Our columnist Katy Groesbeck takes a break from eventing to kick everyone’s butt at a dressage show.
Oh the places you’ll go… and the things you’ll see there
This weekend, for a change of pace, Wort and I went on a little adventure to a dressage show in our area. I haven’t been to a dressage show in about four or five years, back when Wort and I were competing Third and Fourth Level and before we began seriously eventing, but when I found out that the eventing clinic on my calendar had been cancelled, my coach encouraged me to enter the show, instead.
Despite my own doubts, Nina confidently told me to enter the Open Stakes Prix St. Georges class on Saturday. Though I was skeptical, I trusted her to know best. Over the two weeks I had to prepare from that point, I took three lessons and Nina helped whip me into shape. The first day, she asked me to run through the test… “OK, well it could use some work.” Understatement of the year.
By the following Friday, however, I felt like we could make a respectable showing, at least enough to not completely embarrass myself. We actually DID end up doing well, winning the class with a 65.9%, even edging out Hilda Gurney on another Arabian. I admit that although I was thrilled, I felt a bit guilty when a friend (and dressage rider) jokingly approached me: “Gee, Katy, I bet you really annoyed all the REAL dressage riders here. You know, the ones who spend every day working at this stuff.” Oops.
But back to the point, I had forgotten just how different the world is from a different discipline’s point of view. I used to frequently cross over disciplines when I was younger and I never took much notice of the cultural differences, but that day I was hard-pressed not to take note of the fact that I was NOT at an event.
For one thing, the horses are MASSIVE–no slender OTTBs here. Even the short ones are chunky Warmblood crosses. They all have thick tails, round butts, and big muscular necks. And the bigger the horse, the smaller the rider… and vice versa.
And as much as eventers are stigmatized for our “crazy” horses, I have to say I saw more out of control horses here than I typically see at an event. Flower boxes and judges stands are points of particular contention and sources of hysteria; my horse thought he’d fit in more if he spooked a few times going around the court, too. Five-foot ditch wall: no problem. Two-foot planter box: big problem. I looked up at one point to see a beautiful bay gelding doing a nice medium canter to the barn, slender junior rider elegantly poised on his back. It was such a controlled and mannerly scene that it wasn’t until I saw the trainer, five-seconds in tow hollering, “Turn him! Turn him!” that I fully understood that the rider wasn’t going back to the barn on purpose. They did eventually make it back to the court to ride their test.
Of course, these moments were more poignantly called to my attention thanks in large part to the excessive amount of BLING sported by both horses and riders. Where I come from, quarter marks and colored cross-country pads are about as ostentatious as it gets. I used to wear a colored breast-collar, which got more than one person all a-twitter. But dressage is ALL about the fashion, and the amount of sparkle coming off these horses–pads, bridles, gloves, hair nets, whips, halters–was enough to blind the competition. Or maybe that’s the point.
The conversation you overhear at dressage shows is also drastically different from the things you overhear at events. The gossip is different, the name-dropping is different, the warm-up arena is barely even audible compared to an event (it’s also more entertaining, if I’m being dead honest). I heard one woman ask another spectator (a veterinarian), “Is the heat hard on the horses? Do you think he’ll colic?” I turned around expecting to see an inquisitive horse show mom. Nope, a competitor, dressed in her whites and waiting for her trainer to get done schooling her horse in the warmup. I don’t even know where to begin.
Of course, I’ll be honest that I’m sure my friends and I turned more than a few heads with our own antics. Because we had three horses to haul to the show and only a two-horse trailer, we had to run a shuttle service to and from the barn. So when the trailer had to leave two of us behind to go fetch the third horse, we simply put our haynets and water buckets on the ground and let our horses ground-tie as we untacked and cleaned up from the morning rides. Using the trunks of our cars as tackrooms, we took turns keeping one eye on the horses (essentially loose in the parking lot) while we pulled off boots and jackets and wiped down tack. “Oh don’t mind us, we’re just eventers.”