The rule book devotes a lot of pages to the finer points of every obstacle, and if you study it you’ll notice common themes.
PTV scores – there are three types of obstacle – effectiveness plus style, effectiveness plus gait, and time.
Effectiveness can only ever be 7, 4, 1 or 0
0 faults = 7, 1 fault = 4, 2 faults = 1, 3 faults = 0 – if you score 0 for effectiveness then no style or gait marks count.
Types of effectiveness fault – think of these as the golden rules for all obstacles:
Refusals – the horse is allowed to stop and then go from a standstill, but if the horse steps back (even one step), runs out or has to be re-presented then it is a refusal. This is why it can help to approach slowly then allow your horse to stop and sniff something scary – if you are lucky they won’t step back so it won’t be a refusal.
Circling or stepping back on course – wherever you are on course, doing either of these counts as a refusal at the next obstacle so if you have to circle three times between 14 & 15 you will score 0 for obstacle 15, even if you do it perfectly. NB if you are held by a judge you can circle without penalty during hold time.
Hitting the obstacle – this could be the horse touching a pole on the ground, horse knocking off a raised pole, your toe/whip touching a bending pole, the horse barging a gate or your head/back hitting a low branch.
Break of pace – this includes changing from one gait to another, as well as stopping once you’ve started.
Gait obstacles – you can resume the original gait without it counting as another fault – so trot-canter-trot is one fault, trot-canter-walk is two faults.
Style obstacles – every break counts as a fault, so if your horse changes pace then keep them in the new pace, as long as it’s not a compulsory walk obstacle!
Compulsory walk obstacles – if it’s a walk-only obstacle you will not be penalised for resuming walk, in fact if you don’t correct back to walk you’ll get up to -5 penalties for dangerous conduct. If you complete less than half the obstacle in walk you’ll get zero effectiveness, and penalties on top will mean a minus score.
*TOP TIP* watch out for the red and white flags! These denote the start and finish of an obstacle, so you need to be in your chosen pace all the way through the obstacle as well as the flags either side.
Don’t step outside the obstacle – this equates to falling off the imaginary mountain path you’re on, so results in zero for the obstacle. You’re better off stopping in the middle of an obstacle such as the s-bend to re-balance (one effectiveness fault), rather than losing balance and stepping out (zero score).
Gait – only ever +3, 0 or -2
This part of the score depends on the lowest gait observed. You will receive +3 for canter, +0 for trot and -2 for walk.
In hand, you’ll receive E+3 for trot and E+0 for walk.
(At level 4 competitions the course designer may decide to vary it to E+3 for canter, E-2 for trot, and zero overall if any walk observed).
Style – very good +3, good +2, quite good +1, average 0, mediocre -1, bad -2.
0 for style is the average so what we would expect around half the riders in a class to get, with some above and some below.
You could think of these as the TREC equivalent of the collective scores in dressage – evaluating the overall picture as you do each obstacle. There is some variation between obstacles but the common themes here are balance, rhythm, calmness, obedience, straightness, and discreet/appropriate aids.
For led obstacles, you should have the horse on a loose rein and should not allow the horse’s muzzle to be any further forward than your shoulder – you want to be ahead and to one side, and aim for there to be a clearly slack rein between your hand and the horse’s mouth so that your arm is relaxed.
Style marks are subjective – a judge who is also an equine professional, coach or very experienced rider may spot errors that someone else would miss. The same judge will be using the same criteria, experience and knowledge for everyone in your class, so it will be consistent for that competition.
Time obstacles – these are your ridden and led immobility.
You have ten positioning seconds (15s for led immobility at level 1) from the first footstep (yours or the horse’s) inside the small circle to:
A – position your horse in the small circle (make sure all four feet are inside)
B – establish the halt (give a clear command)
C – led leave the OUTER circle
– ridden clearly release the contact
Once you’ve done that, the scoring time starts up to a maximum of 10 seconds. The horse may move inside the inner circle. The timer will stop when either a hoof goes outside the small circle, or (ridden) a contact is taken up or (led) the rider moves to intervene (even if you move a hand or take one step – you must be absolutely still).
My score wasn’t as high as I thought I deserved!
TREC is a complicated sport, there are lots of ways to throw points away.
Common ones are:
Immobility – took more than 10 seconds to set up, or horse’s back leg trailing out of the circle. Both of these will result in a zero, no matter how long your horse subsequently stood still for. If the horse puts its head down to graze and the reins become tight the timer will stop.
Neck reining/figure of eight – rider took both reins back before horse’s back feet were out of the finish flags. Get through the flags then count to three, pat your horse and then take the reins back to be safe!
Corridor/rein back – horse not straight so put a foot outside the obstacle without touching a pole, this results in a zero.
Late transition into the obstacle – your horse must already be in your chosen pace by the time you go through the start flags. If you intended on trot/canter but don’t achieve it by one stride away, stop asking and stick to what you had. For a gait obstacle, a late transition is very costly, eg trot to canter will get 4+0=4 rather than walk 7-2=5.
Early transition out of the obstacle – especially kicking on after a compulsory walk one, lots of people end up trotting out of the s-bend as they’ve done the difficult bit of the turns. Glance down to make sure your horse’s back feet are through the flags before kicking on.
In hand – you count too, so you must not step outside the obstacle & flags, and if you touch part of the obstacle that you shouldn’t, it will be a fault. The only exception to this is if a large step up/down has a small step at the side to help the rider, but this will be clearly explained by the TD if that is the case.
Oh no, I got zero for the whole course!
Unfortunately, there are some things that will result in you not getting any score for the phase. Pay close attention to the course list and map – take a photo of them so you can refer back to them after the course walk.
– not going through the start flags, obstacles in the right order then finish flags.
– missing an obstacle out without stopping to tell the judge first.
– missing out compulsory flags, these are usually found only on outdoor competitions to ensure that you avoid hazardous ground.
– completing another level’s obstacle
– completing a ridden obstacle led or vice versa (you can only do this if you stop and tell the judge your intention first)
– doing an obstacle in the wrong direction
You can draw a map of the course or write out a list and put it in an extra medical armband on your wrist if you’re likely to get lost.