From Averett College’s The Chanticleer, October 1997, Page 3
Reflections on the Equestrian Studies Team Trip to France for the World Championships of ‘TREC’
I am proud to say that I did not fall off a mountain in September. I didn’t require a search party either.
While other students were back in Danville studying, ordering pizza, rushing Greek organizations, and planning homecoming, I was temporarily displaced in the mountains of Savoie, France – with Uloa. I stress “temporarily,” as I was back on track within an hour, headed toward the finish line. What was I doing there, one might ask, and who was Uloa?
The World Championships of Techniques de Randonnée Equestre en Compétition (TREC) were held September 26-28 (1997) in St. Pierre D’Albigne, Savoie. I was a member of the first United States team to ever compete in this sport, which roughly translates to “Equestrian Riding Techniques on a Competitive Level.” Seniors Andi Apple, Callie Dungan, Jennifer Brown, and Melanie L’Esperance, and our professor, Mary Harcourt, competed also.
Our team won first place in the category of countries who had never competed in TREC, topping four other countries, and received a team trophy and other prizes uniquely French.
TREC tests competence across rough terrain and techniques of endurance and horsemanship. I was to follow a map 50 kilometers through foreign country with a trusty steed (if I was lucky), a compass, and whatever I could fit in my saddle bags and tie to my saddle.
We arrived for a week of intense training Monday afternoon, September 15, at “A Hue Et A Dia,” a training facility in the Sommant, which is part of the Morvan area of France. Jean de Chatillion, a French expert on TREC, owned the facility and the horses we used. We went out on a ride to gauge our compatibility with the horses upon arrival. I was paired with a small gray Arabian mare named Uloa.
We rode at least eight hours each day for that week. We were trained in various capacities of TREC by Simon Zapata, an English trainer who translated for us, and Thierry Paris, the French creator of TREC.
Paris taught us mostly by having us mimic his actions and using simple words like “NO!” and “DITCH!” (to prevent falling in one). We were given a crash course in orienteering (“P.O.V.”), we familiarized ourselves with remarkable points on our maps, and we were prepped on the pace/timing for the event.
For the orienteering phase, a rider is given 20 minutes to copy a 40-60 kilometer route from a master map. Riders receive a designated departing speed, and they must gauge their time and distance by converting measurements. There are checkpoints along the way that verify the rider’s time, the horse’s condition, and the pair’s direction. The checkpoint then sends them off at another departing speed that they should maintain and adjust according to the terrain. The other two parts of TREC are “Maitrise des Allures,” or Mastery of Gait, and the Natural Obstacle Course.
The Mastery of Gait test examines the rider’s technical style and the abilities of the horse against the clock; they must gallop a 200-meter distance as slowly as possible without breaking the gait in a 2-meter-wide marked passage, and then return at the walk as quickly as possible. The Obstacle Course consists of obstacles ranging from crossing through water to large jumps. Our skills from home were a plus here. However, we were competing with relatively unfamiliar mounts, which presented another challenge.
We practiced our orienteering skills alone and in pairs. On our most memorable training day, Melanie and I ended up lost in the forest above a small town called Pommoy. After finding an interstate that was NOT on the map, we went back and found our wrong turn, but it was getting dark. We galloped back to civilization and two non-English- speaking families let me use their phone, fed us a delicious four-course meal, and entertained us until Simon came to pick us up.
Opening the competition a week later, we participated in an exciting parade of countries, where we rode to the center of St. Pierre D’Albigny. The streets were lined with cheering townspeople and children, welcoming their home team, ours, Great Britain’s, Tunisia’s, Germany’s, Switzerland’s, Austria’s, Italy’s, and Quebec’s. It was a huge event for the village and a highlight of the trip for me. We tied up the horses and listened to the opening of the games in a spectrum of languages.
My orienteering ride Saturday, September 27, took me about 10 hours due to a few mistakes and my horse losing her shoe. I nailed the shoe one, a task I’d never done before, and as our next rider Andi ran by, she tossed a roll of duct tape at me to cover up the rough edges. The ride took me through vineyards and through deep streams; I even took down a corn row with my right leg (oops), probably to the dismay of some French farmer. Everyone made it back safely, and Mary, having a late departure time, only had a little time in the dark.
Mastery of Gait followed Orienteering on the next day. We had a great ride on the obstacle round; my goal was to finish within the time and have a good ride. As I rode, the French announcer excitedly talked about my progress, and I heard the crowds cheer as I finished each obstacle.
We all did well in the Mastery of Gait and the obstacle round, and we moved on to the awards ceremony, which was not unlike that of an Olympic ceremony. Main division winners had their flags raised to their country anthems and stood on the raised podiums.
I many times wondered why I had put myself through such a challenging, tiring, and sometimes scary event. But, then I realized what a gem I’d found in the sport of TREC and how I’d had a once in a lifetime experience, seeing parts of the country that even the tour guides haven’t found.
I was reassured when several French children ran up to me and asked for my autograph on their Championship posters. As I wrote “USA!” next to my signature and said good-bye to Uloa and the mountains looming overhead, I smiled at the kids and said “Merci beaucoup! …”
And I meant it.