TALES FROM THE TRAILS
Sunday, Aug. 21 dawned bright, cloudless and hot. The Nicole Hornstein Equestrian Park in The Acreage was bursting with activity.
About 15 tack vendors, offering both new and used saddles, bridles, boots, halters, girths, helmets, equipment and barn supplies of all sorts, had set up booths around the fence. The arena was filled with many weird-looking obstacles. At 9 a.m., the arena gate swung open and the event got underway.
The Extreme Trail Challenge Clinic, hosted by the Acreage Horseman’s Association, was a free event open to anyone and everyone, member or not. If you had a horse, you were welcome to give it a try. If not, you were welcome to watch. About 75 people took part.
They formed a long line, standing beside their horses, for this first part of the day was done “in hand,” where owners had the opportunity to lead their horses around and introduce them to the potentially scary elements. Later on, they could try the same course mounted.
There was happy, excited chatter as horses of all colors, ages and sizes waited their turn to begin, everything from seasoned old pros to a weanling of a few months, huge warmbloods, cute ponies and tiny minis. Some horses were untacked, some wore English saddles and some had on western tack. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, except the fun — and challenge — of getting through the course.
There was a long, blue-tarp-covered tunnel to walk through, “bridges” made of solid wooden pallets bordered with flower boxes or balloons or flags to cross, mattresses to walk over, dangling plastic “car wash” strips to duck under, alternating wooden rails or a wagon wheel with long spokes to step through, a blue tarp pond, pool noodles sticking up out of the ground, a pop-up tent to explore, “mazes” of ground rails to maneuver, a tire to drag and a teeter-totter board.
Crystal Moller brought Survivor, her bay gelding Standardbred. “It’s his first time at something like this, and he’s just a little freaked out by everything,” she said, patting her horse to reassure him. “He spooked at a regular bush! Then we got into the ring. So far, he’s walked through the tarp tunnel, over the bridge with the flower boxes and the mattress. His reaction is hilarious, but he’s doing a good job. He’s starting to settle down.”
Sally Mitchell brought her Appaloosa gelding, an old pro. “He’s doing well,” she said as she led him over the wooden pallet with flags posted at the four corners. “What makes it even easier for him is that his buddies from the barn are here, and they’re pretty calm, so he stays calm, too.”
Jesse James brought Gigi, her Paint horse. She was one of eight members of the J.C. Western Cowgirls team attending. “Gigi’s a well-rounded horse,” Jesse said. “She’s done stuff like this lots of times.”
Indeed, Gigi stood patiently on the mattress while Jesse jumped up and down on it beside her.
John Sturgeon stood by with Wrangler, his Paint horse. “It’s our first time at something like this,” he said. “Wrangler’s handling it all pretty well, but he didn’t do so good on the teeter-totter.”
Robert Tessler and Trigger, his Palomino, were also managing to get through. “This is all brand new to him,” Robert said. “He’s never seen anything like this before.”
Trigger skittered over the wooden bridge with the flower boxes and, after some coaxing, tippy-toed across the mattress. “Good boy!” Robert told him, then moved on to try the next obstacle. “We’ll see what happens here.”
Faith Oliver and her chestnut gelding Wizard were getting around nicely. “It’s his first time, and he’s doing awesome,” she said. “I love anything like this where I can work on desensitizing him. It helps a lot that his buddy, Teddy the pony, is here. Teddy doesn’t mind anything.”
Madie Phillips had perhaps the youngest horse there, Nova, her 5-month-old filly. “It’s her first time away from the barn, let alone at anything like this,” Madie said. “She did perfect. Nothing bothered her.”
Kayla Lopez and Prince did fairly well until they got to the water hazard, which scared the horse a bit.
“I’d say today was a huge success,” AHA Chief Executive Director Linda Rainbolt said. “Everyone had a blast. We’ll have a lot more of these. Today’s event was sponsored by Dark Horse Tack. We’ll be offering a four-show extreme trail challenge series, October through January. There’ll be lots of great prizes, including saddles and buckles.”
Everyone was having fun. The horses dealt with the whole event with courage and dignity. Some were very matter-of-fact. Some were seasoned pros, relaxed and confident. Some were clearly nervous, testing each obstacle with one hesitant hoof. Some remained stubborn or were flat-out fearful.
But, for the most part, it was a fun and educational experience. As one participant said: “We had a blast. My horse did everything like a champ. If they hold more of these, we’ll be here.”
For more information, visit www.acreagehorseman.com.