Each summer riders from all over the country enjoy exploring the beautiful British countryside with their horses by taking part in the sport of British TREC. I have been competing in TREC competitions since 2001 and have had enormous fun doing so!
The first TREC competition I went to was the British Championships in 2000, where I went as a spectator to support my mother and sister who were doing the Level 2 Pairs together. They won the title at the end of the weekend and I had a fantastic time – from then on I was hooked!
I got my first chance to compete the following year when my Mum ran a competition for Rugby Riding Club. She offered me her pony Floss and I had a lovely time riding and ended up coming 4th. My second competition was a level 2 the year after that, where I competed on a large borrowed horse as part of a pair with my friend Fiona. We caused some excitement at that event by riding our horses over some very rickety wooden sheep bridges, on one of which Fiona’s pony put her foot through a plank, before noticing the wide, shallow, inviting ford right next to the bridge… I hope my observational skills have improved since then!
Fiona and I then did a level 3 POR competition and we managed to win. I particularly enjoy the POR phase and the two-fold challenge it poses - first in copying your route correctly onto a printed Ordnance Survey map and then riding it accurately. It can be frustrating when you lose points for getting your route wrong, sometimes making as small an error as riding the wrong side of a hedge line, but it's always an incentive to concentrate better the next time. I do find pairs classes are sometimes harder in that regard - it's too tempting to chat to your partner and that can make you lose your focus. I love the different tasks, like bearings and grid references, that you get at Level 3 and the variety they bring definitely contributes to the mental stimulation that TREC provides.
After a winter off, my fourth competition was my biggest test yet. Some friends and I, including my younger sister Anna, decided to go to France, the home of TREC, and compete there. I was in the Royal Navy by this stage and had been training or at sea for most of the winter so my fitness levels were not quite what I might have wished and I had only managed one ride in the previous 6 weeks! We had great horses to hire who were experienced TREC mounts; in fact Anna’s horse was a former World Champion.
I had a good time on the orienteering phase; my hired mare was lovely to ride. She was pretty keen to keep going which was very lucky as my leg muscles started to seize up after about 90 minutes of the 6 hour exploration of the French countryside. The maps are very different to our OS ones and it took me about 4 hours to clue in that the shaded green areas with the symbols resembling lightning-strikes were not woods but vineyards - as all the vines are only about 3' tall they feel quite different to ride through. Anna was interested to find that out when we were discussing the route back at the venue after the POR, so quite how she had done as well as she had despite lacking that piece of knowledge I don't know...
The second day was fun too. Anna’s former World Champion horse was well known by all the spectators. He was so highly trained that he did many of the obstacles without any input from Anna at all and may have been the inspiration for Anna to later train her own horse to the high level that she has. (Anna went on to compete for Britain in international championships on four occasions between 2006 and 2012 and is widely recognised as one of the most accomplished TREC riders in this country.)
Though I came last (apart from the riders who had not completed all the phases) we Brits had acquitted ourselves well overall with several of us in the top half of the scores. I have not had the chance to compete abroad again since then, but I do hope to do so in the future.
Over the next few years I only had the chance to participate in TREC somewhat sporadically due to my sea going commitments, until I decided to get a horse of my own again. I bought a Thoroughbred mare called Barley who was 12 and had experienced a good variety of different disciplines but had never done TREC before. She wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this new sport initially but worked out the deal after about 2 seasons and from then on there was no stopping us.
I was a regular Level 3 competitor by this time and had won the Scottish Championships at that level in 2005, riding one of my Mum’s ponies, Jack. Barley was a sensitive mare and could be quite sharp but she clearly enjoyed getting out and about exploring with me so, as she gained in confidence, she improved more and more. I competed as an individual for the majority of the 2006 season and was really enjoying doing so.
The English Championships that year were held in Wiltshire and Mum, Anna and I were all competing. All was going fine until I met a Level 4 rider leading another horse, which it turned out she had just caught because it had deposited its rider, knocking her out in the process. I stopped to help which ended up with Anna riding this unfamiliar horse to the nearest checkpoint while I led Anna’s horse.
Amazingly after all that drama I finished the day in the lead by a good margin and after a second day that was as good as Barley ever managed (the POR was then, and remains now, my biggest strength) we won the Level 3 and I was crowned English Champion.
A few weeks later a friend of mine, Sarah Thurnell, suggested that we ride together in an upcoming competition in the New Forest that, unusually, had a Level 4 pairs class, so we were keen to have a go.
The rivalry was increased by the fact that Mum and Anna were also riding together at Level 4 and that Sarah and her other pairs partner had been very successful at Level 2 back in 2000 and 2001 and were completely unbeaten except by Mum and Anna. The competition was great fun and the ‘grudge match’ was won by Sarah and me in the end. We decided as a result to ride together in the Level 3 pairs class at the competition the next weekend, which just happened to be the Championships of Great Britain.
This was being held in Cumbria so we, and the horses, drove the entire length of the country in 5 days - TREC horses clock up the miles on the road as well as while competing.
Sarah and I were just hitting our stride and our POR skills, plus a bit of luck and an unfortunate mistake or two on the second day by our nearest rivals, saw us win again. Three wins in two months and I was feeling that Barley and I were a fairly formidable partnership.
The following season saw Sarah and me continuing to team up, though Barley had a bout of lameness and didn’t go to very many competitions. We headed off to the first Championships of the year, the Welsh, with two Welsh ponies to ride and the pressure very much on – there hadn’t been a Scottish Championships the year before so I held 3 of the 4 titles. Could we complete the set?
Incredibly, even for me looking back now as it seems just too Hollywood, we did win! I had done the unthinkable and was now Scottish, English, Welsh and British Champion – all at the same time! As far as I know no one else had ever done that before, though it has been done since. Those 3 years had been a real purple patch and I am incredibly proud of my horses that had enabled it to happen. I had won 2 titles with my Barley and 2 with my Mum’s Welsh cob Jack, who are about as different in build, temperament and way of going as two horses can be. That demonstrates beautifully that TREC is a discipline in which any type and size of horse and rider can excel.
Barley was by now starting to struggle with the physical demands of doing Level 3 and I retired her from that level a couple of years later. Life seemed to conspire for a while to stop me doing so much TREC, with boring things like work getting in the way. I then didn’t ride much as the demands of becoming a mother prevented me from doing so, and as I was bringing on a young horse I concentrated on lower level competitions.
Willow, my youngster, is now 7 so has been doing her second season of Level 3 this year. Mum and I have already qualified as a pair for the Championships of Great Britain, which is being held near Edinburgh in August, so we are looking forward to that. In the meantime my campaign for the summer has been going well with competitions in Derbyshire, Cambridgeshire and North Wales as well as running an event on Cannock Chase just north of Birmingham.