Sunday, May 18, 2014

A weekend with AERC’s cousins: NATRC and Ride and Tie - Funder - Full Story

5 May 2014

So instead of spending my weekend doing AERC endurance prep stuff with my AERC endurance horse, I went for a drastic change of pace and did NATRC and RnT stuff with other peoples’ endurance horses. Fascinating, right? Read on!

Friday afternoon, I hauled M’s Fetti to a NATRC ride at Mt. Diablo. She’ll post about it soon, I hope! She says she took lots of pictures, and it’s beautiful country over there. Anyway, my part of her adventure was to show up on Friday outside of Santa Cruz with the trailer, haul Fetti up to Mt. Diablo, leave the trailer, and come back for them Saturday afternoon. Easy, right?

Yep, easy. Except for traffic. The 85 mile trip from Felton to Clayton took us three and a half hours, when we’d naively assumed we could do it in two. Instead of showing up at a comfortable 5:30, we got the trailer dropped at seven pm, during dinner/meeting. Eeek! I was super hungry and sick of driving, so I just made sure Fetti had food and water and bailed on M. Sorry about that. Well, a tiny bit sorry about that. ;)

Saturday morning I did some errands, then came home and cleverly napped all afternoon. We were originally supposed to go to a party Saturday night (my thinking: “LDs take six hours, therefore I’ll pick up the trailer in the afternoon and traffic won’t be so bad and I’ll get Fetti home and drop the trailer and head over to the party kinda late”) but Graham was sick and apparently NATRC really wants you to stay for awards, so the party got back-burnered. (Sorry K!)

At six I headed back over to Clayton. I knew M had finished happily, and I wanted to see the awards and cheer her on. I wasn’t sure what they were offering or how much tickets cost, so I ate ahead of time and showed up at seven, after dinner and just before awards began.

I knew a few people — well, to be honest, a few people recognized me, but you may remember I’m face-blind so it’s really, really hard for me to recognize casual acquaintances “out of context.” Anyway, the point is, there was some crossover between AERC people and NATRC people.

So here’s how AERC awards usually go: Filthy, tired people trickle in and eat a vast amount of food. Ride management gets up and talks a little bit about the day: unforeseen obstacles, accidents, weather, how good/bad all the horses generally looked. They call out all the finishers, last to first, usually LDs then 50s (if there’s a hundred, most of them are still on the trail, and they’ll have their own awards the next morning). Everybody gets cheered as they go collect their finish award. Top Ten gets extra loot. If there are bonus awards (mid-pack, oldest team, turtle, whatever) they get extra loot too. One of the vets gets up and talks about how wonderful the top-ten looked and how it was so hard to determine Best Condition, then announces BC, which gets extra cheers and even more loot. The meeting breaks up into people going home and people staying overnight (who continue drinking and giggling).

NATRC awards were different. First, the people look clean and well-rested (they’d only ridden 27 miles, and they’d finished hours earlier and cleaned up). Then they raffled. I don’t mean they raffled, like, three halters, those people raffle like woah. It took over an hour to raffle everything off. Next, the one of the judges got up and talked about the trail. Then they called awards for a bunch of categories — NATRC does three weight divisions (heavyweight, lightweight, junior) and three classes (open, novice, and competitive pleasure, and I do not pretend to understand the differences, and there’s also “distance only” which isn’t eligible for awards). They placed out to 6th for some of the weight/classes and to 3rd, I think, for the rest of them. First place got lovely handmade plaques; the other placings got certificates. And to top it off, they ran through each class twice: once for horsemanship, once for horse. (So a superior horse with a less talented rider could win its horse class, or a great rider on a horse that didn’t look as good could win her horsemanship class.)

The way it played out in real life was that out of 40 teams, about ten teams got called over and over again, and a couple of teams got called once, and everybody else didn’t get their names called at all. I knew, intellectually, how NATRC does awards, so I wasn’t surprised … but as we trooped out (at nine pm, egads) I was surprised to realize how sad I was for M.

Coming from a non-show background to AERC endurance on a never-gonna-win horse, I really embraced AERC’s “to finish is to win” motto as a personal standard. I didn’t realize that because AERC really thinks we’re all winners for finishing, AERC puts a priority on acknowledging us all for our personal “wins” vs. the trail. That’s why ride meetings call out all the finishers. That’s why everybody who finishes gets something for finishing.

The something isn’t always very impressive — I’ve gotten everything from a ride photo (so lame!) to logo drinkware (woooo yeah!). But I have a physical memento of almost every AERC ride I’ve ever done. I have proof that we did the thing. M bought an average number of raffle tickets, but didn’t win anything. Her sweet mare followed all the rules and got her through the whole day, but M has nothing tangible from completing the ride. I’m a little sad for her, y’all. Yeah, she’s got her pictures and memories, and there was a ride photographer, but ride awards really do matter. I can point at every single completion award I’ve ever gotten, and I’m so proud of all of them.

So that, oddly, was my big takeaway about the difference between AERC and NATRC. NATRC doesn’t give completion awards and it sounds totally petty, but even a tiny leather keychain means a lot to the rider. It brings back good memories every time I look at my High Desert brush or my Twenty Mule Team wine glass...

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