I hath cantered in a saddleseat show. On purpose. For this year’s Winter Tournament shows, I moved up from Beginner Walk-Trot Adult to the Advanced Walk-Trot-Canter Adult, skipping the four steps in between: Intermediate WT, Advanced WT, Beginner WTC, Intermediate WTC. In my first class at this level, I placed third out of five. Am I pleased?
Of course not.
Last year [Sorta] was all about showing Saddlebreds, of which I knew nothing. I was thrilled to get around. This year is all about cantering, which is in my wheelhouse. Therefore, I am more aware of what I need to be doing and how close I am not.
When we entered the indoor arena, Sam declaimed that he had never, I say never! seen anything quite as upsetting as the people at the far end or the opening along the side wall. Personal safety demanded that he give these spaces a wide berth lest crocodiles leap out at him. Mind you, Sam has probably been in more show rings than I have. He was having a moment.
I was so sure I could handle this that I reverted to my old riding style. When a horse objects, I had been taught to turn the head to the inside & push past the Scary Thing with my inside leg. Unfortunately, Saddlebreds go off the outside rein and leg. The few times I remembered this, Sam would straighten out and fly right … and then gallop down the long side. It was early in the day and he was feeling good.
(Ideally, one uses all of one’s aids, both inside and outside. Ultimately, the two systems are not as divergent as they seem initially. However, if I plan on using only one rein, I should pick the one with which the horse is more familiar.)
I sat up and rode correctly about half the time, which is probably why I finished halfway through the pack.
My frustration is less about the ribbons and more about not riding well. For example, I’m equally peeved about my second class, yet I was the only competitor. I took home the blue by virtue of staying on. None of the other Adult WTC riders wished to attempt the pattern [description, Back]. The indoor arena at the show was 180 x 40 feet. Yes, that’s feet not meters. For my metric readers that is 54 x 12 meters. In comparison, a dressage ring is 20 meters, or 66 feet, wide. Therefore, a two-loop serpentine meant the
roll-backs turns were 20 feet, or 6 meters, wide. Totally doable. I nailed, or at least negotiated, the trot loops.
As we stood at the halt to start the canter serpentine, we were facing the end of the arena to which Sam had objected in the first class. I needed to sit chilly to get Sam collected and paying attention to me rather than to the scary, horse-eating spectators. The requisite poise was not maintained. With a maneuver that tight, once I blew the start there was no time for recovery, however hard I tried to claw my way back on track.
After the class, my instructor said I made beginner mistakes in the pattern. Sadly, no. Far from beginner mistakes, these were deeply-entrenched errors that I have been making for years: cutting my turns, riding hastily, throwing my shoulders instead of shifting my weight, thumping with my legs, and wind-milling my elbows. The more I flail, the less effective I get, thereby causing the horse to careen wildly, thereby causing me to increase my flailing. Some horses have been kind enough to get around jump-offs anyway. On Saturday, Sam was not about to perform canter voltes without me. Annoyingly, I KNOW we could have skated flawlessly through the maneuver if I had only sat up and asked properly. Grrrr.
As I suspected, being alone in a class did not diminish my competitive streak one iota.