Finding sport in recreational trails

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It may not have been the most ideal refuge for the sizzling summer day, but it worked.

Competitive trail rider Betty Wolgram's RV/horse trailer was perhaps the coolest spot within a 10-mile radius.

Complete with kitchen and bed, the mini home was almost too comfortable.

The home on wheels, with all the amenities, appeared to be fit for a traveling queen. Or, just two very dedicated riders.

Without such a well-stocked vehicle, Betty and her husband Ken might not be able to travel to Missouri or Iowa, or any of the 17 trips they make a year to compete against other riders in some of the toughest trails in America.

Trail riding is a sport similar to mountain biking, except there are no pedals, and your vehicle eats oats.

Competitors must maneuver their horse through a course that can contain some tough terrain and difficult conditions. The Rockies present steep mountains and high elevations. Kansas only has hills, but contains clinging heat and humidity. In Utah and New Mexico, horses have to move through sand.

All of these different terrains wear on a horse, and riders are graded on how well their horses stand up to the challenges. During the trail, which averages 50-60 miles over two days, competitors are judged on how well their horse can stand up to the demands of the course. Veterinarians check the horses at various points along the trail. If something is wrong, dehydration for example, points are subtracted from the horse rider's total score. Points are also subtracted on horsemanship criteria. The rider with the least subtractions from 100 at the end of the competition, is the winner.

"They say, 'Stand in the horse, sit for dinner,'" said Wolgram, who stays off her horse's back throughout the trail. "You do whatever you can to make things easier for the horse."

For the past five years, Wolgram has stuck with this philosophy, and her horse, Quickly, has thanked her for it. The well-conditioned and appreciative horse doesn't give up too many points.

On June 24-25, at the Great Western Competitive Trail Ride in Huntsville, Utah, Wolgram recorded a perfect score and rode to a first-place finish. The victory was the culmination of a five-weekend trail riding flurry beginning Memorial day.

That win and the another achieved a week earlier in Kansas, gave the rider enough points to earn the National Championship for the 2000 season. The National Championship is an honor given to riders who have either two first place finishes or one first and two seconds in addition to having accumulated 75 points.

The award is usually given to 30 riders in the country every year.

"I am just beside myself," said Wolgram. "I was really working hard for a first place early in the season because Quickly missed her championship last year by one out-of-state/out-of-region first place, and I didn't want that happen this year. Winning two weeks in a row, that's a real 'cherry on top.'"

With two-thirds of the season remaining, Wolgram's goal now is to take care of her horse as best she can and see how high they can place nationally.

"Competitive distance is a real challenge for horse and rider to be in good condition but to avoid fatigue or injury," said Wolgram. "We will be competing in17 or 18 rides this season, and I would like to see us finish the season in top shape."

The 51-year-old English teacher began taking to the trails five years ago, after first learning how to ride a horse 10 years ago.

Wolgram's love for horses was instant. She would ride around in the woods and throughout her 250-acre property.

Then, Wolgram decided to take lessons, and when she was introduced to the sport at a clinic in Grand Junction, she raised her passion for riding to another level.

"I take the attitude, if I win great, if not, I still had a lot of fun," said Wolgram. "In any sport, if you're not enjoying yourself, why are you doing it? This sport, no matter the outcome of the competition, is very enjoyable."

Wolgram has found success with her horse, because of good off-season conditioning, she said.

Like football athletes who train during the off-season, Wolgram and her husband work to prepare their horses four months before competition starts. By riding two times a week in the months leading up to the season, the horse becomes conditioned for the rigors of some of the 60-mile challenges.

But mostly, success has to do with Quickly's loyality, she said.

"She doesn't have any desire to win," said Wolgram. "But she has a loyalty, she minds me all along the trail. Instead of leaps over logs or creeks, she gently passes through them."

Beyond her riding accolades, Wolgram is an ambassador for her sport. She holds clinics and constantly encourages others to try it.

"There are people who have good horses, who are good riders, but don't come out," said Wolgram. "I would like to encourage anyone who likes trailriding and camping with their horse to try competitive trail. The region we compete in offers at least a dozen beautiful rides a year in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, as well as the opportunity to make new friends and improve one's skills."

Exiting the trailer, the scorching heat is evident again.

Quickly and the other horses are nowhere to be found. They are grazing on the vast land, probably in the shade somewhere.

Maybe they should have retreated to the trailer.

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