Mountain Trail Championships: 'A little less Toddlers and Tiaras'

Mountain Trail Championships: 'A little less Toddlers and Tiaras'

EUGENE, Ore. - Horses and riders from all over the western half of the United States gathered Thursday for the National Mountain Trail Championships held at The Oregon Horse Center in Eugene.

Announcer Nikki Swanson said it's not your typical horse show.

"A little less 'Toddlers and Tiaras,' and a little bit more 'American Idol,' " said Swanson in between announcing classes.

"Here any sort of horse with any sort of confirmation can come," she added.  "It's not judged on that. It's judged on performance: how well did the horse and rider go through the obstacles together?"

The normally flat arena of the horse center has been transformed for the competition.

"It's very uncommon to see all of these trail obstacles - rocks and waterfalls and logs - to walk over and things like that," said Swanson.

Horses are not judged according to breed standards, conformation or aesthetic beauty. Instead, judges look at a horse's intelligence, ease of movement over various obstacles and confidence.

"If they do it perfectly," said Swanson, "if the horse is very calm and relaxed and it's just a perfect picture between horse and rider, and they just maneuver the obstacles very beautifully in an elegant way-not hitting it, not knocking things over, just carefully traversing through it-the horse looking down and interested, then the horse would score a perfect 10."

A horse that cannot complete a designated obstacle would receive a score of zero.

One of the show's champions, Huckleberry Blue, is a miniature horse. Standing only three feet tall, Huckleberry competes against donkeys, mules and regular sized equines alike. Size, breed and training are not considered in the open classes of competition.

"He hasn't been to a trainer, and we've won it more than once," said Huckleberry's owner Tressa Harris.

Harris said the National Mountain Trail Championships level the playing field for horse competitors.

"You can bring your $500 horse out and compete against some of the more expensive horses, which are in the $30,000 to $50,000 range," said Swanson as she led Huckleberry around with her daughter 2-year-old Scarlet Rose Harris riding bareback.  

"You don't have to have a lot of money to do this," said Swanson, still at the announcer's booth. "In some of the shows, if you're going to have a competitive horse, you've got to put out a good amount of cash and hire an amazing trainer and do all of that. But this is a sport anyone can do."

The National Mountain Trail Competition goes until Saturday, November 10. The event starts at 9 a.m., and admission is free.

The Oregon Horse Center will keep the mountain trail course open for public use from November 12 through December 7. The first hour costs $25. Each additional hour is $15. If you would like to attend, The Oregon Horse Center requested interested parties make appointments: (541) 689-9700.