Sherri Cale and Pete are an award-winning couple.
The Gardner woman and her horse took first place in Kansas and sixth place nationally in the 2013 American Competitive Trail Horse’s pleasure division.
When the duo began competing two years ago, people told Cale that it didn’t look like Pete was going to be a successful competitive trail riding horse.
“I had this horse, and people said this isn’t going to work out for you,” Cale said. “So in three years, I’ve put a lot of miles on him.”
The competition involves six to eight miles of trail and periodical obstacles like crossing a bridge or stream that the horse and rider must overcome.
“It can be something you have to jump. It could be something you have to back through. It can be something you have to drag,” Cale explained. “We’ve had to remove things from trees as if you were on the trail. We’ve had to jump over logs. Open gates. Close gates. All of those kinds of things.”
At each obstacle, a judge awards the rider up to 10 points and the horse up to 10 points. The judges consider things like agility and bravery when tallying the score.
The obstacles are things that a horse and rider may see on a leisure ride.
“A lot of the things are things that people think are pretty common sense, but to a horse, it’s not something they would willingly do,” Cale said. “You just have to teach your horse that it’s OK to do it.”
Cale said at some obstacles Pete will give her a look.
“You’ll get things that my horse will look at me like there is no way I’m going to do that.” she said. “You have to figure out how you’re going to do it and how you’re going to get your horse to do that. Sometimes it doesn’t work. I have to convince Pete.”
The key to competitive trail riding is patience. When she started competing in 2011, it was in short supply.
“That first year was awful. Every time I went out there, we were frustrated,” Cale said. “By the end of the first season, Pete and I started to figure it out. We just had to have time and patience. Now we’re just a team.”
The competitive rides, and sometimes the road trip to the events, require regular conditioning. Cale works with Pete three or four times each week, typically at trails in Hillsdale. She’s also taken a few competitive riding clinics and last year, took a few lessons with a trainer.
“Other than that, it’s really just me and him,” Cale said.
The ACTHA season runs for a full year from May 31 to May 31. Her first few seasons, Cale competed in the Pleasure Division. The division features primarily novice competitive riders. Once a rider and horse have accumulated enough points or wins in one season, they move to the Open Division.
With the wins during the last season, Cale and Pete are now competing in the Open Division. The division is for seasoned riders and features more challenging obstacles.
In her first two events in the upper division, Cale earned first and second place finishes last weekend in Eagle Ranch in Collins, Mo. On Saturday, Cale earned a first place and earned a second place for a competitive ride on Sunday.
“We had compliments this weekend that Pete and I really connect now,” Cale said. “People can tell horse and rider are connected.”