Taking Juniors to NATRC Rides

by Kay Lieberknecht and Angie Meroshnekoff, both from Region 1

So you're interested in introducing juniors to NATRC rides! Here are some suggestions.

  1. Have them (and their parents if possible) come to a ride and volunteer, before entering. Show them your scorecards and talk about what is important in a ride - mostly safety and having fun! A ride can be seen as a day-long riding lesson with "free" vet attention and beautiful surroundings.
  2. Be sure they're involved in conditioning the horse, keeping track of the horse's miles for two months prior to a ride. For Novice, the horse should be doing 20 miles/week on some hills at 3-1/2 mph regularly (unless they run around a lot in a big pasture, in which case half that could work).
  3. Be sure they have a sound, well-behaved horse that respects their space, stands for vetting, will lead (and if possible longe) at a trot, and is not spooky or prone to attack.
  4. Establish respect and good communication between all present. That includes between parent and child, and the people toward the horses. You as mentor/hostess are the boss about this, and if respect is missing, you can let the Junior know the horsemanship judge will be aware of it.
  5. Create with them a list of what chores are required at a ride, including all aspects of caring for their horse, giving electrolytes, bran mashes, feed and water, scooping poop, tacking up, setting up and taking down camp, feeding themselves. Agree on priorities, where help may be needed, and when breaks will happen.
  6. Financial arrangements are between you and the Junior/ Junior's family and vary with the situation. Think about fund raisers that the Juniors can help with. Some Regions offer "Junior incentive" programs that pay all or part of ride entry fees. Sometimes it's possible to find a corporate sponsor to help with expenses.
  7. Never let anyone try a piece of equipment on a ride that is new to the horse.
  8. One of the most important safety measures in NATRC is thinking about how you and your horse can handle each situation most constructively. Anyone can "pass" on an obstacle that they feel is beyond the ability of themselves or their horse. Know the rules and clarify what is expected, but help them understand that judges, ride management and other riders are more than willing to help with questions or problems.
  9. Teach the Junior to maintain over a horse's length distance behind another horse as well as how to pass and be passed, turning their horse's nose toward the other horse and using their leg to turn the rump away. Smiling and greeting the passed or passing riders helps a lot too. Grownups are way timid (and often grouchy) about being near Juniors on horses.
  10. If a Junior is upset by the "judged" aspect, or feels scared or mad at the horse, make sure they and their horse are safe, try encouraging them to say their feelings (and never argue with feelings), try to problem-solve and provide a positive perspective, and when all else fails, just let it go. Insist that they eat well and stay hydrated. Food is great therapy (as are horses) by the end of the day.
  11. It can be a bit of work to take a Junior to a ride, but it has many rewards. You have a trail companion who is seeing everything fresh, and it gives you a new and usually positive outlook. You get a chance to teach your own horse new things while you are helping your Junior learn. You have companionship on the ride (other than your horse) and you have built in labor around the camp :) If they do their homework along the way, you might be reminded about how much you've forgotten! Another benefit is that a horse who might otherwise not have a job to do has an opportunity to teach a new rider some things, and you have a chance to teach the Junior the preferred way to ride and handle a horse, something that isn't so easy if the horse is leased out. And best of all, you are doing what can be called paying it forward: helping out someone who will benefit from your experience, having it effect their life in a positive way, and with luck they will do the same as they get older.