Saturday was a big day, but only peripherally for me. Holly’s daughter was entered to show in Leadline at Devon, and would be doing it sidesaddle. Because Holly gets everyone going sidesaddle! I had been the one to make her little habit, altering a toddler-sized jacket and making an apron, vest points, and a stock tie. It was a fun if interesting experience in sizing things way, waaaaay down. So needless to say, while not my child, I felt more than a little invested in the outcome. I also came along to help with the tacking up of the lease pony, so that Holly could concentrate on child wrangling. Part of the week’s prep had also included me helping to make extenders for the balance strap and overgirth, since the ones we had for the wee child’s sidesaddle were more Small-pony-sized than Medium-pony -sized.
The weather looked like it was holding off after a week of rain as we headed up. I’d never been to Devon before, despite living not too far away, and I was glad to be along with a veteran Devon competitor to show me around and explain the ridiculous parking situation. If you’ve never been, either, it’s a showgrounds that was surely once well out into the rural countryside west of Philadelphia, but is now smack dab in the middle of suburbia. Like, there’s a Whole Foods half a mile down the road. And there are horse trailers parked in the grocery store parking lot, because the showgrounds is basically one square block. I’d been considering possibly coming up and doing the sidesaddle division at some point just to get a picture in the Dixon Oval, but man, the idea of having to back my trailer into a grocery store lot parking space alone is enough to put me off that idea licketysplit.
The showgrounds themselves are compact but nice. Good footing that didn’t look at all bad despite a solid week of rain, and just an amazing atmosphere. The “country fair” part of Devon Horse Show & Country Fair is really just a midway with a ferris wheel off to one side, and a few games, nothing I think most horses would even notice because it’s positioned off and to one side of the ring. But it is something I think a lot of riders would notice and expect the horses to get rattled by, so end up rattled themselves. I know that’s what would happen to me if I’d rolled in without ever having seen the setup before!
We got settled in to a spot in the grandstand, and Julie and I headed out to get the classic Devon tea sandwiches. Yum! But sadly the lemonade from the tea cart was not the famous lemon-stick lemon, which I did not sample while I was there, I regret to say. I did get fudge later, though! A little shopping (Devon has GREAT shopping) that resulted in plastic Devon wineglasses as souvenirs, and it was time to meet the pony, Maple, and get things ready. Holly and her mom worked on readying Heidi (though I did tie and pin the stock tie myself!), while Julie and I got the pony saddled. I’m glad we’d created some extenders, but I forgot to bring along any braiding elastics to use as keepers for them, so I had to get creative in tucking them back in behind themselves. It all looked pretty sharp once child and pony were all together, and we waited in the massive crush of people and ponies to head in to the ring for Leadline.
They started moving the ponies in, and we managed to work our way up to ringside right by the gate to watch the class. It was massive, like 50 kids, just in our 3-and-under section. Lots of fancy ponies, fancy hats, and fancy bows on children. Heidi was the only sidesaddler in that section (there was another young lady aside in the 4&5 year old group, with a lady who also does the sidesaddle division, but it was so crowded we never even got a chance to get a picture of them together!), and looked just perfect going in to the ring.
I wouldn’t normally post pictures of someone else’s kid, but photos have been all over social media, so I think it’s OK in this case. You go in the ring at Devon looking this fancy and being led by the president of the USHJA, your picture is going online. (Total aside, USHJA president complimented me on my fascinator. My day was made!)
As the huge group lined up, I think the whole crowd was holding it’s breath, because how on earth do you pin that much cute? (And I say that as Not A Kid Person.) Heidi ended up 5th out of the massive class! She got a lovely ribbon (she loves pink, so was very happy), a piece of fudge from me, and a ride on the ferris wheel with her mom and grandfather to celebrate her victory.
Then we headed home, just as the rain seemed to roll back in. Thankfully we were only driving in it, and it wasn’t raining much at home, so I could do a little show prep for myself the next day, for which Holly was letting me borrow her truck. Let me tell you, hooking up a truck and trailer in a dress will make you feel pretty badass.
It was actually looking like pretty decent weather on Sunday morning, which was good, because I ended up having to quickly bathe Cally, who had looked to have a very good roll the night before. That put me slightly behind, but I managed to put in dressage braids quicker than I expected, and still rolled out of the barn on time. I mentally ran through our First Level test in my head multiple times on the way up, since it was our first time doing it at a rated show, and only second time riding it, ever. It was nice and sunny when we got there, and I was happy to say hello to Barbara, my former dressage coach, as we checked in. She asked if I was showing aside and wanted to know what time, so she could come watch. Gulp, better do good!
I loved the big grassy area we had to warm up in, since I could basically do what warms Cally up best, which is a nice long canter. We headed down a 100 yard stretch of grass a few times each way, and I’m pretty sure Cally didn’t realize we were at a dressage show, and was feeling so happy getting to gallop around outside. Also, it’s rained for a week and she hasn’t done much at all, so I think was feeling pretty happy just to stretch out her legs! We chatted with Barbara and her husband for a few moments before we went in, and I was explaining to her a bit how sidesaddle worked, and almost have her convinced to give it a try. I’m doing my best to be like Holly and somehow suck everyone I know in to trying it LOL
Then we went in for our First Level recognized debut. I felt like we started off a little under-tempo, and we had a few bobbles, like the usual non-stretchy-stretchy-circle, and I made our second 15M canter circle too big. But overall, I was quite happy; I remembered the test, we had a nice, non-distracted freewalk, and the lengthenings in the trot and canter had both felt great. Even Barbara complimented our lenghtenings, and how good Cally looked in general. So I felt quite happy with our test, and was thinking we might even do better than we’d done the other week at Schooley Mill, since that had been a judge I know to be tough.
On the way back to my trailer, I was stopped by two ladies, one of whom said she’d ridden to her Silver aside, complimented my love saddle (I heart my Mayhew!), and we chatted a few minutes before I headed over and untacked. Then I handgrazed Cally for a while, until a big horsefly started to drive her batty. At that point, I put her fly sheet on, loaded her back on the trailer with a fresh haynet, and went in to see if scores were up, and grab lunch for me.
We ended up 4th, which didn’t surprise me, but the 57% we got did seem a little lower than I’d expected. Oh well, it was a start, and our first time out, and not a terrible score. Certainly not the worst we’ve ever gotten, and as first time scores go, nothing to be ashamed of. What did surprise me, as I got back to the truck with my lunch and actually sat down to look at the score breakdowns and notes, was the only general comment from the judge was a huge note about my saddle being “too far back.” I had a laugh at that, and texted Holly a follow up to my message to her about having a good first test, our conclusion was that the judge must be one of the many, many people who’ve never seen a sidesaddle in person before. Because yes, they sit you farther back and slightly higher off the horse’s back than most (?) astride saddles, it’s why jumping can be a bit of a challenge, because you have to adjust your eye slightly. Also, sure, maybe the judge thought that it was putting me too far back to really be in a position to effectively move up the levels in dressage, but we’re doing this for fun, and have no plans to go above 1st, even in a dressage saddle. We obviously manged the test competently, so I brushed it off, took a cute picture of Cally with her ribbon (YAY, we did First Level!!) and headed over for a soundcheck for our freestyle.
I said hi to some more friends while doing soundcheck, and things went well for that, so I puttered around a bit more, since she’d already shown and didn’t need much warmup. I did want to be on and warmed up in time to let her do her zen thing while I watched Barbara’s Grand Prix freestyle, which was right before we went. (Because also, nothing like having to follow a GP test with your Training one.) We cantered around a bit, then left the warmup to go position ourselves to watch.
Now, what happened next I’ve mulled over exactly how to deal with in this blog, because it’s the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever had happen at a horse show. And I don’t like confrontation at all, so this was doubly uncomfortable for me, especially right before my own test, where I was trying to find my moment of zen. Two ladies approached me, one saying “I have to ask you about this.” Which led me to smile, and prepare to launch into my Informative Sidesaddle Spiel, which I’ve done at several shows, and am always happy to do, because sharing a little knowledge and hopefully leading new people to appreciate it makes me happy too. At the Southwind show, I must have talked to a group of ladies for a good 15 minutes, even showing them how dismounting worked, and pointing out the parts of the saddle and how the apron fits, etc. I began, as I usually ask, “Have you seen a sidesaddle in person before?” because most people haven’t, and are working from a zero knowledge base. “Yes,” she said, “I judged Some Other Lady before, and her saddle didn’t sit so far back!” At that point I realized the one lady was the judge; I still have no idea who the other woman was. I did my best to explain how the tree points of the sidesaddle are positioned, and have to sit behind the horse’s shoulder blades for balance and fit. They seemed very hung up on how far back the saddle sat, and how far back my horse’s girthing was. Well, nothing I can really do about equine anatomy; even in a regular saddle, Cally’s girth groove is well in front of where a girth sits on her. (For laughs, as I tacked her up for my lesson yesterday, I positioned my jumping saddle where it would need to be for the girth to actually sit in her girth groove, and the stirrup bars were somewhere near the front of her withers.) These two ladies were rather adamant that I should get off, less than five minutes before the start of my test, and move my saddle forward. I told them that the horse was nationally ranked ladies sidesaddle hunter last year, we were experienced at doing this, and this was how sidesaddles were supposed to fit, and I would NOT be moving the saddle. They seemed very frustrated with me, and huffed off with the comment “no wonder people don’t do this anymore.” I guess they haven’t read all the wonderful press sidesaddle’s resurgence has been getting lately, like the great article in Sidelines on one of our lovely lady riders, or the various wonderful articles on the brave ladies of the Sidesaddle Chase. Now, there are about half a dozen people in this whole country that I’d trust with commentary on my sidesaddle’s fit, because it’s a very important and exacting thing, for both horse and rider comfort, and safety. Obviously, one of them is my own coach, the other is her mother, who is a lifetime sidesaddle rider, R judge, and no shrinking violet on the commenting front. And she’d just seen us show in it less than a month prior, and commented on how good we were looking.
I’ve never sought out a USEF Competition Evaluation form before, but I will be filling one out for this show. Because it’s fine if you don’t like a rider showing aside, even if it’s legal. It’s even fine for you to make a comment on my test about it. But to track me down and challenge me on the fit of a saddle you have no knowledge about, five minutes before I was to go in the ring (not in front of her), is inappropriate. Especially because it’s not the judge’s job to comment on tack, unless it’s illegal. Which sidesaddle is explicitly not. And they were trying to convince me to move my saddle to a position that was not just incorrect, but would be incredibly uncomfortable to the horse, and thus potentially dangerous to me as a rider.
Needless to say, I was rather rattled as I headed in to the ring for our Freestyle. That should have been the test I was most excited for, and ready to have fun with, but instead I was trying to wrangle my emotions into check so we could have a good ride. But I’m pretty sure Cally, who is afterall, a TB mare, picked up on them and was just not quite as focused as I’d have liked her to be. The test was totally fine, still working through the slightly adjusted music which did time out a little better this go round, but felt like I had too much music in a few places now, even though I just tweaked one thing. Given the circumstances which I went into the test with, I was mostly just happy to get it over and leave, frankly. Cally did her job, though, and I was happy to give her the peppermints from the fancy champagne class we won along with our blue ribbon. Pretty sure she cared more about the mints than the ribbon.
After that show experience, I’m left unsure of whether or not I want to do any more dressage showing aside, or even astride. I’d had thoughts of trying for a year end award at not just Freestyle, but also First, and now I’m really not sure if my heart’s in it. At PVDA shows, people have been nothing but supportive, and I’ve been greeted with “oh, you’re the sidesaddle lady!” more than once. But I’d had a bit of a rest from dressage stuff planned anyway, with just volunteering at Ride For Life on the horizon for June, and get our focus back on our real jobs, in the Ladies Sidesaddle Hunter at Loudoun and Middlesex, and getting back in to the Eq and Jumper rings. If the weather ever cooperates for that again–I refuse to go sit around at BEST in the rain. And that’s pretty much all we’ve had lately.
Cally had a lesson yesterday, despite normally getting a day off after showing, because it was the first partly sunny, non-rainy day in a week, and it was foreast to rain again today and Wednesday, so we figured we better get it in while the getting was good. She felt so happy to be jumping, that I know it’s time to shift our focus back to that.