riding in redwoodsCarrie Scrima, founder of the American Competitive Trail Horse Association, answers questions about this relatively new event. -Editor

Q: What is ACTHA, and this new sport that you call “Competitive Trail Challenge?”

Carrie: Our organization is called the American Competitive Trail Horse Association, or ACTHA. Our purpose is to give recognition to the American Trail Horse. Our motto is “Not Just a Trail Horse anymore.” We think this is a great sport where families and friends can get together and learn to demonstrate their horse’s abilities and have fun. It isn’t a demanding or stressful sport; it is natural to the horse and rider, and we have some rules that keep it that way. The trail is an easy 5 to 10 miles, and it has a minimum of six obstacles. We encourage the obstacles to be natural and use as much natural terrain as possible. The obstacles might be crossing water, stepping over logs, opening gates, and going up and down embankments.

Q: How is it judged?

Carrie: We judge on horsemanship and cooperation between horse and rider. It is not a speed or endurance event. Each obstacle is worth 20 points, with10 points for the rider and 10 points for the horse. The judges like to see as much finesse as possible from the rider. Calmness, bravery, and athletic ability from the horse are also rewarded. A natural headset is appreciated, and so is a balanced rider.

Interestingly enough, to assure as much impartiality and objectivity as possible, we employ six different individual judges for the obstacles. This gives the fairest, most impartial results.

Q: What are the rules that make this a natural and horse-friendly sport?

Carrie: We don’t have many rules. We don’t allow the use of martingales and other such ‘training’ devices. But we do allow bitless bridles and hoof boots. Barefoot horses are allowed, based on the rider’s judgment.

We enjoy putting on rides that are fun, educational, and safe–yet challenging. At the rides, we also have clinics from trainers and vets, both traditional and holistic, and also from hoof care practitioners.

Although we do not allow dogs on the trail, we know horse people love their dogs and we provide a fun “Great American Best Dog Contest.”

Q: You have mentioned the humane treatment of horses as your cause…

Carrie: ACHTA is concerned with the very complicated issues surrounding humane treatment of horses. We realize no solution is possible without a lot of human involvement. ACTHA is committed to donating funds and efforts to this cause, both by taking on initiatives in house and by contributing funds to organizations already working in this arena.

Q: Why the “trail” horse?

Carrie: For too long, the trail horse has gone unrecognized for its incredible ability to take you across country, maneuvering through the countryside, and getting you where you need to go. These horses have amazing abilities when they have to go through rough terrain, go up and down steep hillsides, take you through numerous gates, cross streams, cross bridges, and yet keep you as safe as you can be. We owe much of our history as a nation and culture to the great American Trail Horse.

Q: Are there awards or prizes for winners?

Carrie: We have 4 divisions: Open, Pleasure, Junior, and Buddy.

Pleasure and Junior divisions are awarded prizes and ribbons. We try to make the prizes something useful and out of the ordinary.

In the Open division, we award cash prizes. This is a break from tradition, but we feel the Open competitor deserves a chance to pay for his/her travel expenses. We’re not talking big money; typically the purse is about $525 divided up between the top finishers.

All horses become part of our registry and are awarded points ranging from completion of the ride to winning the ride. Breed registries are notified of their horses’ ACTHA performances and points. Non-registered horses are automatically registered as American Competitive Trail Horses along with the registered breed competitors. This means a trail horse will have some readily-identifiable trail ability characteristics along with its corresponding value. For example, if someone is purchasing a trail horse and is made aware of its ACHTA standings and points, that person then can be relatively assured of the horse’s abilities. Theoretically, a horse with ACTHA points is worth more than an unknown horse. And the more ACTHA points the more valuable the horse.

Q: What kinds of horses can participate?

Carrie: Any kind; all breeds and any unregistered horses are welcome. Any style of riding and any type of saddle is also welcome, as long as the horse is happy with it.

I personally came from an English (hunter/ jumper) background, but this sport is very popular with the western riders as well. I found that even when I was showing, I found that trail riding refreshed and relaxed my horse. I have seen many sour show horses, but I have truly never seen a sour trail horse.

This is an ideal sport for any horse. It’s great for rehabilitated and rescued horses that are capable and want to have some fun.

Q: Are there different age groups or levels?

Carrie: Virtually all age groups are represented in all our rides. The only criterion is a minimum age of 7.

Q: Where do the Competitive Trail Challenges take place?

Carrie: Most rides take place on beautiful private ranches, although State and Federal Lands are also welcomed.

Q: How do you assist your affiliates?

Carrie: An ACTHA affiliate is someone who will be hosting a ride under the rules and regulations of ACTHA. All of our affiliates are provided with complete judging, obstacle and ride format manuals in written form and DVDs. The materials give explicit directions and examples. We take all the entries for them and enable their participants to use credit cards. We tabulate points, provide easy to use software, we keep a national point standing, we advertise nationally, we supplement their ride marketing efforts with our own lists: in short we take as much of the administrative burden off their shoulders as we can. This way they can focus on their main job, promoting the ride. Now we have affiliates across the country. There is no cost to becoming an affiliate.

In addition, we take all entries for the affiliate. Not only are credit card payments available on our website, but there are point standings, ride results, pictures, and tons of helpful information. With our tremendous administrative help and training aids, not to mention our web site and video conferencing ability, we make putting on a ride easy, no matter where you are located.

If you are interested in becoming an affiliate, clubs and organizations will find this a great way to keep their treasuries full. It’s repeatable and each ride gets better and better. Especially if you hold more than one ride per year! Certain individuals with the skill set and land availability are also welcome to apply for affiliate status.

There is no upfront cost financially to become an affiliate. We do deduct a small fee from the proceeds of the ride to cover expenses and insurance.

Q: What is the cost for an individual to participate in an ACTHA event, and how can someone get involved?

Carrie: The cost to participate ranges from $35 to $78. Visit our website to find a listing of scheduled events and to sign up. Our web site is www.actha.us. Please note it is dot us, not dot com.