Article originally appeared in the October issue of Equestrian Ontario (formerly On The Horse) Magazine. See it here or pick one up in your local Ontario tack shop today!
If you have been following along with our series, you may be keen to load up your trailer and hit the trails with Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association (OCTRA) for your first ride. Great! Can’t wait to see you there! By now, you should have been preparing yourself and your horse by:
- Reading and understanding the rules for the specific discipline you are entering
- Attending a training clinic and/or reading lots of articles about endurance riding
- Conditioning your horse with LSD (Long Slow Distance)
- Training trail and vet check skills
- Reaching out to a mentor for advice and/or volunteering at a ride to see how it works
- Compiling all necessary paperwork
- Picking a beginner friendly ride
If you haven’t checked all of these boxes, make sure you go back and do so! You can find good tidbits in our previous articles, on our website www.EatSleepRideRepeat.com and on the OCTRA website www.OCTRA.on.ca
Fill out your Entry
The OCTRA website has a calendar of events with ride flyers for each upcoming event. Take a look through and find a ride that appeals to you. For your first ride, you may want to consider doing only one day and keeping it close to home so you are not required to camp. An inexperienced horse may not camp well and you want your first ride to be a positive training experience for him. Keep it short, fun and as easy on him as possible – the riding is the easy part!
From the ride flyer, you will get information about how to enter. Some rides will have online entry, others you will need to print and fill out a form and either mail or scan and email to the ride secretary. Make sure to read the flyer carefully to make sure you understand the entry fee and whether you must add on any fees such as day membership, camping fees, extra meal tickets, or late fees. Send your payment along with your entry. Also in the package you send, include a scan or photocopy of your negative EIA test, your insurance card, and any required memberships. Oh, and don’t forget to make sure you tick the box that says you are a rookie/first time rider!
At the Ride
Once you have arrived at the ride site, take the time to find a good parking spot. For your first time, we recommend that you stay away from the main camping and vetting areas as they can get pretty chaotic and could upset your horse for his first time. There are often signs or people who can direct you.
Once you have parked and unloaded (or if your horse isn’t ready to be left alone while tied, he might still be aboard the trailer), take a walk of the grounds. Take note where the following important areas are:
- Secretary and registration desk – look for a horse trailer with no horses… and a line of people out the back
- Vetting area/lanes and pulse timer (usually right beside each other) – look for a large rectangle of flat ground, marked with cones. You will see lanes for trotting, and an area on one side where the horses will line up and be vetted
- Crewing area – look for water troughs with lots of buckets and pop-up tents set out near them, usually close to the vetting area or start/finish lines
- Starting line and finish line timer (often the same place) – look for signs, a single pop-up tent with a big clock in it.
Register with the secretary
Now that you know where they are located, grab your binder of documents. Yes, you should have a binder! Even if you sent in a complete entry in advance, keep a paper copy on you just in case. It will help you breeze through registration!
The secretary will give you a ride package. This will typically include your ride card, information about the schedule (such as when ride talk is), your meal tickets, informational brochures from the rides, sponsors, and sometimes charts that you can use to calculate your ride times.
Ask for a green ribbon for your horses tail (and maybe one for you too!) to let other riders and volunteers know that you may need a little help along the way.
Attend the Ride Talk
This is where the ride manager and members of the management team (such as vets and trail managers) will sit down with riders and talk about the course and expectations for the day. The important information you will receive here is
- How the trail is marked and in what order to do the trail (often loops marked with different colours of ribbon on the right)
- Veterinary parameters for your particular ride
- Hold times
- Any particularly challenging aspects of the trail whether it be obstacles or navigational
- Ride camp etiquette – things like where to dispose of your manure, and other do/do not’s
Does your ride package tell you all that stuff in a pretty brochure? Attend anyway. Sometimes things change last minute and the vets will change requirements to suit the weather or trail conditions. Also this is your chance to meet other riders, ask questions to ride management, and maybe even find someone to partner with on trail (a mentor – look for someone with an orange ribbon or bandana).
Vet your horse
We are going to dedicate another full article to this, so check back in the following issues of Equestrian Ontario Magazine. The short version is to bring your ride card and your horse to the vetting area where a vet or lay judge will check your horse’s vitals and assess their gait to ensure that the horse is fit to start. If you have any concerns, ask the judge questions – they aren’t there to penalize you, but to ensure your horse has the best possible conditions for completion. Once your horse has been approved, ask for your number to be put on your horses flank (find this on your ride card).
Get your ride time
You will be required to find the timer at the start or finish line and register with them. Show them your completed vet card. Some rides are a shotgun start and some are staggered. Find out what time you will be out and what the process for starting is.
Set up your crew area
Another article we will get to later! Keep checking back
Tack up, mount up, warm up, offer your horse water at the trough, check-in with the timer again.
Breathe. Ride. Enjoy!