What’s In A Name? That Which We Call A Paperchase


“Did you know some places don’t have paperchases?” Lindsay asked me not too long ago.

“Uh, what? Where?” I asked, vowing to myself to never live there.


It never occurred to me that paperchasing was not an international equestrian pastime. How could this be?! Everyone should be able to experience the joy it brings us and if you’re not in a part of the world where paperchases are available, I’m so so sorry.

Let me further explain why thousands of equestrians in the Northeastern States (myself and Lindsay included) schedule our lives in the spring and fall around “chasing that elusive paper”:

If you were curious about paperchasing and did a simple Google search, the results aren’t conclusive. Sure, you’ll learn far more than you ever wanted about law school or higher education in general, but that’s not what we’re after. Even the Urban Dictionary definition is a far cry from the actual sport in which we seek. Plus, no one visits the second page of Google anymore, so if it’s not on the first page, it doesn’t exist.

The simple structure of the paperchasing we engage in is this: a team of 2-5 riders follow a marked course across the countryside that is 5+ miles long. According to the legend of the chase, riders in the past would navigate a self-guided cross-country course marked with bits of cut-up paper thrown down ahead of them, quickly dispersing into the wind or rain. This method prevented everyone from having permission to ride on normally unauthorized trails. Nowadays, the trail is marked with chalk, ribbons or mowed grass. You’re going to get lost, it’s bound to happen, but that’s half the fun!

Usually you do one class that day, selecting either jumping or non-jumping as your team division. This can be broken out even further into slowpokes and speed demons (we’ve done them all). There is an predetermined optimum time for each division that is not disclosed until the end, with no course walking beforehand. The team that wins is the one that gets closest to the optimum time for their division. Sometimes there’s one ribbon to share amongst your group (this is the only pitfall), and you don’t know if you’ve won until possibly weeks later.

However, most riders don’t care if they win. Winning is not the point of paperchasing. The reason you paperchase is because on that fateful day, local landowners graciously allow the course to go on their properties. Properties you wouldn’t otherwise have permission to ride on. That 200 acre field you drive by everyday? The one you imagine galloping across in the sunshine? Now it’s open to you. Usually paperchases are held as a fundraising event for a local school or pony club. So your entry fee goes toward a good cause.


Paperchasing at Allerton Farm

Of course paperchasing alone wasn’t enough for us. We have turned this into a complete social event with tailgaiting. Gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the shape of horses anxiously await our return along with homemade soup, cookies, Pellegrino, cake, and other delectables our fine chefs aka grooms aka dads have prepared for us. We’ll sit back and rehash our adventure together while our horses peacefully munch on their celebratory hay after surviving yet another wild ride. Until the next one!

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  • Kelley
    June 21, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    We do this in Canada but we usually call them Hunter Paces here!

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