The Three Phases of a TREC competition
The POR - map reading phase
The POR – Parcours d’Orientation et de Régularité – is the orienteering phase of the competition. The rider has a defined amount of time in the map room to draw up the route on his own map. This is when he discovers the route for the first time. He then has to follow that route as accurately as possible and respect the given speed on horseback. Checkpoints are placed along the route but their whereabouts are unknown to the competitors. These are to check if the riders are following the route correctly and respecting the given speeds. Every competitor leaves the map room with 240 points. They will lose points if they arrive wrong at a checkpoint, or miss it. They will also lose points for being too fast or too slow on the given speed and if they don’t follow instructions. This means a competitor can end up in negative points. The length of the POR is determined by the level; the more difficult the level, the longer and more technical the course will be. Of course, all electronic devices or external help is forbidden.
The MA - control of the paces phase
The MA - Maîtrise des Allures – is the control of the paces phase and is treacherous in its simplicity. Horse and rider have to canter very slowly down a 150m corridor and return at a fast walk. Looks easy enough but looks can be deceiving. No mistake is tolerated: if the horse is to fall out of pace for just one stride or put one hoof out of the corridor, the final score will be 0. If horse and rider can keep a canter and walk in the corridor, their points will be decided in accordance to an ideal-time barometer. In canter, the points drop rapidly; one per tenth of a second too fast. In walk, the barometer is slightly more lenient, with one point lost per second too slow to the ideal time. Each pace has a maximum of 30 points, giving a total of 60 points in this phase. The corridor can be a straight line but it can also follow the ground movements, be on a curve or a figure of 8. Judges strewn along the corridor are watching beady-eyed for any mistake on their allocated sections.
The PTV - obstacle course
The PTV – Parcours en Terrain Varié – is the obstacle phase and the highlight of the competition. It is the most spectacular phase for the public to watch. It is an obstacle course of 16 difficulties that recreate situations riders might encounter out trekking: gates, jumps, hand held exercises, hills, slopes, precision passages, or high-speed passages, and test the skills and partnership of horse and rider. These obstacles are judged according to different criteria: efficiency (the frankness of the horse), style (of the rider or the chosen pace), and penalties (brutality, insult, dangerous riding). The maximum score for each obstacle is 10, the minimum 0. Penalties are deducted from the total score if the maximum allowed time is exceeded or in the event of a fall of rider (which is not eliminatory). This requires an efficient and honest course, with an attentive and respectful horse, things that are not easy to combine when stress gets involved!
On the PTV course, there is no obligation to do every obstacle. The rider can choose not to do some or them. By announcing his decision to the obstacle judge, he can bypass the obstacle and be marked a 0 for that obstacle but not eliminated. This is applicable at all levels.
TREC competitions in Switzerland
There are several formulas for competitions in Switzerland. A full TREC has all 3 phases spread over 2 days; one day for the POR and the next day the MA and PTV. This also tests the horse’s recovery rate after the endurance phase. Competitions can also be organised over one day, with only 2 of the phases. These are usually POR-PTV but special MA-PTV competitions are becoming more and more popular, especially among riders who are weary of map-reading. The organiser can also choose to organise just a POR event, or a night time POR with the MA and PTV phases the next day. All these details are available in the pre-program of the competition, as well as the levels organised and the approximate distances of the PORs.
There are 3 levels in Switzerland. These are called “series”. The series 3 is for beginners, the 2 for amateurs and 1 for the elite; those who represent Switzerland abroad and can be chosen for the Swiss team for the European and World Championships every 2 years.
The series 3 was developed to motivate riders to discover this great discipline; the map reading isn’t too difficult, the traps easy to outwit. The MA is often done over a shorter distance, 100m, and the PTV leaves plenty of room between the obstacles, the time is lenient and the jumps lower; all this with the aim to train horse and rider.
The series 2 has gained in difficulty since it’s creation and has truly become the training category for the elite level. The PORs are harder than in series 3, with tag searches, sections by azimuths or white map zones. The traps are numerous and require more concentration in the map room and on horseback. The MA is done over 150m. The PTV is more technical with sequences highlighting the skills and dressage of the horse.
To participate in series 1, a rider must have an activated TREC licence. The PORs are technical and demanding with traps even trickier than in series 2 and the imposed speeds higher so as to push competitors to fault. The MA can be harder, with objects alongside the corridor. The PTV is technical, precise and demanding; quickly showing up the gaps in a horse and rider’s training, skills and confidence. Not doing an obstacle in series 1 will plummet a rider to the bottom of the rankings. Circles between the obstacles are penalised in series 1 but not in series 2 and 3.
TREC is a very complete discipline, growing in popularity. To have good results in TREC, it’s not enough to simply hack out. Working in dressage and gymnastics is important, but groundwork has a primary role too. Occasionally popping over cross-country type jumps will help too. A good TREC horse has endurance, courage and is honest. He listens to his rider, trusts him and wants to work with him. A good TREC rider trusts his horse, likes to spend time with him, is versatile in his disciplines, dares to surpass and question himself. He also works on his mind and body to be at the top of his form; equal to that of his horse. Afterall, they are a team.
A training program for a TREC duo is varied and complete. The duo must work in dressage for the MA phase; unfolding into a fast walk after a collected canter over 150m is physically very demanding of the horse; particularly without any training; but also, dressage helps for the PTV. A well-schooled horse will be easier to collect up between obstacles, particularly for the fast-slow sequences. The horse will also be suppler for the precision obstacles and more attentive at high speed.
Pole-work and gymnastics will increase the horse’s confidence over the jumps. It will also make him sure footed for the hill obstacles, and galloping across uneven terrain. He will also be happier when negotiating narrow or rugged paths on a long rein during the POR as the rider checks his map.
The importance of hacking mustn’t be underestimated. It will help develop the duo’s confidence in unknown situations, but also allow the rider to know more about their horse; his speed, his behaviour, and his physical state. Hacking will fill the gaps in the arena work for the PTV, but also give experience of the POR.
Groundwork is essential for all the in-hand exercises in the PTV, but will also develop mutual confidence and respect; essential elements in all three phases of a TREC.
To be at ease on the POR phase, the rider needs to spend many hours in the saddle, but he will also have to work on his map-reading skills, be at ease when using a compass and develop an eye for interpreting the symbols on a map into a landscape. Learning to read a map is like learning a language; it needs to be practiced regularly. A little session a day spent looking at a map will help with confidence on the POR. Trying to find our hacks on a regional map and draw them up will acquaint the rider with the precision necessary in the map room.