Have I mentioned that Cally has been amazing lately? Because she has. We’ve been on a real roll, and showing a ton and doing really well. As much as I love her and think her the most fabulous horse I’m ever going to have, I know she’s not the kind of horse that goes out and Wins Every Class, but when she goes well, she places respectably, and she also goes and does whatever you want to. Jumpers, hunters, eq, sidesaddle, dressage, sure, whatever, we got it, and bring home some ribbons.
Dressage has always been our weak point, because it is not how she naturally wants to go, nor is it what she’s built to do. When we do a dressage school in the ring with jumps, she noticeably perks up coming out of a turn onto a line with a fence, and deflates a little when you move her off the line. But dressage is essential, and I’ve done my best over the years to get us to be moderately competent at it. But in the sidesaddle, getting her round and swinging through her back has seemed a bit easier, so we’ve tried two schooling shows so far, even ending up being asked to write up a piece for the PVDA newsletter on our going aside at their first schooling show we did. (It’s on page 10, if you care to read more of my blathering.) So with a mix of excitement and trepidation, given how abysmally it went last time, I entered the PVDA Ride for Life at Training 1 and Training 2, and planned to do it sidesaddle.
She was actually feeling great the week leading up to it, other than being super hive-y due to the bugs. Including under her saddle area and a huge bite of some kind right on her withers. But it’s above/in front of where any of her saddles actually sit (believe me, I put all of them on her and poked around at it to make sure it wasn’t a fit issue), and seems not to bother her working, so I figured we’d be OK to go.
I took along Liz, who showed her the other weekend, and it was a great decision. While I am able to show totally on my own, it was so nice to have a pair of helping hands along, who could do things like pull off boots while I was doing something else. Plus I got a photographer in the deal! We parked in the back, down in the grass behind the covered ring I feel like we’ve been sentenced to show in all year this year, which at least gave me the chance to get on and just walk around in the grass and the trees for a bit, so Cally was nice and relaxed when we headed to warmup. For some reason, the ring that’s usually the warmup and explicitly NOT for lunging was the lunging ring, and the warmup for our rings was in the lunging ring, which is on the old racetrack. I’ve ridden her on a track a few times since she came off it, and at that point she definitely remembered how to do her previous job. But I needn’t have worried about her getting too keyed up–she offered to go forward, but didn’t do so of her own volition, and we had a nice, light bit of warmup. Just a quick trot/canter, then a bit of trot/halt/trot to get her thinking.
Then in her prefered pre-ring routine, we went and camped by the gate. She went into snoozy mode, and we had a little visit and chat with Carol, who’d come over after her I-1 test to watch us wrangle Training 1. The covered ring can be spooky, but I figured she’d be fine since we’d showed in there a good bit earlier this spring. I forgot about the spooky corner from the last aside show, but Cally remembered, and spooked down the long outside as we went around before our test, but thankfully settled right down to go in the ring like the pro show horse she is.
Obviously not perfect, with some tension at the start, and I actually thought we’d get dinged for that first canter transition which to me was a smidge early. But we actually got “prompt” as a comment on it. I really tried to allow the forward and just figure out how to sit it, and worried a little less about wrangling the right shoulder she was trying to pop out, because that’s her evasion, and it’s totally easier when I don’t have a right leg to stop it. But in the ring you had to choose your battles, and the one I wanted to win was forward, and we got it! I was so happy with the test. And I got maybe the best comment we’ll ever get from a judge.
I’ll take that, for sure! I’m not sure my horse will ever be called a “treat to judge” in the dressage ring again!
We had a bit of time between our tests, and the trailer was nearby, so we went back, I slid off, and Cally got her bridle off and offered some water and hay, and I chugged some Gatorade and put a cold wet towel on my face. About 15 minutes before our ride time I hopped back on and headed back to the ring. Both the ladies volunteering were asking about the sidesaddle thing, mentioned that they’d looked in the tack and rules sections and there wasn’t much about it. I quickly offered that I had an email from the USEF that it was permitted, but they explained that they knew that, they were just curious about it as far as checking etc. I said everything else other than me sitting sideways should fall under the rules–I use a frenchlink full check for dressage, she doesn’t got in boots, and I think everything else tack-wise falls in line, other than wearing blue breeches rather than light or white, but you can’t see them under the apron anyway, and no one in their right mind is wearing a white apron. I did got a little off-tradition and wear a pink vest rather than canary, but the show is a benefit for the Johns Hopkins Breast Cancer Center, so it seemed fitting, and much more subtle than some riders’ pink! The ring stewards were also commenting on how good of a Show Horse Cally is, just chilling at the gate, no muss no fuss, waiting her turn. I told them she’s a total pro, and we all agreed she’s The Best.
Then we went in for Training 2. I feel like even more people were watching this time, including the scribe popping out of the hut to get a picture(?) of us as we were coming down one side warming up! So I guess we were quite the hit! The pro photographer was there too, so I’m hoping he got some good shots, despite that ring being rather terrible for pictures.
Once again, I just really concentrated on letting her go forward, and knowingly sacrificed some of the packging/bend to make that happen. I’d rather have a happily forward horse at this point aside, and so I picked my battles. We got dinged in the comments for needing more bend, but I put my focus on just getting nice forward trot, and we got 7’s on our diagonals, and even got a bit of stretch in our stretchy circle!
I was happy with that, even if I came out of the ring sure that my abs were going to be killing me for days after the effort of looking elegant while sitting on a flat saddle for that trot. But it felt like a great test, better than the first on the whole, and I was really really happy with it.
We headed over to the office after, hoping my first test would be scored and placed, since I was the last rider in that class, and it had finished over an hour prior. I sent Liz in after it, while Cally happily parked by the steps, and we attracted several people stopping to ask about being sidesaddle, and Cally in particular. They asked what she was, and when I said “Thoroughbred!” the response was “of course she is!”
THEN, Liz came bouncing out with our test and our ribbon. I just saw pink fluttering, since all the ribbons are mostly pink, and assumed I’d been 5th out of the 5 of us, which is about where we usually finish. Then Liz yelled “You got second!” and I about fell off the horse! Huge gorgeous burgundy and pink ribbon, as big as some of the year-end ribbons I’ve won! I was more shocked to look at the test and realize we got 2nd with a 63%, but hey, I’ll take it. And I also think that should be the score that gets me my USDF Rider Award for Training level, which is a little something extra, anyway.
Cally, was not so impressed by the Big Fancy Ribbon, though she was certainly walking like the was pleased with herself–she practically strutted back to the trailer.
Since the final person in our Training 2 class didn’t got til after the lunch break, we packed up quickly, and headed home. Cally got a good hosing off back home (after vetrolin rinse pre-trailering home), got her braids out, and was tucked in with hay and a fan, as I headed back down to check out our scores and get our test. There were 14 in the Training 2 class, and while I’d been happy with our test, I’ve never placed in that kind of company before. I was awed when I walked into the concourse and saw the posted scores, and saw we’d gotten a 65%! I was over the moon, and then realized I’d have to wait around for a ribbon, because depending on the final score, I was either going to be 5th or 6th! Half an hour later, as I twiddled away the time messing on my phone and spamming the universe with pictures of Cally being awesome, they posted the final score. The last rider scored a 69, so that bumped us down to 6th, but with a 65%, so I was thrilled with that placing. It’s a strong class when the 6th place finisher has a 65%, so coming home with anything from there was amazing to me.
We didn’t get anything below a 6, and the comments were nothing that was a surprise to me–needing more bend and a bit more connection. Those are things we can fix–hell, we’ve been struggling with the connection thing forever. I can work on straightness as I figure out how to better control the right shoulder without a right leg. The bend thing was a sacrifice I made to the forward, so it’s something I know we’ll improve on next time. I’m just over the moon happy at how well Cally did, and how she rose to the occasion. And we sure looked awfully fancy doing it sideways!