Never one for sleeping in I hit the road at 6:00am Saturday on my way to Tacoma Unit to watch the Washington State Horseman Finals Show. I was determined to watch the Western Riding, which happened to be the first two classes of the day starting at 8:00am. I very rarely go to horse shows as a spectator, when I do I spend my time longing for my own horse, often miserable that I am there without her. I did not experience that yesterday; instead I was grateful for my decision to give ourselves another show season before participating in a Western Riding class at that level.
When I pulled into the busy show grounds at 7:30am; the place was bustling with activity. Horses in sleezys were everywhere. The wash rack was in full gear with Paint horses waiting their turn to get the green off their legs. From what I could pick up from the announcer there were less than 10 horses in both Western Riding classes. They were using pattern 2 for the first class and pattern 4 for the championship class. Each horse and rider had to enter the arena and wait for the judge to acknowledge their start. The pattern started within a few steps of their starting position. Pattern 2 begins with the jog over a pole, as soon as each horse picked up its left lead I had a pretty good feel for how the rest of the pattern would go.
Several of the horses in the class had what I consider to be a very compromised lope. They were shut down to the point that the natural cadence of the gait was no longer recognizable. Their lead changes were done in a stutter step, and while the pattern was executed correctly, the lope for me was painful to watch. A few of them went across the arena with the horse’s hind end cocked to the direction of the lope. I wasn’t the picture of straight that I had expected to see at this level.
2 horses stood out to me, they were allowed to move out yet were still slower than anything Grace and I have pulled off so far. Their gaits were much cleaner which resulted in a lead change that looked effortless. The top horse in the class performed lead changes worthy of a breed show. He moved along at the lope, changed exactly where his rider asked him to and kept the same cadence throughout the pattern. He and his rider were a breath of fresh air and were awarded 1st place under both judges in both classes. Their scores were in the 70’s and they earned the championship in both Western Riding classes.
I now have a VERY clear picture of what I do and do not want. I’ve never been a fan of the mechanical way of going of many of the Western Pleasure horses. I also am very aware that if I wanted that movement from my mare I would have to severely compromise her natural gait and that is something I have never been willing to do. We have our work cut out for us, but I now have image of the end result planted firmly in my mind. Our first winter series schooling show is October 15th. This year we will enter the horsemanship pattern classes, as well as showmanship and trail. I believe that all of those pattern classes will help us with the precision that we will require for Western Riding. This might be the first time I’ve had a plan for the show season, with a goal set at the end. Now I just need to approach each ride with my goal in mind but without letting an agenda compromise my training.