Stephanie and Uloa at the conclusion of the 1997 TREC World Championships.

Many moons ago I had the opportunity to represent the United States in the first world championships for TREC, a delightful sport aptly referred to as “the adventure sport for trail riding enthusiasts.” My teammates and I trained on borrowed French horses for several weeks before competing them in the event, which was held near a small town in the Rhône Alps. 

The sport includes three phases—orienteering, control of paces, and a cross-country obstacle course—but it’s probably known best for the orienteering. This involves navigating a route with a map, a compass, and a series of surprise checkpoints. At each of these a judge checks your direction and time and sends you off at an appointed pace, and sometimes a veterinarian checks your horse.

For orienteering you’re required to carry a variety of items in your saddlebags and on your person. I remember it was a very extensive list—everything but the kitchen sink ... no, wait, pack that, too! As an eventer and a then-fair-weather trail rider, carrying so much gear seemed very foreign to me.

During training I had predicted my biggest challenge would be the map-reading. After all, a teammate and I had become quite lost, nearly spending the night in a remote town. Thankfully, a phone book search (no iPhones in 1997) and a complicated series of charades had resulted in our exasperated hosts collecting us and our horses a few hours later.

But when it came time to compete, the most trying part was neither the navigation nor the language barrier, but, rather, a hoof emergency.

My lovely little borrowed Arabian mare, Uloa, and I were clipping along at a nice trot many hours into the ride when a sudden clank of metal alerted me to a problem.

Uloa took two very unbalanced steps before I stopped her, dismounted, and saw that a front shoe was turned completely sideways on her foot. Nails were sticking this way and that, but the shoe was not bent.

I dug through my gear, which didn’t include a hoof boot. I had horseshoe nails—a requirement—but I’d never removed a shoe, much less applied one. Mustering whatever innate MacGyver tendencies I possessed, I used my fence tool pliers to pry nails from the remarkably undamaged hoof.

Then I did what any determined girl stranded far from home would: I used the tool again to copy what I’d seen done a thousand times: nail the shoe back on (wincing through the process). Then I clinched the nails best I could figure and covered the rough edges with duct tape.

This is a bit of a cautionary tale about preparation—I was ready for some things but not all, and next time I’ll leave the shoeing to the experts. But that day Uloa and I were fortunate, reaching the finish line both sound (her) and smiling (me).

In the end, the French team farrier examined my reset shoe. He looked at her foot and at me with surprise and declared it “très bien.”

When was a time that you were glad you had packed the “kitchen sink,” whether on the road or on the trail?

This column first appeared in the May 2015 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. I recently found out that I will be dusting off my TREC skills and competing in Spain in September for the 2016 World Championships. Stay tuned as I learn about the horse I will be riding and the horse health considerations I must make along the way.