A Treasure Hunt on Horseback: Competitive Mounted Orienteering

Horsemanship, teamwork and lots of fun! Find out why Mounted Orienteering is gaining popularity in the United States.

by Jocelyn Pierce

Competitive Mounted Orienteering (CMO) is a national equestrian sport that has been existence for over 25 years and has active chapters in several states. CMO puts riders and horses to the ultimate trail riding test in a timed outdoor course in which they must locate objective stations, or markers, using a map and compass. The setting is similar to what one might find on a competitive trail ride, and the terrain and elements become part of the navigation challenge.

Competitive Mounted Orienteering Horse Riding

“It is not a sport for everyone, you need to be able to handle frustration, be willing and able to laugh at yourself, and have a sincere love for your horse and your fellow competitors.”-Marti Caldwell. 
Photo by Nathan Caldwell. 

Perhaps the greatest appeal of CMO is that it is open to riders and horses of all levels and abilities. Orienteering is popular both with those looking for stiff competition and a challenge, and for those wanting an easy going outing with the family.

“There is strong competition among the top riders and teams, but an equal number ride at a slower pace, helping their kids learn map and compass skills, enjoying the park and trail system, and figuring out the clues to find the markers,” said Marti Caldwell, President of the National Association of Competitive Mounted Orienteering, or NAMCO.

Competitive Mounted Orienteering Horse Ride

“Our entry fees are small, and haven't changed much in 25 years, and the prizes are token at best, but the goal and aim of the sport is to enjoy the fellowship of other riders while participating in friendly competition. Good sportsmanship and care of our mounts are paramount, and in its best form, CMO members become more like family than opponents.”-Marti Caldwell. Photo by Marti Caldwell.

Likewise, any breed of horse can be competitive at Orienteering, not necessarily common to other equestrian sports in which you might need a specific breed or type of horse to excel.

Participants can choose to ride as an individual or on a team and can ride at any pace they wish. Competitive riders undertake a long, ten station course, which can be anywhere from 8 to 25 miles. Individuals or groups looking for a leisurely day can opt for the short, five station course.

Competitors are given maps with circles indicating the areas they will need to search for the markers, which are 9” paper plates, usually attached to a tree or other object. Riders are also given clues or landmarks with compass directions to help them find each marker. Markers are located by finding the intersection of the compass bearings from the different landmarks. Once a marker (the paper plate) is found, riders must write down the letters written on it to prove they found the marker.

Competitive Mounted Orienteering Objective Stations Markers

Markers, or paper plates, are found using "clues" given to competitors before the ride. Would you be able to spot this one?

A successful team will be a combination of a well trained, obedient trail horse and a smart, detail oriented rider who can read a map and use a compass.

While competitive spirit and a working partnership between horse and rider are the foundations of CMO, another bonus is the social aspect.

“For me, and I know for most of our members, the best part of our sport is the camaraderie and closeness that develops amongst the riders,” said Caldwell.

There is very much a sense of community between riders. Riders work together, help each other, and at the end of the day, gather to rehash the day’s ride over a potluck dinner and campfire.

Competitive Mounted Orienteering Potluck Dinner

Get Involved with CMO

The best way to get a feel for CMO is to attend a ride. Get in touch with ride managers of rides that interest you. Ride managers can also give you information on trail conditions, campground amenities, and other specifics. Go to watch and help out, or contact the ride manager about pairing you up with an experienced team or rider for your first ride. 

To learn more about Competitive Mounted Orienteering or find a ride near you, check out the NACMO website.

About the Author: Jocelyn Pierce is an avid equestrian and lover of travel and photography. Her passion for adventure has led her on numerous excursions throughout North America and Europe. When she’s not riding and competing her homebred mare, she enjoys hiking, camping, and snapping photographs.