. They look like they are just walking around. We can do this.
We set out “slow” trotting toward the other riders, but it appeared that they had also began trotting. Clyde was much happier on the track and locked in, determined to catch them. Since he was going steady, I was able to figure out my positioning better and I think he sighed in relief that I was finally getting it. We hit a groove for a few seconds, whipping past Karen and setting our sights on the next group. They did say catch up!
About 1/3 of the way around, my legs were screaming! Asking to woah for a break, and nope, Clyde wanted to catch up. Woah ignored. Time to just tough it out and try to catch up a little quicker! We definitely surprised the other group who had no idea we made it to the track, or that we were hot on their heels. Soon we all slowed to the walk, and I got the break I had been dying for!
Helmet cam footage of our ride.
We walked back to where everyone else was waiting on the ground to receive us. The break had me considering another lap, but better judgement said this was the place to end it. Good thing too, as my legs gave out from under me when I hit the ground! In fact, I still hurt today. I still think it was worth it.
My legs giving out
It was such a fun seminar with such warm and friendly people. I really appreciate how much it takes for these riders to do what they do.
So the burning question, am I rushing out to qualify to be a RUS rider? While I would love to, I think it needs to be pushed back another year or two on my bucket list. Its not a sport you can half-dedicate yourself to and I already have a full calendar between my day job and Endurance. But it was great to see where Kirby came from and that its something I CAN do when I set my mind to it.!
Thank you so much to RUS Ontario for having me!