I was asked this past winter if I would consider covering the 2012 Trail Challenge at Everything Equine and I immediately said yes! Little did I know that I would have the opportunity to meet so many great people and watch a really challenging event. The event is held inside the exhibition hall at the Champlain Valley Fair and this in itself made my work more interesting. Limited available daylight from one end and primary lighting from flourescent lights above made getting the correct white balance and keeping a high enough shutter speed real issues. Thanks to Nikon and Adobe Lightroom I was able to deal with it pretty well. I found that my cameras are able to deal with ISO's of over 2000 without a problem. For those of you who use D-SLR's I can testify that in challenging lighting like this, shooting in RAW is the way to go. The images from the shoot are here.
As I started the day, I wanted to capture the emotions of the competitors and the first few images show the seriousness of their faces. You could tell they were anxious about the course and during the pre-event meeting, they were no different than NFL players on Sunday afternoon. All business. (With over $2700 in prize money and a top prize of $1500 at stake, who could blame them!) The competitors did a walk through with their horses and found some interesting obstacles that simulated real-life problems they would have to deal with when trail riding. From the simulated forest fire where the horses would be blind folded, to the 14 inch balance beam, to the dreaded 'rhoaguephotography' pedestal, they would have their hands full.
One by one, the competitors went through the course, the object being to complete the course the fastest (each obstacle in under 30 seconds), while scoring points with the judges for doing so using proper technique. The balance beam and the pedestal turned out to be the toughest portions as you can image. Asking a 1200 pound animal to walk over a beam or stand with all four feet on a pedestal and getting them to do it still amazes me. I thought the organizers of the event, Northwest Riding and Driving Club's Extreme Cowboy Race Committee, were very creative in the design of the obstacles with the simulated fire (fans with red/yellow paper streamers blowing upwards) being my personal favorite.
You could tell as the event went on that the competitors started to get a little more comfortable after seeing some of their peers go though it. Smiles started to appear on those serious faces and by the end, you could tell that win or lose, everyone had a great time!
Congratulations to Michelle Hoyt and her horse Cayenne in taking the top prize and winning the event! She and Cayenne made the course look easy although you could tell how much time she has put into training for these events. Time well spent I'm sure!
So thanks to the Extreme Cowboy Race Committee for having me and I hope to be there next year. I'd encourage everyone who reads this to attend also.