Details on my Upcoming TREC competition in Spain
For a few months I’ve been toting around a compass and topographic maps, navigating trails in three states – both on foot and on horseback.
Many of these trails were marked and most people have GPS in their pockets these days, so my methods probably have appeared rather quaint. But getting comfortable with orienteering has been crucial, even in somewhat familiar places such as the Red River Gorge. This is because later this month I leave for Segovia, Spain, where I – along with my teammates – will represent the United States Sept. 1-3 in the World Championships of a sport called TREC, which stands for Techniques de Randonnée Equestre en Compétition.
In a nutshell, TREC’s a three-phase event the French designed to test the skills of equestrian tourism guides. Its signature phase involves navigating 40 kilometers of unfamiliar territory using a route copied from the master map just minutes prior to beginning the ride. Riders leave at a designated speed and come across (surprise) checkpoints along the way, where judges check time and direction before riders head off at the next designated pace.
There are two other phases in TREC. One, translating roughly to Mastery of Gait, involves walking a marked-off 200 meters as quickly as possible and then returning at the canter as slowly as possible, without breaking gait.
The final phase is what I call a hybrid of a training-level cross-country course and a 4-H trail class on steroids. It’s a timed course over a series of natural jumps, interspersed with obstacles such as a gate to open/shut and horsemanship challenges such as – my favorite – proving your communication with your mount by dismounting and leaving him in a chalk-marked circle and keeping him “whoa-ed” with just your voice.
Yes, I’ll be doing all of this in just a few weeks on a leased horse in Spain.
How in the world did this happen?” you might ask. Valid question. After all, I’m the quintessential adult amateur that’s returned to horse ownership within the past year and a half after a long hiatus and has just begun to show again. I generally ride five days a week, my go-to ride is a long hack with trot sets, and am currently popping my green off-track Thoroughbred over starter-novice-sized fences.
Well, it all goes back to being in the right place at the right time in 1997, when I was ended up on the first U.S. TREC team at the World Championships, in St. Pierre D’Albigny, France. Communications between tourism boards in France and the United States resulted in my alma mater’s riding director at the time, Mary Harcourt, organizing a team of Averett equestrian studies students to go experience this sport.
The horseman who invented TREC was one of our instructors there on the ground in the weeks before the competition (picture many epic sessions of charades due to the language barrier), and after quite a bit of intense training, I piloted a little gray Arabian French endurance champion named Uloa through the three phases of the sport. The orienteering ride was a challenging one that culminated in Uloa losing her shoe – which I nailed back on several hours before finishing the ride. The farrier was impressed with my work, cleaned up my reset job, and Uloa and I went on to do fine in the Mastery of Gait and Obstacles.
Our team had a wonderful time, learned so much during the training and competition, and enjoyed the camaraderie among the TREC competitors and enthusiasts. (Read about our experience in this time-capsule-gem of a student newspaper article here.)
So, while apparently I have notoriety among the current U.S. TREC contingent for having made lemonade out of the lost-shoe lemons 19 years ago, I’m far, far from being a bona fide expert at TREC. I’ve honestly been a little sheepish about sharing about this opportunity – no, this honor– this time around. I’ve done some thinking about why, and it all comes down to this: Last time around I was a college junior with the world at my feet, the riding finesse of someone eventing at prelim level, the metabolism and ridiculously active lifestyle of a 20-year-old (read: not sitting at a desk for most of my waking hours), and just enough naivety about the world that I bounded right into it, completely unaware of the challenges ahead.
Also in 1997, I had only ever relied on a thing called a road atlas to get around and did not have years of highway guidance by an electronic voice. As of late, each virtual compass, be it Garmin’s Gerard, iPhone’s Siri, or whatever they call Google Maps’ voice, has caused me on more than one occasion to forget my brain, tune out, and obey the electronic voice, without ever really looking at the landscape for clues.
But here are the things I’ve realized over the past couple of months: I’ve done this before, successfully. I’m nearly twice the age I was when I did TREC for the first time. I’ve seen a lot more of the world in those years and can draw on my experiences navigating different types of landscape (some from the wrong side of the road) and communicating with people of various cultures, even if it does require language-barrier charades. I’ve gotten lost – and unlost– in several countries, on horseback and in a car. And the map-reading has come back to me (like riding a bike, I guess).
On the equestrian side, I’ve filed away 17 years of horse health-reporting knowledge in my brain that I can call on if in a pinch. I’ve worked with several wonderful horses since 1997 who have each taught me something. Finally, I have enough perspective to know that if I get lost, if my leased horse and I experience hiccups along the way, or if it’s just simply not meant for us to finish that orienteering ride or a particular part of the obstacle course, it’s okay – safety and soundness are far more important, and there’s always another day.
So, I’ve accepted that I’m qualified. I’ve prepped as much as life has allowed, and I’m going to ride and navigate to the best of my ability. My teammates, including my former professor Mary, have been steeped in TREC these past few years and have trained and competed in events in the Carolinas, so I know they have plenty of experience among them to share during our trainings. I look forward to watching their quiet confidence and picking up little tricks of the trade (which will be useful not only in competition but in bringing home skills that I hope I can share with riders in my area). And I know our horses are used to the terrain and will have much to teach as well, and I’m a willing student.
And so as I put my big-girl britches (ahem – breeches) on again and head into the forests of Spain, map and compass in tow, I ask for your cheers, prayers, and good thoughts on behalf of my teammates, chef d’equipe, support team (all of whom I will introduce in a post to come), and me. And if you’d like to help us in our quest to represent the U.S. well in this really cool sport, here’s how you can:
- We still need small, lightweight items to put in our gift bags for the other country teams competing (20). Think things that are USA-focused or reminiscent of your area (tourism trinkets from your state) and won’t leak or explode in air transport. If you have an idea, drop me a note. It would need to be here by Monday, August 22.
- This trip isn’t inexpensive. Thank you to those who have already contributed to help me get and stay there. If you’d like to provide support, please reach out to me privately, or if you’d like to support the team, we have some wonderful raffle items that you can win (you have six days left to enter), including Amazon gift cards and a huge prize pack of Straight Arrow (Mane ‘n Tail and Cowboy Magic) products. (Kentucky friends, don’t make me have to mail that big, heavy box to another state!!)
- If you know of anyone looking for a gorgeous, like-new 18” Prestige Roma MW dressage saddle, I sure would like to sell it and put the proceeds toward my trip. I can send you in the right direction to try it/purchase it. I also have a 17.5” MW Crosby Lexington TC (all purpose, I evented all phases in it through my teenage years) that I’d also like to sell.
- Some of the other things we could use are high-vis riding equipment, saddle bags that will work on English saddles, and emergency hoof boots (Soft-Rides, easy boots, etc.) in a variety of sizes in case of emergency. We know who our horses are, but don’t know much about the specifics on each yet besides height, experience, and disposition.
I know I’ve probably left out something, but I endeavor to post again before leaving and then a few times while training in Spain, where our AirBNB has wifi.
Thank you, friends, for cheering my teammates and I along in this challenge. Looking back at my last post here on my personal blog, I see a trip previewed that led to one of the greatest years of my life, so I can’t wait to see what this next adventure holds.
I look forward to keeping you updated on TREC Team USA’s experience in Segovia.