As Friday evening approached, I was a bit anxious. I know that I rode Oliver aside in the schooling show in August. I know that I now had a sidesaddle that actually fit and that I was secure in.. even in awkward situations.. but I still noticed as I slipped on my brown leather gloves that my hands were trembling. After all, this was the group of people whom I considered my riding peers. This was a group of ladies especially to whom I wanted to make a good impression on concerning riding sidesaddle as an alternative. I did not necessarily need to make it look easy.. but I HAD to show that it was just as safe to ride aside as it is astride. I truly believe that, with the only exception having to do with a mount that rears. My goal after all, is to attract at least a few women into this discipline to whom I can show with and therefor have our own sidesaddle classes, not rejecting the idea of showing against saddleseat riders in other categories of classes though. I just want to broaden the horizon!
I would be showing in a American Saddlebred Country Pleasure Class. The specifics of this class are MANNERS MANNERS MANNERS.. and the Saddlebred horses are not allowed to wear pads under their shoes. (another subject - but please do not confuse us with the giant walking horse shoes) It has been a huge project to get Oliver to flat walk. In his mind, prancing IS walking. He will stand like a gentleman all day, but from there he would prefer to lift off into a canter!
I chose to wear my brown day coat combined with a cream vest and the embroidered silk skirt I made. It always drapes so lovely when I ride in it and makes for the most elegant pictures. That is not why I chose it though .. I chose it because it is the outfit that looks most like what the ladies riding astride wear. I wore the dark brown derby, gloves and jod boots.(not the brown top hat shown in the above picture)
The skirt is so large around the bottom, I can sweep it up in my arms and mount off of a regular mounting block. There is a small measure of slipperiness to it, but not enough to cause any problems. Once aboard, I wiggled and situated myself into a comfortable spot and gave the saddle one last cinch before walking off. 2 steps in and I knew Oliver was revved up. Both Sandy, the head trainer at Bluebonnet Farm and assistant Dora walked with me to the warm up arena.
The practice arena was full, both with the 6 other entries in my class and a few horses for the class following ours. I took Oliver to the right and just asked him to walk the rail. He sniffed and snorted at different things, but knowing Oliver the way I do.. it was just a show. He was eared up and excited to show.
In the hum of voices, I heard Sandy say TROT. I took in the slack from the reins and asked him to move out. You don't have to ask Oliver to go forward twice! He picked up a cute trot and we made our way about the practice arena. My heart was pounding, not from riding, but from nerves. Why oh why had I not had a glass of wine before I rode?
After a short canter, we changed direction. Oliver did not want to flat walk at all. With every step he was trying to lift into the canter. To some this may have looked like he was wanting to rear. I knew otherwise though. As a last ditch effort, I tried something. I turned him to cut the corner, as if I was asking him to cut across the arena. It worked - NOT perfect, but at least he was more willing to give me a more casual way of going... for a few strides. But - It would buy us some time!
I let him trot and then I went to the center and waited for our class to be called. It felt like a millisecond. I looked about and tried to be one of the last horses to enter the ring. I do this because posting the Saddlebred trot can be exhausting for long bouts and I have seen the first horse into the show ring make 3 full passes before all of the horses get in to just start the class!
We started our trot out easy and calm. We entered the show ring and BING.. Oliver was star struck. He started trotting high and strong. His front legs were moving up and down with the precision of a sewing machine needle. I could not help myself but to glance down, just to watch those wonderful legs at work! At first I was nervous. I felt my shoulders go up around my neck, making for a hideous looking picture. I tried to remind myself to stretch high from the chest and keep my shoulders down.
We circled the ring twice before the ring master called for the extended trot. "Extended Trot?" I thought to myself.. Good grief - if I let Oliver go any more, he might break into a canter. I ever so gently allowed him to pick up some speed.. but only the slightest amount!
Next the walk was called. I brought Oliver down and he did flat walk.... about 3 paces. I constantly crooned to him... Whoa - Walk ... Whoa - Walk... He is a horse show veteran though. He heard the announcer call for the canter. I made him wait for the horse in front of us and in so doing, he repositioned himself. Alas, we took off on the wrong lead... right in front of the judge. It was not until we turned the corner that I knew.
We reversed and started to trot clock-wise. Oliver was like a bottle rocket. I have never EVER ridden him like this and it made me wonder if this was not a flash back to his early years as a show horse. We came around the back side of the arena and he slightly cocked his head to the left. He was looking at some posters hung on the rail. He never spooked at them, but all of a sudden I felt the back of my saddle drop as he dug in to make a most impressive above level trotting round. I stayed with him and felt nothing but pure adrenaline running through my veins. At this point my shoulders were glued to my ears though.. I don't think anything could have pried them loose!!!
Coming down to the walk from that performance was almost impossible. I stopped him way off the rail and pointed his nose straight into it. Thankfully the judge did not ask for an extensive flat walk.. because 3 strides was all Oliver was capable of giving me before lifting into the canter. I let him go.
I could not smile, only for having to use my mouth to get as much oxygen into my lungs as possible.. but I was all smiles in my heart. I knew we would not place well. Oliver was riding too strong for a Country Pleasure class and I cantered him on the wrong lead the first direction. I did not care. I had the ride of a lifetime. Not once did I ever feel insecure in my sidesaddle. Not once did I ever feel like Oliver was going to do something to cause me harm. I was consumed with doing what I needed to do to help Oliver and with relaxing. Obviously I have a lot to learn... but I think with Sandy and Dora by my side.. it will happen.. and happen sooner than later!
..to be continued..