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ACTHA Competitive Trail Challenge


By Leigh Ballard

 Trademark Farms in Darden, TN hosted two ACTHA sanctioned events at Buffalo River Resort in Lobelville, TN on September 15-16. Both the Competitive Trail Challenges (CTC’s) were held over a six-mile trail with six judged challenge obstacles. Twenty-four riders from across the mid-south, including Missouri and Georgia, were present for the event which offered ACTHA points and was part of a buckle series of rides to be held through the fall. The new website, Tennessee Competitive Trail and Obstacle Competition (, is an online meeting place for information about future CTC’s and other trail events sponsored by Trademark Farms.

 Stefanie and Jerry Schermerhorn of Trademark Farms were the ride hosts. They have hosted ACTHA rides for two years, and Stefanie rides her Paso Fino horses in competitions when possible. Stefanie has been breeding and training Paso Fino horses for trail and other specialty classes for twenty-five years. She saw a need for trail ride competition venues in west Tennessee, and wanted to promote interest in ACTHA and the sport of CTC. “Volunteers are very important in organizing these events,” she says. “Each obstacle requires its own judge, so we need six volunteers just for that. Then we need photographers, scorekeepers, people at the registration table, and, of course, we need people to clear the trails and construct the obstacles beforehand. There’s quite a bit of work involved, but it’s great fun. There are a lot of family groups that camp with their horses and do these rides. You see the parents teaching the kids about good horsemanship.”

The participants were a varied group, youth to adult, riding Tennessee Walking Horses, Paso Finos, Arabians, Warmblood crosses, Quarter Horses, and more. There was even a “non-trail” dressage horse who needed to learn how to be outside an arena. His owner says, “He didn’t know how to use his feet out in the real world!” They’ve been on three rides now in the “Scout” division (see description of divisions below), and he’s making great strides (pun intended).

Safety is key on the ACTHA rides. Tack is judged and checked for proper fit before the ride. Some riders might be asked to reposition their saddle or tighten their girth, fix their breast collar, or change their bit. Riders are sent out in small groups at the start of the ride to prevent bottlenecking at obstacles. Safety riders bring up the rear to check for any problems, injuries, or lost riders. If horse or rider suffers a fall, they are disqualified from the ride and must return to base to be checked out. Riders may dismount at any obstacle they are not comfortable with traversing. They receive a zero score, which affects their total points, but they are not disqualified.

The chief goal for ACTHA is to provide trail activities for fun on horseback, with friendly competition and family participation.  ACTHA has several divisions, depending on the rider’s goals. The Open division has the highest challenge, for example a higher level maneuver like a sidepass might be required. Pleasure division uses the same obstacles but with less challenge, for example, the gait might be slower. Junior division is the same as Pleasure, but for riders aged 7-15. The Scout division is the same as Pleasure, but the rider doesn’t have to be a member. Buddy division is for those who just want to ride for fun and not be judged at obstacles.

Each ride is different – the terrain and obstacles vary from easy to challenging depending on the ride host and the venue. However, at all rides the judges are looking for a balanced ride in the saddle, heels down, stirrups on the ball of the foot, good hands that don’t interfere with the horse. Overall, the judges always think of safety and common sense as it pertains to trail riding.

Some things are particularly important for trail horses. For example, a horse that stumbles is not trail safe, so stumbling is a serious fault that takes away from the score. Neck reining is very useful for a trail horse, so it might add a “plus” to a score. A rider looking behind the horse on a backup is important for safety reasons on a trail – not looking behind would deduct points. Rewarding good horsemanship and learning more about horsemanship are the results of the judges’ scorecards. Ribbons, prizes and other awards are the icing on the cake!

The winners for both September 15 and 16 CTC were: Open division, Danielle Cain riding Beauty; Junior division, Alana Tapp riding Mouse; Scout division, Virginia Wightman riding Wild Star. Pleasure division on September 15 was won by Babs Steele riding Sir Galahad’s Rebel; Pleasure division, Sept 16 was won by Joanne Sonia riding Desperado’s Rainbow

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