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A charming European import promises to take American drivers boldly where none have gone before.             by: Merridy Hance

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These are the voyages of a new equestrian enterprise, its continuing mission to seek out fun, new driving endeavors…

This we engage Le T.R.E.C. Techniques de Randonnee Equestre de Competition. Our universal translator would say we have uncovered the "games of equestrian hiking."

TREC adventures started in the 1970s 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 TREC was born. It began as a ridden activity, and its evolution there has taken it from wilderness meadows to international competitions.


The TREC-ers prepare to take off for their course tour on the
Happ's hay wagon.

Now a recognized international sport, TREC'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.

What it is: An organized TREC 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. TRECkers engage in route finding in literal and figurative terms from modest ambitions to the highly competitive strategists. In keeping with the origins of TRECking, camaraderie is fostered as central to the sport.


Marsoe LaRose demonstrates the TREC skill tests for competitors, driving navigator Wanda Lusk's minis Willy & K.C.

Our fledgling event, held April 25 at Happ's in Ethel, Washington, marks the first-ever driven TREC in the U.S. With generous guidance from our friends in Canada, Simon Rosenman, Marsoe LaRose, and Margaret Evans, our event was a whopping success. Our TREC was 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, it was also a more serious test of horse and driver skills in preparation for the competition season. It consisted of these elements:

One: Safety check and turnout. We planned 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? Drivers planned for safety, welfare, and comfort. Points could be lost for unsafe conditions, and "extra credit" could be earned for that clever something extra.

Our drivers' preparedness, cleverness, and creativity were utterly overwhelming. Not that we condone bribes, mind you (ahem), but drivers were uncannily clever at presenting something that just might impress the safety judges and earn them a few points for style. Oh, my goodness, one should not underestimate the preparedness of our drivers!

Well-adjusted harness, check. Proper carriage check. Well-prepared driver and navigator, check. Helmet, medical armband, complete spares, slow-moving vehicle sign, dune-buggy flag, reflective clothing, protection for horses' legs, first aid kit, compass, cell phone (but no GPSs allowed) check, check and check. And then… How about a life ring in case the water gets too high? Cookies or fresh strawberries in case the drivers get peckish (or the judges do…) wine and truffles… fresh Yakima asparagus… hibiscus tea… kumquats… cooling fans and pocket warmers… a nice blanket for a picnic "interlude" in the grassy outback… um… massage oils? Aerosol whipped cream? Oh, the delightful whimsy of these drivers! Did the wildlife blush on course as these well-appointed turnouts passed?

Two: The adventure intensified as our well-outfitted drivers set out on this cross-country drive and control of paces. This took place over prescribed courses of about 3 to 5 kilometers of fields and ranch roads. Drivers were expected to cover their distances at a predetermined speed and come in as close to time as possible. Times were 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.


Will Bron, president of the Northwest Friesian Horse Club and board member of the Friesian Horse Association of North America, is accompanied by his wife Theresa in their cross country idyll.

The best way to succeed in this section was to know one's horse and control his paces. All sizes of equines were included, of course. Though each had his/her prescribed rate of speed, there were no divisions for size, and order of go was not based on speed. We were altogether integrated, and passing on course was anticipated. Indeed, passing did occur, and safely and comfortably at that.

Three: High adventure (aka FUN!) reached a pinnacle in a skills parcours of about a kilometer. In our course "walk," we all piled onto the Happ's tractor-pulled hay wagon for the grand tour. Marsoe LaRose, driving Wanda Lusk's pair of minis, demonstrated each skill for the load of onlookers. Each driver was then challenged to negotiate the ten skills we had prepared: could driver and horse drive an accurate circle? Rein back straight? Cross a bridge? Serpentine? Put wheels through a narrow gap?

Though abilities varied greatly in this section, we gave points for sportsman- ship and smooth execution, elements our drivers displayed in abundance. It was allowed that if one declined to do a skill, no points would be granted but there would be no elimination. With no dreaded "E" hanging above anyone's head, everyone seemed to relax and engage their high spirits. That possibility seemed to emboldened our drivers, as everybody attempted every skill.


Peter & Mickey Lofgren,
with Peter's pair of World Championship qualifying ponies,
find fun and adventure TREC-ing in the pre-competition season

Sometimes the signature of an event is the heart-pounding hoof beats of world-class horses as they thunder their prowess. Our TREC's hallmark was the ringing chimes of laughter across the fields and meadows in sunshine and in rain. Smiles were the greatest of our equipment and our demonstrated skills.

Our mission was accomplished: to boldly drive TREC as no one in the U.S. had done before. More TRECs are planned in Canada, and Happ's plans to make driven TREC an annual event in the U.S.

We think driven TRECs will live long and prosper.

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published in The Whip August 2009
Photography by Rene Wade & Joan Moorhead

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