What I saw: I traveled to a weekend of dressage shows at the Green Mountain Horse Association Show Park, in South Woodstock, Vermont
What I wore: Charles Owen helmet, glasses, heavy-duty hairnet, fancy snood, earrings, stock tie secured with an antique pin, Ariat show shirt, Pikeur black show jacket and white full-seat breeches, belt, ProCompression white socks, custom Vogel tall dress boots, Prince of Wales spurs, white SSG gloves.
What I did beforehand: dropped dogs at a friend’s. Drove to Vermont via the back roads.
Who went with me: the Bacon Provider, who proved to be an exemplary horse-show husband, holding my horse (which is actually his horse), taking pictures when asked to (but not not taking too many), watching us go, clapping, and saying we did a good job.
Why I did this show: you have to keep at it if you want to get better.
Where I sat: on my horse and on rocking chairs on the covered porch.
Things that were sad: Sometimes when you come out of the show ring, someone from the show management puts on rubber gloves and does a spot check, inspecting the bit in the horse’s mouth, making sure you haven't stuffed their ears, checking for spur-rubs on their flanks, and measuring your whip. The rule is a whip can be no more than 120 cm long. It’s a sport; you do have to have rules. At 8:14 a.m. on Saturday, I rode my first test, and got checked by the blue-eyed and friendly red-head attending my ring. Everything was fine. At 10:42 a.m., I rode again, and had a slight error. On our way out of the ring, we were checked again, by the same friendly red-head. This time, my whip did not pass the test, and she looked at me with her bright blue eyes and said I'd have to wait while the TD was called for. The TD arrived in her golf cart, looked at my whip, and left. The red-head returned my whip to me, and then I saw what the problem was: the tassel on the end of the whip now had four almost imperceptible threads teased from the end, lengthening it. She looked at me again with her bright-blue eyes and said, “It’s fine. She says just go trim it.”
I understood, “It’s fine. She says just go trim it,” to mean that everything was ok. But it wasn't. Later when I went to get the sheet with the judge’s comments and scores, “ELIMINATED” was written across my test sheet in red pen on both sides.
Things that were funny: I won my 8:14 class, and had the high point amateur score at training level that day.
Things that were not funny: of the English riding disciplines I’m familiar with (eventing, dressage, and hunter/jumpers), it seems everyone thinks theirs is the superior discipline, and the others are doing it wrong. I have heard hunter/jumpers say that dressage riders are fussy control freaks, and that dressage is boring until the highest levels. I have heard eventers say that dressage is a tool, but that jumping is the whole point of riding. I have heard hunter/jumpers say that the eventers ride mediocre horses and risk their necks (and their horses’ lives) galloping pell-mell over cross-country courses jumping solid obstacles. I have heard dressage people say the hunter/jumpers don’t know enough flatwork.
What it is: most of dressage competition is simply riders and horses performing written tests. The thing I like about it, despite the vagaries of a subjectively judged sport, is getting written feedback.
|Selfie, with Chainsaw Squirrel at GMHA|
The weather was almost perfect the whole weekend, everyone--from the show office to the cook shack at GMHA-- was friendly and helpful and nice, there is a terrific tack store next to the show park, and Woodstock has nice places to stay and decent restaurants to try. The show park has limited to no wireless coverage: one of those rare and annoying treats which is simultaneously anxiety-provoking and liberating.
Who should see it: Within the last decade or so, someone noticed that the classes well-attended by spectators at dressage shows were always the musical kur, or freestyle classes. There is something fundamentally irresistible about horses moving to music. Originally, these classes were reserved for riders at the highest levels, but the USDF added musical freestyle for lower levels, and these are popular and surprisingly fun to watch.
I am not always the best sports spectator, having a short attention span and a squeamishness about witnessing amateurish mistakes, but I do enjoy watching people and horses that I know. Anyway, we took our chairs to the top of the hill and watched a bunch of freestyle programs. At first I joked that it was like watching figure skating. The similarities are obvious (music, an arena, judges). What surprised me, though, was how inspiring it was to see a freestyle to music that really matched a horse’s way of going, how entertaining it was to see a horse throw a fit, crow-hopping across the diagonal like a bronco, and how entertaining it was, even when I didn’t like the music (yes, I did hear flamenco Mozart Jupiter symphony and Pachelbel’s Canon in D). I have to say that a horse and rider moving in harmony to appropriate music had, for me, the satisfaction of real art.
What I saw on the way home: a big, muscled guy stopped his pickup truck in the middle of Route 4 in Vermont to help a duck cross the road safely. In Perkinsville, three large white bedsheets hanging on a picket fence with a large message on each in red spray paint: “THE VILLAGE DON’T NEED SEX OFFENDERS.” Between Chester and Londonderry, a “Trump for President” banner strung across the collapsing roof of a rotting shed, which housed a rusting, tow-behind pop-up camper. In Amenia, we stopped to get the dogs, and to eat ice cream and see people we don’t see often enough anymore. On Route 22 south of Wingdale, NY, a violent rainstorm drenched us with great blasts of rain, lasting for a half an hour, and when we reached home, the pavement was dry and it hadn’t rained at all.