Thursday, August 19, 2010

NATRC: Island in the Sky ride brings 61 riders to Grand Mesa

According to Mike Mason, in spite of the very real potential for a torrential downpour, this year’s National American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC) competitive trail ride on the Grand Mesa took place on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 7-8. With 61 people participating, the event was deemed a huge success.

Sponsored by the Women’s Surface Creek Saddle Club, the event has been dubbed the “Island in the Sky” ride (from the book “Island in the Sky” by Muriel Marshall, with her permission).

Mason also noted that the “Island in the Sky” ride takes place every other year, alternating with the Wet Mountain Ride, and that for this year’s event, Rich Garrett was the ride secretary, Judy Mason was ride chairman.

For her part, Judy said the ride could not be possible without the help of so many people, in particular: Carolynn Andersen, trail master, who marked and pre-rode 60 miles of trail (Andersen has been the trail master for the ride since its beginning in 2000); Ed Kehoe who cooked wonderful meals for the whole weekend; Rich Garrett who took all the entries and kept the paperwork straight; Lori Molitor, awards chairman and Secretary for the veterinarian judge; Kristie LaValley, secretary for the horsemanship judge; Dewitt Daggett, safety rider chairman; Ole Morgan, Sally Sutton, Cheri McFadden, Julleen Feazell, Judy Mason and Brandy Ferganchick who marked, timed and/or pre-rode the entire trail; Louan Lundberg, Jimmy LaValley, Greg Feazell, Weldy Feazell and Bill Sutton who helped everywhere; Mike Mason, communications and horse water person and general support; Melanie Son, pulse and respiration team captain; Frank St. Peter, Pattie Timmerwilke and Beverly Kolkman who helped with the cooking; Roy Garner, on-site farrier (much needed due to the mud and rocks); and the many saddle club members who baked cookies and cobblers for the meals and otherwise helped as needed.

NATRC had its inception in 1961 and has played an important part in making competitive trail riding one of the nation’s most popular horse activities. According to the NATRC website, competitive trail riding encourages a true partnership between horse and rider, educates horse and rider to help achieve higher skill levels, promotes the performance of horses over the long term, focuses on the health and safety of the horse, helps train competent, happy, and willing horses; promotes conditioning programs to help horses reach their potential, and fosters camaraderie in which riders consider themselves part of a family dedicated to their horses, trail riding, and spirited competition.

A competitive trail ride is similar to an endurance ride. Both cover a set, measured course, and a veterinary judge closely monitors the horses in both sports.

Endurance rides must be completed within a maximum time, and the winner is the horse that finishes first and is judged fit to continue. But in competitive trail riding, the horse and rider must finish the ride within a window of time, and speed is not a judging factor. Endurance rides are often longer than a competitive trail ride.

NATRC rides are two-day events covering 40 to 50 miles over difficult terrain. The horse and rider complete many judged obstacles along the route, which includes soundness and conditioning of the horse. Riders are divided into three classes: Novice, Competitive Pleasure and Open. The Open Class is for experienced competitors who ride between 50 and 60 miles, depending on terrain and weather, with additional obstacle to overcome.

Mason said this was the first full NATRC ride in the Rocky Mountain region in nearly two years. He said the wildflowers “were at their peak, the meadows were lush and the weather added a certain tension and magic as the sun played in and out of the clouds and fog meandered over the mountain peaks.”

Because of limited cell phone service, the group placed a radio repeater on top of the fire lookout, located on the summit of Leon Peak, in case of an emergency. The safety riders, many EMT qualified, had radios and could contact a person with phone service to call 911 if necessary.

In both endurance and competitive trail rides, horses and riders are judged on fitness; but in competitive trail riding events, horses are judged not only on which is the most fit but also on which horse has the best manners. In competitive trail rides, horses are checked at any point along the trail. In endurance rides, horses are checked by a veterinary judge at certain points and are judged as fit to continue. Another difference, according to the website is: “riders can proceed on foot in endurance riding, but for all forward motion in competitive trail riding, the rider must be mounted.”

For this year’s Island in the Sky ride, Gary Inman of Bennett took home the open class high-point award, and Brandy Ferganchick of Eckert, was runner-up.

Comments from some of the participants in this year’s ride included: “thank you and Judy for a fantastic weekend. The ride was beautiful and well planned,” and, “Thank you for all your help. My grandson asked when the next one was. He had a great time. Everyone was so kind and helpful to him. Thanks,” and “Many thanks to you and the crew for all the hard work you did to make sure this ride was safe and fun!!! The weather sure tested you, but it really was not bad in the long run. Just wanted to know you all are so appreciated!”

And, in spite of the “iffy” weather, the ride was a huge success and no one was injured.

For more information about competitive trail riding, call Judy Mason at 856-7022.
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