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Finally, after a miserable snowy winter, plans were made to head back into the show ring for the year. I figured a little dressage would be good to start, as it’s not very exciting, and entered us in a very low-key local show about 10 minutes from the barn. I hemmed and hawwed on whether to ride the two tests astride or aside, as I entered Training 1 and Training 2, which we’d done plenty last year. Since she’d been good, I figured what the heck, we’ll do it aside.

Bolstering my confidence somewhat was the arrival this week of our Outreach ribbons from the USHJA. We ended up being Silver Medal Champion for the state of Virginia again this year, as well as finishing 3rd in the Outreach Thoroughbred Hunters and 4th in the Outreach Hunter Challenge. All from doing well at one show up at the Washington County Horse Council!  (Which, sadly, they don’t seem to be running this year.  A shame, because it was a nice local show, and conveniently near my parents, who rarely get to see me ride.)

Because the USHJA is a model of efficiency, each ribbon arrived in it’s own massive mailing envelope.  AND the Mears fabric for my sidesaddle apron also arrived that day.  So while I may have been on a giddy high of delight, I’m pretty sure my mailman now hates me.

So I may have been feeling a little assured in our showing capabilities.  That was bolstered Sunday morning while I was getting the trailer hooked up, and Cally was out in the field by the hay bale, watching.  She also kept eyeing the trailer the whole time I was leading her in from the field.  I felt pretty certain she knew what was up, and it was adorable.  We did a bit of cleanup, I crossed my fingers that the dirt that remained wouldn’t be too noticeable since she’s brown and it was too cool to bathe and it looked like it was about to pour down rain anyway, and we loaded up and made the easy haul over to Equilibrium.

The dressage was running in their indoor, which I hadn’t seen before.  After picking up our number, I headed into the observation area to take a look at it.  It was exactly the size of a large dressage arena, with space at the C end for the judge to be up on a platform, with bleachers on one side.  The kickboards went halfway up the walls, which were white, and the footing was dark.  So, totally scary looking–she’s gotten really spooky before with dark footing at Bascule in their indoor, so I knew this was going to be a bit looky.

I went back to the trailer and unloaded, and did a bit of a walkabout.  I think I made a mistake in taking her out around the edge of their XC schooling field, because while the jumps are not big (maybe Novice sized at biggest) they were XC jumps in a big open field, which she hasn’t seen in a while.  Cally definitely was getting a bit keyed up, so we walked over towards the indoor, since we’d have to walk through their main parking area to get there, and I wanted her to have a good look at things.  She handled that fine, didn’t seem to care about horses coming and going to the indoor, so we walked back and handgrazed by the trailer for a bit before getting ready to go.

I’d given myself plenty of time, not sure how long it would take me to get sidesaddle-ready on my own.  It wasn’t too bad, other than having to wrangle the apron around while trying to mount.  And then Cally totally freaked out when I got on her, spinning around backwards and refusing to stand still.  I had to hop off quickly and hand walk her around some more before attempting to get back on again.  She was still edgey, but I managed to get on and get her moving forward.  We made it down to the dressage arena they had set up on the grassy edge of the XC area, and she seemed to realize that it was going to be flatwork and settled a bit.

Because of how riled she’d felt, I didn’t do too much with her there, just tried to get her to settle and relax, and did a bit of trot to make sure we weren’t going to die if I asked her to move, and decided that we didn’t need to scratch our tests, and headed over to the indoor.  There was a flat grassy area there, where we did a bit more walk-trot-canter, and had several curious spectators asking about sidesaddle.  I was hoping she’d settled a bit and was ready to work.

Then we walked into the indoor, and could feel her go into Full Alert Mode.  She didn’t do anything silly–no more spinning around backwards–but she was definitely cautious and not so sure about the bleachered corner of the ring, or of the big bright opening to the ring at A.  The judge chatted with us a minute before we began, curious about the sidesaddle but sounding very encouraging.  I headed down the long side and picked up a trot as the bell rang.

The test, Training 1, wasn’t awful, but it was awfully tense.  Having to halt then trot towards the judge up on the platform was scary, and she got distracted by the door at A with people looking in, just as we were supposed to be setting up for our more difficult canter transition.  And since our second trot transition was there, too, it was again rather bracey and hollow.  I did my best to keep her moving forward and straight, but that’s hard without two legs, and I’m still getting a feel for doing things right in the sidesaddle, especially when the horse is being less-than-perfect.  But mainly the problem was tension, which would’ve been the problem in a regular saddle, as it has been so often in other dressage tests.  The judge told us to both go take a big deep breath between our tests, and come back more forward and more relaxed.  Cally heaved a big snorty breath as we walked out of the indoor, so I had a good sense of what at least 30% of the problem was.

I did my best to encourage more relaxed as we waited for another rider to do her tests between ours.  We went into Happy Hunter Nap Mode, which usually bodes well.  Except here there was no jumping payoff, so maybe not so much.  She didn’t feel much less tense as we walked back in, so I did my best as we were waiting our turn to encourage her to walk around on the buckle and try to relax.  We started off more forward down the centerline, but she was super wiggly picking up the trot again out of the halt, and not so happy turning past the judge’s stand.  We had a pretty decent trot circle and diagonal, and even the canter circle wasn’t too bad.  The stretchy trot circle was non-existent, but at least she trotted instead of bolting or stopping, and I sort of managed to post my way around.  The judge was generous with the 5 we got for that.  I managed to bungle our walk-freewalk V, as I thought it was only to X but I was supposed to go to E. (There USED to be a test with that freewalk to X thing!)  Woops, probably lost us a few points there, too.  Second direction she was a bit more forward, but a bit tenser in the trot.  Canter actually felt pretty nice, with a good circle we got a 7 for.

After the salute at X, I was still smiling, because we’d made it through two dressage tests in a sidesaddle, which is not something everyone (or everyhorse!) can do.  And we’d gotten through the skitteryness of being off-property for the first time since MAEF in November without any great disaster, and managed to put in two tests that were pretty respectable, or at least certainly no worse than they would have been astride.  I considered that a pretty big victory, and was delighted, even if Cally was still a bit on Alert.

It was a while untacking and packing up, and so Cally was already loaded up and we were ready to pull out til I walked back to the office to get our ribbons. Scores were better than I expected, low 60s on both, for 2nd in each test.  I was pleasantly surprised by that, and happy to have started the year off on a note consistent with what we’d been getting at recognized shows astride, in a sidesaddle.

That was a good start to the year, a nicely low-key adventure out, with a solid experience in good behavior and decent tests that we can build on.  I knew we had some things to work on, and they’re pretty much exactly what I expected, based on the  judge’s comments.  And Cally’s already gotten out and about once, so hopefully she should be more settled as we head to PGEC next weekend for one of the BEST shows, where we’ll be starting out the year with a few 2’6 Low Adult classes to get us back in the ring before stepping things up again.

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