Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Big brains. Big hearts.

This week my radio show features an interview with Carrie Scrima, founder of the American Competitive Trail Horse Association, the phenomenon that is breathing new life into trail riding. Armed with a clever organizational model and a noble mission - raising money for horses in need – ACTHA’s intent is clear: to make trail riding into a real sport accessible to all riders and all horses. And oh yeah, to have fun, lots of fun, doing it.

First, full disclosure: ACTHA is a sponsor of my TV and radio shows. However, during the past dozen years, dozens of companies have advertised on my shows. I don’t get excited about all of them.

I’m excited about ACTHA for several reasons, but let’s talk first about horsemanship. ACTHA gives a horse and rider team a job to do. In fact, six different jobs.

ACTHA has developed a series of 30-plus natural trail obstacles that challenge horse and rider to be their best. A typical ACTHA ride, which is called a Competitive Trail Challenge, features six of these obstacles, each with its own judge, spread out over a six-mile course. Obstacles might include crossing a stream or ditch, backing up a hill or around a tree, precise turning on the forehand or haunches, sidepassing down a pole, trotting over a series of logs or cantering over a small jump. There are gates and mailboxes to open and logs to drag. Mounting and dismounting are even treated as obstacles and are judged accordingly. Form and accuracy count.

A CTC is not your granddaddy’s trail ride, that’s for sure, but it’s not as tough as it might sound, either. Carrie calls it “casual” competition and folks can make as much or as little of the competition aspect as they want. It’s a great opportunity to show off your horse and to tune him up at the same time, while sharing some laughs with friends and family.

As horse industry companies begin to align themselves with ACTHA, more and more sponsor goodies are showing up at CTCs. The goal, which is in sight already, is for every rider to receive enough sponsor swag to more than cover the cost of entry. Riders in the open division can also win cold, hard cash at individual rides and their share of a $25,000 year-end pot.

I could go on and on about this, about how affiliation with ACTHA is a fundraising opportunity for local CTC organizers, about how family-friendly the rides are, about how gaited horses excel as do non-gaited horses, about how you are just as likely to see English riding tack and attire as you are to see cowboy hats and lariat ropes, about how ACTHA is a trail horse registry that certifies horses and tracks performance points, and on and on.

But I really want to get to the icing on the cake. Come year-end, ACTHA donates up to 50% of its profits to help horses in need. The beneficiaries of their largesse (horse rescues and other charities) must be legitimate non-profits in business for three years or more.

It seems the folks at ACTHA have big hearts as well as big brains. My kind of people. Check them out at ACTHA.us.

R