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Because I’m not one to ease in to learning and trying new things, but rather one to dive in full of enthusiasm if not quite skill, we did two shows sidesaddle this past weekend–one proper Ladies Sidesaddle, the other at a local dressage organization’s first schooling show of the year.

The weather had been kind of miserable during the week, and Friday promised to be cold but clear, so that was an improvement over some of the mosoons and hurricane winds earlier on.  I got to the barn before the braider this time, so I was able to get Cally cleaned up first–thankfully she’d had a full bath Wednesday when it had been warm, so only needed socks scrubbed in the 40 degree weather.  Then I got a bit of a tail braiding lesson from the pro, and realized a few things I can change in my technique to improve.  Next time I get a chance to play around with it, I think it’s going to a look a lot better.  Not like this, but better than my prior attempts.

Then I did her mane, and we were looking sharp and ready to head on down to PG for the Maryland National Horseshow. My goal for the day was just to allow a little more forward than last time, because while a slow mincy trot is easier to sit on, it’s not going to win any undersaddle classes. We warmed up with what felt like way too much trot but Holly said was just right–if it felt like a little too much, we were probably good.

So in to the ring we went for Ladies Sidesaddle Undersaddle. It was more competitive than last week–there were two horses in the class that had done really big stuff like Devon or Upperville–and the afternoon winds were blowing around something up in the ceiling that looked like hunks of foam trapped in netting, which was making a racket that none of the horses seemed too fond of. But I worked on our more forward.

And overall, I was so much happier with how she went this week.

She got a little spooky down that outside line after the wind hit her a few times, so we had to start cutting inside the line of jumps. We were called to line up 4th, which thrilled me, and as she was checking Appointments (this judge, at least, had brushed up on the rule book!), mentioned that, leading me to think we’d have placed even better if she hadn’t gotten a little rattled by nearly being blown to Oz.

Rather than leaving the ring between undersaddle and hack, this time we just swapped crops over the fence, trading the fancy hunt whip for a regular jumping whip, and stayed in the ring, working on being relaxed and walking around calmly so she’d be in a good space mentally for more undersaddle. And she really was quite good this second time, too.

But then we lined up to jump the line for the hack portion of the class, and Cally wanted absolutely nothing to do with leaving the safety of the lineup and going over by the scary windy side of the ring to pick up our canter. We got halfway there, she realized what was up, and Would. Not. Move. Which was so incredibly embarrassing I kind of wanted the ring to open up and swallow us. But one of the very nice (and incredibly talented, total #goals) lady veterans of the division came to retrieve us, and Cally followed her gelding right back to the safety of the lineup. So I can see a group lesson or two in the future for us, or at least riding in with a group of people a few times and practicing leaving them to do something, in my regular jump saddle so we can have A Discussion About Behavior if we need to. Since there were only 6 in the Hack, we ended up with a shiny green ribbon for effort.

I went over and congratulated our rescue-er on her Champion, and thanked her profusely for saving us after we were all back over at the trailers, and she actually gave me a hug, and said, essentially, don’t worry, it happens to everyone, way to be brave in starting things off in the Sidesaddle division. I have to say that I have been so incredibly impressed and how friendly, welcoming, and helpful all the ladies doing the division are. I think a lot of that is wanting people to keep the division alive, but it’s also just an affinity for others doing the same, very esoteric and specific riding endeavor. It’s a nice feeling though, and it feels like an honor to be a part of that group now.

Since the flat portions of the class had actually gone really well on Friday, I figured we were definitely on for doing our Dressage on Sunday in the sidesaddle. I actually just left most of my gear in the truck, and spend the day Saturday (which was ugly and rainy and windy and cold) with WBBF and Daisy A Dog. Then it was up early and super cold on Sunday to load up and head to Schooly Mill. I was so, so thankful when I got to the barn to see that Cally’s socks were still white, and I wasn’t going to have to do any bathing at all in near-freezing conditions. If she was clean enough for an A hunter show on Friday, she’d been blanketed and would be clean enough for a schooling dressage show. I brushed out her tail, did a little curry to the white socks to get them as clean as they were going to get, and we loaded up and headed to the show. Looking at the dash temperature on the truck, I was actually really grateful I was going to have not just a heavy wool jacket, but also my heavy wool apron over my breeches to keep me warm. BRR.

When I checked in and picked up my number, I informed the Secretary that I’d be riding sidesaddle, because I wanted to let them know, and informed them that if there was any question, I did have communication from the USEF that it was legal for dressage…and before I could even explain that, she was exclaiming about how awesome that was, and asking if the scorer and one of the board members who was there had heard, and wanted to know if she could please take some pictures or video. I told her only if she’d also take my phone and video too, and went off happily to get ready. Getting ready itself isn’t that hard, but having to get everything together, and get one and get the apron all situated, was a bit of a hassle. Thankfully, someone’s very kind mother offered to hold my dressage whip while I was doing that, since I nearly whacked Cally in the head with it. People were super intrigued and asking questions and watching, and were also wonderfully helpful about gates and things for us getting in and out of the ring, which was good, because I’m not the most coordinated person on a good day, let alone trying to do it aside (see: nearly whacking horse in head).

Then we went into the ring, said hello to the judge, and, at the bell, headed up the centerline for Training 1, with me thinking about forward. It turns out she was just a little too forward, and tried to break into a canter during both our 20M trot circles, and just overall a wee bit too tensely anticipatory of doing more.  It wasn’t a terrible test–it was accurate, and definitely forward and she didn’t do anything bad, was just a bit too tense.   There were some good moments, and I knew that if we could build on those, and be more relaxed for the second test, we could do better.

So I dropped the dressage whip at the truck, and really just worked on getting her walking round and through and swinging, in between answering a lot of questions from spectators and competitors about the sidesaddle thing. I was so glad people thought it was cool–I was worried I’d be “that weird lady in the sidesaddle.”

Cally felt a lot more relaxed going in for Training 2, and overall, it felt like a much better test. There were still things that weren’t perfect–she kind of stalled out at a few moments, so I need to figure out a happy balance between the too-much-go of using a dressage whip, and the occasional lack-of-go without anything. And stretchy circles are just the bane of our existence anyway, so I’ve kind of stopped despairing and just learned to accept the 5 on those. But overall, I was so so happy with how this test rode, and the moments of really wonderful work like the two diagonals and the free walk with actual happy snorting, that came through.

It was good enough for a 62.3% from a tough judge, even with getting dinged for an early canter transition (I had to choose between asking early or asking in a mudpit, so I’ll take the ding for transitioning early and letting my horse canter over the mudpit at C) and the break in the second canter circle, which is on me for not keeping her forward enough. I think that’s a great start to the year, and between the fairly solid tests and the positive response to them, I think I’m definitely going to go for getting all our PVDA Year-End qualifying scores aside. And I really, really want to do Ride For Life aside.

Funnily enough, our first test was scored til we finished our second, and we ended up 6th with a 60.5%, which is better than I expected given our bobbles. Then I untacked, shoved Cally full of 328,489,232 carrots, and loaded up before going to get our second test. 4th! We ended up at two very different shows, being judged on very different things, and still ended up with exactly the same ribbons we had on Friday! (Though if I have to be honest, the PVDA ribbons are nicer–the dressage people almost universally have the Best Ribbons.)

It was a great and encouraging note to end the weekend with! Cally is now getting a well-deserved pair of days off before a lesson and pro school on Wednesday to get her tuned up for her return to the regular Hunter ring with Holly in the irons next weekend! I’m very excited to have Holly show her, because I know they’ll do great, and I’m looking forward to playing owner and taking lots of pretty pictures and just maybe going in for a medal round.

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