Show Report: ETSA Midsummer Classic, White Pine, TN

(Long post. No clear way to break into two parts. You have been warned.)

Alvin, his owners, & me. Photo by Mariah Bouchet.
Alvin, his owners, & me. Photo by Mariah Bouchet.

I’m generous with my toys at the barn. Sorta. Need to borrow a whip? A brush? Sure. Here. No problem. However, everything is marked with my initials &/or colored tape. I make sure the lent item comes home with me. Lend, but retrieve. I have been known to lend a horse to a friend. In limited circumstances. Under my direct oversight. I would be incapable of turning my horse over to a lesson program, no matter how well run. I can’t imagine having strangers ride my horse in front of me. Fortunately, there are folks in the world less possessive than I. Many of my Stepping Stone show mounts have been owned by kind folks who are also showing the horse at the same time: Lola in SC, Willie & Trump at the TN spring shows, and now Alvin.

Thank you to Julie & Rachel Wamble for sharing Alvin at this show.

Preclasses: Alvin the Wonderhorse
Sandra Hall Photography -> (Horse Show Proofs) -> ETSA Midsummer Classic (2013 ETSA 13) ->

We start with the photo section because Alvin was amazing.

First, he won the Natural Country Pleasure Championship with his owner, Rachel. -> Saturday Morning -> 078 – Natural Ctry Plea Champ -> black horse, pink coat. Per Instructor, natural means “Keg shoes and no artificial appliances.”

Then Alvin helped Been There, Done That make her driving debut (schooling photo here, show report pending. Update: Alvin’s driving pics here). -> Saturday Academy -> 083 AC Pleasure Driving.

Then us. -> Saturday Academy -> 087 – AC Equit Adult WT & 089 – AC Showmanship 11 and Over WT. Then, after the break -> Saturday Evening -> 098 – AC Equit WT Champ

Five classes, three disciplines: performance, driving & academy = three blues & two championships.

Insert my standard photo disclaimer about online photos. Support your local show photographer. If we don’t, they will go away. I know many camera-jockeys who have already walked away from show photography.

First Class: Superstition
In my last show report, I pointed out that I had taken home a blue from every show. Even though I tried to knock wood by pointing out that I was tempting fate, I still felt dangerously exposed. Then, I couldn’t find the blue hair bow that matched my outfit. I had to go with my old yellow one. Maybe all of the luck was in the bow? Was I doomed now that my bow clashed with my outfit? Then, we ran late and no one had time to do my make-up. Of course, I was heart-broken. Not. But what if it was the final sign that everything was about to fall to pieces?

Rationally, I knew that the only connection between my hair bow and my riding was a self-fulfilling one. Emotionally, however… Oh, don’t laugh. You’ve done the same thing.

I consoled myself that, worst case, if it was a complete disaster, I could get an amusing blog post out of it.

Second Class: You Can’t Handle the Truth
In the warm-up for the second class, I felt quite the daredevil. I had a blue in hand. I was qualified for the Championship class. I was about to ride in showmanship. Time to pull out the stops. Add some sizzle. Hero or zero time. To which Alvin said, ‘Um. No.’

I went charging around the ring feeling as if my afterburners were on fire. In truth, they were pale flickers of real ABS brio. I had the feeling there were several more gears that I could neither access, nor ride if I did access. Alvin very kindly said, ‘Here, let me give you the training-wheels version. That’s more than enough for you right now.’

As a show veteran, Alvin knows all about victory passes. Unfortunately for him, I also know what a turn of speed at the end of a class means. I leaned forward, threw the reins at him, and made like I was galloping for the finish line of a jump-off. At a trot. On a Saddlebred.

Third Class: Weighty Matters
The final class was for the first and second place riders from all of the equitation classes earlier. All. We didn’t stop at the 11-year-olds this time. I didn’t flinch. Those munchkins were going down!

I’d already won two classes, one of them against 2/3 of the competition. At a horse show, this means absolutely nothing. In addition to the performance choke that can happen in any sport, horse and rider may suddenly start singing from different parts of the songbook. Or, the lighting may be different, causing your horse to behave as if he never seen that end of the ring. Or, you have ride of a lifetime while the judge had a bad burrito at lunch.

This may be one reason riders are so superstitious. There is so much that we cannot control. I found myself bargaining with the universe, ‘Okay. I trade a loss here for a win in November.’ I tried to put the magical thinking aside, to be in the moment, and to control what I could control, which was mainly myself.

(Detailed discussion of riding position to follow. Non-riders may wish to skip.)

During the afternoon break, I had check out my photos from the first two classes. I could see the forward lean that Instructor kept droning on about. It wasn’t much, but it was obvious (photo ET13-087-002). I needed to open my chest, to pull my shoulders back and down. I had heard this before, in the pre-saddleseat era. But why? What exactly was I doing? I spent the next several hours pondering. I even put on my gloves, held my whip, and walked up and down the parking lot trying to figure out up to what my body parts were getting.

Clearly, I needed to get my shoulders back. But such a thing doesn’t happen in isolation. Moving that large a portion of my anatomy would have an effect on my weight. So, the correction had to start with my seat. I reminded myself that seat isn’t just my butt bones. In riding, seat is everything from above the knees to below the navel. The “core” that is the hot buzzword exercise these days.

Recently, I have been working on digging my knees into the saddle. This is a central tenet of saddleseat and counter to everything I have been taught previously. As I stood in the parking lot waggling my legs back and forth, I realized that by digging my knees inward I was leaning forward with my shoulders and sticking my posterior out the back. I was doing the Time Warp. (Graphic by Phil Loubere, reported here, see especially center image.)

There is no reason for busting my bootie. My knees and shoulders are not automatically connected. I needed to isolate and rotate my upper leg inward from the hip joint while keeping my upper body lifted. It is the reverse of ‘turn out’ in ballet.

Furthermore, I was hovering in the air doing a bad impression of a two-point. I have read/been told in interviews that the first big jump when moving up the levels in dressage comes between Second and Third levels. At Second, a decent rider on a nice-moving horse could still fake it till you make it. Sitting trot occurs but the rider is not truly connected to the horse’s back. Not matter if they think so at the time. This is particularly true of folks who ride Thoroughbreds, horses with a low tolerance for fools bouncing on their backs.

Plus (I warned you this was going to be long), I knew weight was somehow mysteriously connected to saddleseat riding. Sam had told me many times by not going well unless I was sitting up. When Been There, Done That came over for a driving lesson, she got thrown up on Sam. I could see how correct weight aids from dressage translated to getting Sam to motor around like a star. I need to unclench my keister, to merge my hamstring muscles with the leather of the saddle’s seat, to SIT DOWN.

I say ‘bad impression of a two-point’ because, I bet I will find that the upright upper body position of saddleseat is also correct in hunt seat. Yes, hunt seat distributes the rider’s weight down through the lower leg instead of through the seat. All the better to be out of the saddle over the top of a fence. However, that does not mean leaning forward and pitching my upper body over my horse’s neck, as I have been known to do.

(end position analysis.)

So there I am trotting around the ring, trying to SIT. I pass Junior Instructor and hear, “Chin up.” Yes, riders tend to look down. Wearing a helmet makes it more obvious. Fair cop, although I need to make it look more natural and less as if I am conducting the Philharmonic (photo ET13-098-009). I pass Instructor at the other end of the ring. I hear “Chin up” again. Really, that’s it, that’s all they’ve got?

Does it ever get old to hear your number announced first? Not for me.

For this victory pass, I remembered to stay upright when Alvin kicked it into gear. I was rewarded with a few steps of real Saddlebred motion. His shoulder lifted about six feet in the air, the whole front of the horse got light & fluffy, and suddenly I had this contained explosion going on in front of me. It felt as if he was on two wheels, but in a good way. Wheeee-ha (photo ET13-098-016)!

Alvin usually loves body work. The night before, I had spent about 20 minutes balancing his yang/yin water meridians, much to his great enjoyment. After my last class, I went to give him a few neck scratches. He said, ‘Thank you. Nice of you. Can we pick this up later? I’d really like to sit quietly alone for a few minutes.’

I went off to hyperventilate in front of someone else. It took me hours to wind down.

6 thoughts on “Show Report: ETSA Midsummer Classic, White Pine, TN

  1. Alvin is stunning! I love his ears! Congrats on the victory in the ring and on figuring out what you need to change to pull everything together for him. My trainer says a really good lesson horse doesn’t just resist, but when the rider asks for something incorrectly, the horse offers something else. In other words, it delivers just enough “wrong” to help you see where you’re screwing up. When asked correctly, it’s like the horse is reading your mind.

  2. Congratulations!!! It sounds like you had a terrific time and things are coming together in saddleseat world! Saddlebreds are so versatile! 🙂 Have a great weekend! Elizabeth

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