Monday 26 November 2012

Ms. V versus The Swiffer...our first show

The STORY Curmudgeon!!  Tell the fricking STORY!!

Oh, sorry. I lied. That was totally a rant, wasn't it. But seriously, it goes perfect with the next chapter of the story.

Ms. V's first show.

Yes, the time had come.  After about six months of walk, trot, occasional canter - circles here there everywhere and herky jerky transitions - we were READY!  We signed up for our very first Bronze show - Intro A and B.

For those of you not in Canada, Bronze shows are the lowest on the totem pole of shows, and really, this makes them the most fun of all to attend.

Anyone can go to a Bronze show and feel welcome.  Purple Troxel - sure. Half-chaps - yes. Is your horse a Georgian Gypsy Commercial Vanteca?  You will fit right in.

Is your horse not only in front of the vertical, but also often in front of the horizontal?  Are you tempted to do your training level freestyle to a song by Sir Mix-A-Lot, in honour of your horses scrambling gaits and/or butt size?  Great.  Come on down.

There are usually happy little prize baskets with carrots and horse shampoo and a lead shank, maybe a saddle pad, and generic ribbons with no year printed on them so they can be used indefinitely.  And of course, at least one or two self important, busybody volunteers who are treating it all like the World Cup has come to Puslinch.

But really their true appeal lies in the fact that you don't need multiple expensive memberships to enter, and the actual entry fees are reasonable.  Yep, they are dirt cheap, in the grand scheme of all things relating to dressage and horses.

And - surprise, surprise!  You tend to get what you pay for in this world, and bronze shows are no exception.  When I arrived on site at some ungodly hour of the morning with Ms. V, The Swiffer, and my mighty entourage in tow, the first alarming fact was that the "Longeing Area" was a slippery square of sloping grass in the parking area, still wet with dew.  Kind of more of a "Legbreaker Area" than a "Longeing Area".  Who's leg? Dealer's choice.

Tip #1 for those of you who always longe your horses before riding - stop doing that if you plan to go to small shows with limited facilities. You need to be able to get on your 3 year old right out of the trailer, when she is high as a kite... first thing in the morning, when she hasn't been turned out yet, at all, and is incredibly confused as to where she is and why.

Instead of longeing - maybe start a training program that involves leaving your horse inside for the day so she is slightly off kilter and nutso when you arrive. Then ask someone to come with you and ride around in the ring on a bicycle, or with a screaming kid in a stroller holding balloons...something, anything totally weird and distracting.  Mix it up. Lastly, drink four RedBulls before you start riding, so you are jittery and distracted and forget everything that you usually might do during a nice normal ride. If you plan to show, practicing under these conditions will help you to prepare more than longeing before you ride on a daily basis.

Live and learn.

The next problem was, of course - the warm-up.  Because during my lessons and most of my in-between rides at Liliput, I either rode entirely alone or with other boarders who were incredibly courteous and stayed out of our way if anything went amiss.  Oh, having issues with your young one?  I will just stay down this end of the arena.

Tip #2 - these people are not at the show.  Instead, the warm-up is an entire herd of people with things going amiss, who all need to stay out of each other's way while trying not to die themselves.

I was no stranger to the show ring, but my last experiences a few years prior to this were at mid-level (Trillium) hunter jumper shows.  The warm up rings there are so refreshingly simple as compared to dressage shows.  Any dressage shows, really, not just the lower level ones.  Everyone just goes around the on-the-rail speedway, left to left... when one decides to jump a fence, they yell out their intentions in the de rigeur whiny sounding hunter voice "heads up owwwt-syyyde..." or "heads up axxx-sserrr" or whatever - and everyone knows what the hell is going on.

Not so in the Bronze dressage show warm-up, where 10 adult women on the edge of having nervous diarrhea are all somehow trying to pack 20 metre circles into a tiny sand ring, without crashing into each other, while staring intently at their horse's necks.  Accompanied by 10 or so pony club kids, who are darting here and there fearlessly with no regard for traffic regulations of any sort.

Right up to the end of my showing career, I never ceased to be amazed by people who would cut you off in the warm-up as though they had no concept of where you could possibly be heading.  Even at the Gold shows. Here is a tip - dressage is just not all that mysterious.  If you see a horse doing a medium trot, just about anywhere... assume they will continue going in a straight line.  Half pass - probably going to head on over doing a diagonal type line.  If someone has been on a 20 m circle for 5 minutes - they are probably going to stay there.

Sure, there is the off chance they will suddenly whirl around and head off in some totally unexpected direction, but play the odds and figure they won't - don't suddenly do some asshole maneouver right in front of them just because the voice of God (or your coach) is being piped directly into you headphones and told you so.

Anyway... once she got over her initial shock and awe at the fact that other people had the nerve to show up ride in her private little space and she settled into a groove - things actually went very well.  The ring at this particular venue is tucked into the "U" shape formed between the two barns and arena, so it is very quiet and private, and when we headed into the ring, Ms. V sighed a huge sigh of relief (ahh, those assholes are gone!) and went to work.

The result?  Sevens for our trot circle and free walk.  Sixes everywhere else except our centreline / halts - fives.

Collectives - seven paces, six impulsion, five submission, six rider.

Overall score - 60%. No ribbon, I think we were sixth or something .

Comment in just about every square, the reason we got sixes instead of sevens (the scribe should really have come up with a shorthand) - unsteady in contact.  For a three year old in Intro A. I guess I have to tell myself, what else do they possibly have to say?  There just isn't that much going on.

And so, with the Intro classes over - I knew at that time the most important part of the day was not the actual showing, but getting Ms. V out and about and seeing the sights to make being off property less frightening and mysterious. I brought along a sidekick who then walked her all over the grounds exposing her to this and that, while I took The Swiffer in the Training level classes.

We won both handily, with glowing comments and scores in the high 60's.

In retrospect, this experience pretty much sums up dressage shows, judging, and moving up the levels.  Talented young horse showing in an age appropriate class, with age appropriate issues - not likely to win or score high.  Topped out at training level senior citizen going through the motions for the 98th time in his life without batting an eye...smokes the pack.

Your scores at the lower levels tell you NOTHING about the likelihood of your horse to progress in dressage.  Although this was so long ago that the results are no longer online so I can't be sure, I would hazard to guess with some confidence that Ms. V was the only horse in the 2004 Intro A/B division that went on to school Grand Prix. No, not because she was the only talented three year old in the county, but because I was the only owner stupid enough to bother showing Intro A/B at a bronze show.

It is hard to be objective when you arms are bundled with carrots and leadshanks and shampoo, and you are basking in the glory of kicking the ass of other sweating middle aged women on their sweating middle aged horses, but really, that should have been it for me and showing.  Even at this rinky-dink show, with the troxels and halfchaps, the concept was very clearly laid out for me. I should have said "AHA! This is a stupid racket!  No wonder the big dogs don't bother fritzing around at training level!  See you guys at PSG!".  But I didn't.

And hey - what would I have spent those thousands of dollars and lost weekends on, anyways?


  1. I shall count my lucky stars that the Bronze shows I've attended were not so chaotic....granted they were almost empty. Then again, it was Troy, not Puslinch, and that makes a world of difference; I believe there were more green Troxels than purple.

  2. getting better! i am enjoying your blogging more and more

  3. ROLF!!! This is so awesome. I remember the first time I went to a lower level show where everyone had crazy colors, no one could control their horses, people looked like they were going to cry and poop their pants at the same time, and people were randomly falling off. It was eye opening. I had no idea this world existed. I have signed my youngster up to attend one of these shows in Jan in a halter class. My only goal is to get him out and about. I wonder if it makes me a bad person that I hope someone shows up in zebra print on a tiny white arab with a butt that won't fit in her saddle? I am bringing popcorn.........

  4. I can totally relate to your Puslinch experience, yet applaud you for taking out a 3 y/o to a show, and then RIDE. Gutsy. Knowing I was on a 3 y/o ticking timebomb with limited steering and iffy breaks, I couldn't trust other riders to stay clear in case I needed to bail (it's easier to bail when they're smaller, once they're full grown you have no choice but to hold on and hope the temper tantrum will be short lived).

    Instead, I waited another year before I jumped in (head first) into Trillium/Silver Training Level with a 4 y/o and was lucky to receive mid-50's. You still had to watch out for the adult ammies with their eyes on their horse's ears and the occassional black&white sprints across the parking lot to the portapotties.

  5. Ah,DC. Lay it out for us!!

    "In retrospect, this experience pretty much sums up dressage shows, judging, and moving up the levels. Talented young horse showing in an age appropriate class, with age appropriate issues - not likely to win or score high. Topped out at training level senior citizen going through the motions for the 98th time in his life without batting an eye...smokes the pack.

    Your scores at the lower levels tell you NOTHING about the likelihood of your horse to progress in dressage."

    So f---ing true. So f---ing sad.

    Back when my now 17 year old GP horse was an extraordinary 3, I made the mistake of entering a BREEDING show- yes, that's a show where one takes ONLY ill behaved youngsters- in a "suitable to be a dressage horse" class. The winner? the horse with it's head cranked the hardest to it's chest. The loser? My horse who was age suitably in front of the verticle, or IFV for those Bulletin Board saavy.

    In the line classes for my filly- the filly who smoked her competition at the Hano inspection- the foal who all the judges whipped out their cameras to take pictures of- was judged in height order. Winner: 16.3H 3 year old. Last in line- my 15.3H filly. Winner was never heard of again, because with her movement and conformation she should have been a halter horse, and I'm sure she never set a sound foot down again, but my filly went on to set records in three disciplines and I sold her for 5 figures.

    Why, oh why!!! didn't I get the picture in front of me? Am I just willfully delusional? Need to burn my money? What IS it?????

  6. So true. My current horse was evented through prliminary by his previous owner. Now he's showing PSG with me. When I bought him I asked why they did eventing instead of dressage with him (he started out as a dressage horse) and they said it was because he did so poorly at training/1st level.

    I try to tell people not to worry so much about stretchy circles or perfect submission etc., and that the rubber doesn't really hit the road until 2nd... but they typically either don't believe me or get insulted because that's where they spend their time.

    Personally, I think 3rd level is where it starts to get really fun.

  7. I recently decided that the mare and I are retiring from competitive dressage. We're pretty much stuck at Training Level, schooling a little first, but with her soundness issues I doubt we'd do much more than that (though trainer and I are teaching her to piaffe, just for fun -- yes, it's a party trick but trainer says that some lower-level horses really benefit from it.) And you know? Training Level is *boring*!!! But I still get to enjoy my *safe*, well-trained mare :)

  8. Gee DC when did you tag along with me on my schooling show era with my half saddlebred??? We call the lower level shows here schooling shows. Our local university has a few each year with a tiny indoor, an out door you have to hike to get to, a tiny parking lot filled with cars, moms, dads, buses, horse trailer/trucks, strollers, kids n ponies, a vendor, dogs on and off leashes, little pavilions, collapsible chairs and people who are either in top end show attire or sweatpants with half chaps on!! ( I have pictures!!)
    My first ever attempt at going to a dressage/combined training schooling show, I took my 6 yr old morgan/qh gelding who was the size of a very large pony ( I weighed about 225lbs at the time as well) I boarded at a huge stable a field over so drove over in my car, took out my all purpose saddle and my show clothes, and drove over and got my horse, saddled him and hacked over to the show, I had splurged for a stall.
    Study dressage tests obsessively while in the tub, making copies so I can mark when I ask for which gait at which mark. AND then try to figure out how in the h*ll to do a salute (before the advent of You tube!!)
    Oh. the tale I tell about my salute... (Face Palm**)
    Ahh so many mistakes, but not as bad as the one I made with my saddlbred cross mare!!
    I taught her to jump over tiny cross rails the day before the show (IE trot up to it in 2 point, have her come to a dead stop, and step over the rail, continue on the next, stop/repeat/rinse) And then have her turn herself around backwards in the 2 horse trailer I was borrowing... so unload the horse, take 20 mins to get her back in, go home... go out early the next day, try to do a french braid with her long mane... have it fall out as she refuses to get into the tiny death box she sees the trailer as. Curse, cry, plead, cajole and finally force the horse into the trailer.
    Wedge trailer and horse into tiny parking spot, quickly come up with the continental braid, put the crocheted ear thingy on, which I find out later is a DQ...
    Sign up for a W/T class with the kiddies, and a baby x rail class with the same toddlers..
    My horse had been in with ponies for a few years and was then stabled with a giant herd of pintos... what did the kids have when we went into warm up?? YUP.. pintos and ponies.. my mare was a juvenile minded 5 yr old, whatever concentration she had went out the window when she saw the kids' horses n ponies.
    My mare " Hey, look, I know you from some where don't I??"
    Curmudgeony pony " Look lady, I gots a job to do! Go stand over there!"
    "But But, you're my new besty!!!"
    Needless to say I placed last in a w/t class against 6 yr olds!!
    On he plus side, her little light bulb went off during the warm up and actual class for the baby jumps where she finally figured she could trot and *gasp* canter over the tiny cross rails!!
    We don't show or try to, she likes trails and parades!!

  9. I SOOO wanted to do a freestyle to Sir Mix A Lot's "Baby Got Back" on my now retired draft cross mare.