Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Horse Show, from the middle of the ring...

Last weekend, I helped out with the horse show at the local Fall Fair.  For the first time in about fifteen years there were Western classes, and I wanted to do what I could to make it a success.  I admit to selfish motivation; I would love to take a horse there some day, but not this year, but if it goes well there's a better chance those in charge will keep it going, right?

Well, two years ago the fair board cancelled all the light horse shows.  Last year a diminutive woman who grew up in Scotland took it on to bring the hunter-jumper show back, and apparently loved it enough to do it again this year.  She is very brave!  I have huge appreciation for her because she looked around and decided there was a need to represent the Western riders around here.  (Applaud if you're not in a place where you need to be quiet!)

Brave Lady admitted to knowing nothing about Western, which I can deal with because, you know, Scotland.  Although on a side note, she shakes her head at the pussy softy way we ride here.  Arenas?  Sand rings?  Flat surfaces?  I imagine her riding a scruffy thick horse across the highlands in the mist.

Around here, for reasons I've not totally figured out, most of the riding industry is English.  The local tack shop sells probably 80% English tack and the only Western apparel available is (of course, because everybody looks good in them) cowboy boots.  Most stables have a jump course set up in the outdoor sand ring. I'm still working on theories for why this is but I'll blog that later.

So I stepped up and offered my help. I've helped out a little with the local saddle club, which is great but also awful.  I'm constantly doing this:

I'm so glad I don't have a horse here.

I wish I had a horse here.

This was so much fun when I was showing.

This was so much work when I was showing.

I'm bringing a horse next year.

I'm not ever taking my two speckled knuckleheads off the property.

Well, I will.  I'll get up the guts and do it.  It's in the plans.  I just need to beg borrow or rent a trailer get over myself.  Now that I'm a RIDING INSTRUCTOR I have huge fears of getting to a show and my horses, who are damn good at their job in their protected little home, will have a collective brain fart and act like morons and everybody will avert their eyes and whisper about what the hell kind of instructor I could possibly be with that  going on.  So I've got to work through that.

This year, I'm on the other side of the show.

I was put in charge of providing patterns for the Western Horsemanship class and the Trail class.  I went home and spent three days working on it.  I looked over every pattern I kept from my show days. I scoured the internet.  I made up my own.  I ended up bringing two Horsemanship patterns and three Trail patterns.

The thing is, we had no idea what to expect.  Would we get two riders in each class? Or ten?  Kids or adults?  Seasoned competitors with nice horses or first timers?  And I hate to say this because it plays into all the stereotypes that I hate, but would we be getting people who figure if you've got a saddle with a horn and you say yeehaw a lot that you ride Western????

So I found myself at the fairgrounds at 8:00 am, bundled up in my fleece jacket, my purple boots spraying dew as I walked.  Morning has a bit of a damp chill around here in the morning.  Our four Western classes would be due to start no earlier than 1:00, depending on how the hunter-jumper show went, but in the meantime there was a ton of stuff to do.  Paperwork.  Wow.  English horse shows have like, 12 divisions which have 3 classes in each division.  Or something.  I shuffled a lot of paper, when I wasn't weighting it down with anything portable to keep it from blowing away.  There was a lot of running back and forth to the announcer's wagon.  There was a lot of looking for somebody.  A lot of questions to answer.

I was in charge of getting the ring set up and assisting the judge.  I was the Ring Steward.  I did not want to be the Judge.  I go to horse shows and place horses as I watch and I'm usually way wrong, according to the real judge.  Instead, I stood beside our Real Judge, I wrote things down on a clipboard, and I watched for slow gait transitions and sloppy riding.

Pleasantly surprised, folks.  We got about 6 in each of the four classes and nobody sucked rocks at it.  There was no jerking on the bit, no excessive spurring, no yelling, no yeehawing.  No Hi Yo Silvering.  You can do that in movies and on your own time, not at a show, and these riders were all pretty decent.
There wasn't a whole lot of bling and fancy stuff but I don't need that.  I need clean and neat and well behaved, and we got it.  

Isn't that cool?

Y'know what else is cool?  Spectators.  

I was aware of people lined up along the rails to watch.  I felt really good about how Western riding was being represented to the public.  Because let's face it, at a horse show, even a saddle club schooling-type show, most of the spectators are fellow horse people or family members.  At the fair, it's regular people taking their kids for a spin on the ferris wheel.  And let's have a look at these pretty horses on the way.

So hey people, check this out - a horse can go this fast, then stop, then back up, then go a little faster.  

And a horse can walk over a bridge and look, the rider can open and close a gate from horseback!  

Y'know what wasn't easy?

Deciding who gets what.

The final decisions were the judge's, not mine, but she asked my opinion on things.  I was watching for her.  I had to let her know about who blew a lope departure that she might not have seen.  

Holy crap, hard job.  

Like, the guy who was impeccably dressed - but not so blingy as to embarrass himself for being overdressed at a small show - with the stunning QH... he did not place first in Western Pleasure.  His horse's head was just too low.  Level headed, yes, but not down to the knees.  I've seen that look placing first.  We couldn't do it.  He was so collected he looked like he was pressed bent up in the middle and down at both ends.  But darn pretty and the rider was near perfect. 

Or the Tennessee Walking Horses.  They came into the ring and the judge and I both went, "crap, I don't know anything about Walkers.  Are the walking or jogging or gaiting???"

Well, one of them placed second and one placed sixth.  We just went by which one looked like more of a pleasure to ride.  Get it?  That's the class.  

The little Appaloosa that won just trucked along with no fuss.  She and her rider both looked mellow and happy to be there, and did everything right.  

Horsemanship, that was trickier.  Who was the slickest?  Nobody forgot the pattern.  That would have made it easier to place somebody last, haha! We gave it to the QH.  He was much less cranked up and compacted by that time. And his rider remembered the correct free hand position.  

In the command class it came down to who had the nicest flying lead change.  The slick QH got that one.   

Trail.  OH TRAIL CLASS.  This was HAAAARD!!!  

It was the Appy and the QH again.  Her gate was nicer, his sidepass was better.  Her haunch turn was more precise, his backup was slightly straighter.  The judge had to decide how to break that tie!!!

Now I can't even remember why she gave it to the Appy.  

Here's the funny thing - I learned a lesson in objectivity.  I know the little Appaloosa and her rider, because she's my friend "NC" and I've known her for over 20 years, knew that horse when she was a gawky yearling, and have learned so much from that woman it's not even measurable.  Huge respect.  I had to set that aside and be fair when the judge asked my opinion.

And the judge knows the fella with the slick QH.  She knows he's taken that horse to the States for competitions, and that he's ending the summer taking him to some smaller shows to let him relax a little.  

I really liked this judge and I think I'd like to have a few riding lessons with her.  Turns out she's not far from me and I've never met her.  

See, the connections you can make when you actually get up the guts to leave the farm for a day, eh?

And I should mention that in exchange for volunteering my time, Brave Little Woman told me I could put up a banner.  Volunteers and sponsors of classes get to hang banners with their business names on them.  Some guy who runs a graphics company and owes Jethro money made up a nice little vinyl banner with grommets around the edges, perfect for hanging on the chain link fence beside the show ring.  Nice little banner.  EIGHT FEET BY THREE FEET.  Yep, hi folks, that's me.  Mm hmm.  

Weird, I have not usually been an introvert in my life, but seeing your name that big gives the shivers.  

Good thing I was dressed nicely.

I'll need those nice new Wranglers for when I show next year.  Oh wait, I won't be showing, I'll be ring stewarding.  Hmmmmm..... 


Cindy D. said...

Very Cool!

Paul Tee said...

You make it sound so alluring that I really wish I had been there. Sound like fun, though I know it's a lot of work that goes with questioning your own competence at every turn. All the same, it's good to take risks and learn to enjoy them.

Very interesting what you said about objectivity, but ultimatrly, it's about being fair, I suppose..

I hope you make it next year and ride yourself.

jules said...