An Event Introduction by Merridy Hance:
Welcome to a driving event you may not have heard of: “T.R.E.C.” which stands for Techniques de Randonnee Equestre de Competition, which roughly translates to “games of equestrian hiking.”
T.R.E.C. adventures started in the 1970’s in France, where equine tourism flourishes. Sure enough, the equine guides felt the urge to compare their horseback and wilderness prowess in a competition of skills. Their games of skill were so much fun that it was not long before the equine tourists themselves wanted into the games, and T.R.E.C. was born. It began as a ridding activity, and its evolution has taken it from wilderness meadows to international competitions. Now a recognized international sport, T.R.E.C.’s governing body is the Federation Internationale de Tourisme Equestre (FITE).
For us, it is now being enthusiastically adapted for carriage driving with aficionados from Europe to North America. Here in the U.S., we’ve taken our lead from the British Driving Society via our friends in Canada, and guidelines have been included in American Driving Society recreational events.
What it is: An organized T.R.E.C. tests horse-and-driver combinations over a range of challenges, rather than focusing on one style or discipline. The games are geared for safe and proper driving practices among a variety of drivers including all kinds of horses, ponies and carriages. Versatility is emphasized, second only to welfare of the horse and respecting and enjoying the countryside. T.R.E.C.kers engage in route finding, in literal and figurative terms from modest ambitions to the highly competitive strategists. In keeping with the origins of T.R.E.C.king, camaraderie is fostered as central to the sport.
Here in the Northwest, our T.R.E.C.s have been intended as a fun off-season outing for drivers and their horses, a chance to refresh their partnerships in games of skill. While being extremely beginner friendly, they have also been a more serious test of horse and driver skills in preparation for the competition season. TRECs consist of these elements:
One: The map room.
Parts of T.R.E.C. are akin to orienteering, and may be organized in lesser or greater complexity. The cross-country course will have wayfinding clues (some as simple as direction signs) that are to be passed in order, much like a car rally. A master map will be posted with wayfinding clues noted, and drivers are provided with materials to make maps to carry and follow on their drives.
Two: Safety check and turnout.
Plan for a cross-country adventure. What would a person take? Slow-moving vehicle sign? Raingear? Compass? Halter and lead? Cell phone? Tent? Wine and truffles, or sunscreen and bug repellent? Drivers should plan for safety, welfare, and comfort for themselves and for their horses. A safety judge will check: Well-adjusted harness, check. Proper carriage, check. Well-prepared driver and navigator, check. Helmet, medical armband, complete spares kit, slow-moving vehicle sign, dune-buggy flag, reflective clothing, protection for horses’ legs, first aid kit, compass, cell phone (for emergency only; no GPSs allowed) check, check and check.
Three: The adventure intensifies as well-outfitted drivers set out on the cross-country drive and control of paces, driven without seeing the course in advance. This takes place over prescribed courses of about 3 to 5 kilometers over whatever kinds of terrain you have available — fields and trails or villages and quiet roads. Drivers are expected to cover their distances at a predetermined speed and come in as close to time as possible. Times are set for working trot, though any pace could be used, except in the mandatory walk section and the final trot-only to the finish.
Here’s the twist: No kilometer markers. No GPSs. No speedometers or distance counters. Watches and compasses, sextants, star steerage and dead reckoning all okay. The best way to succeed in this section is to know one’s horse and control his paces. All sizes of equines may be included, of course. Though each has his/her prescribed rate of speed, there need be no divisions for size, and order of go need not be based on speed. Altogether integrated and safe, controlled passing on course is anticipated.
Four: High adventure (aka FUN!) reaches a pinnacle in a skills parcours. This can be held in an arena, a field, or a course of about a kilometer. Usually, the skills stations may be visited on foot in advance. Each driver is then challenged to negotiate the prepared skills tests such as: could driver and horse drive an accurate circle? Rein back straight? Cross a bridge? Serpentine? Put wheels through a narrow gap? Though abilities can vary greatly in this section, points may be given for sportsmanship as much as for smooth execution. If a turnout is unable to perform a skill, just pass it by. The only way to be “eliminated” from a TREC is to be obviously unsafe or nasty.
Sometimes the signature of an event is the heart-pounding hoof beats of world-class horses as they thunder their prowess. A TREC’s hallmark is the ringing chimes of laughter across the fields and meadows in sunshine and in rain. Horses and ponies are happy and relaxed. Smiles and sportsmanship can be the greatest of equipment and our demonstrated skills.