Thursday, October 13, 2011

Random Rainy Day Riding Related Thoughts

Julie's story about her recent show aside got me all nostalgic for showing. One of the reasons I would like to ride aside is to show aside. Because, of course, it's fun to get all dressed up. And there are few disciplines which lend themselves to getting all dressed up more than side saddle. Julie said she had been away from serious showing long enough that she had to start all over with packing, but even though it has been over 4 years since we headed out, give me my list and an hour to weed out non essentials and I would be ready to go right now. My trunks are still packed.

Back in the 1980s when Dad was hauling us, sometimes to two shows a weekend with two sets of horses, we were not allowed to take anything out of the rig during the week lest it come up missing on show day. We could outfit ourselves in flawless hunt seat, saddle seat or western garb at a moments notice. In fact, I once amused myself by showing my grey, appaloosa, heavy hunter in saddle seat attire next to a Saddlebred in a Pairs Pleasure class and won. And there was the time, to fill a qualifying class for a friend, when I showed my sister's Saddlebred mare western in a pair of chaps so outgrown that I had to be airlifted onto the horse and stuck on like a clothes pin because I was unable to bend my knees. It went brilliantly, but I almost upset the apple cart coming in a close second to the intended qualifyee. The critical point being the flying lead change on the second canter while the mare tried to figure out what neck reining was.

I remember packing for my first show when I was 7 years old. I remember having to clean my double bridle. No 7 year old wants to clean a double bridle. Much less reassemble it. My mother had tailored my second cousin's cast off green corduroy suit to fit, and borrowed a derby several sizes too big, which got rained on and scooped off my head from the rail mid class. That was the first of a hundred rainy horse shows in my life. My saddle was a vintage Barnsby saddle from before cutback lane fox saddles became the norm. We still have that saddle. It has a wonderful patina, much like my side saddle. It's a family heirloom of sorts.

What I wanted to do was ride three gaited saddle horses. I grew up going to the World's Championship in Louisville every August which is on par with the fanciest horse shows the world has to offer. My first, muddy, backyard show was a far cry from that and to say I was disillusioned is an understatement. It was another ten years, and several horses later when I finally got my three gaited horse and the fancy saddle suit I had been dreaming of. Mom made the formal jacket out of winter white Pendleton wool. I always loved the formal jods with the ribbon down the side, and the bow tie and cummerbund. I finally parted with the top hat a year or two ago, selling it to Julie for one of her side saddle habits.

When I became an adult, we stopped expecting Dad to haul us, and my sister and I, in our brave and highly motivated 20s, hauled horses all over 4 states in this rig. This was my first solo run. Mom, my sister, and grandmother had gone ahead with a load of hay and shavings, and after work I loaded my sister's horse, and my Hackney road pony (and the sulky on the roof) by myself and drove two and a half hours to join them. Packing was always part of the fun. We were well equipped and set up with a carpeted tack room, sharing stall curtains with a friend. Each show was an adventure. It was years before I realised vacation time could be taken for anything but horse shows!

We continued to show several seats. I love good fabric, and traditional attire. The fun of showing saddle seat is coordinating your shirt, tie and vest. And the fabrics for jackets. Mmmm. Somewhere I still have a bolt of cornflower blue plaid from back in the day when plaid day coats were the "thing" to wear. We just never got around to putting it together. And hunt seat, with the boots.... I love a good pair of tall boots. I've even worn my field boots, with a dress, to the office. **Shrug** You have to break them in somehow.

The Horse Show Mom

After a decade of being away from horses, I got back into showing briefly, to take Grey to the county fair under hunt tack. The first time I rode at home in tall boots and breeches, I fell off within the first 50 feet. I kid you not. I got on, started to walk, and was thinking "it doesn't feel like my heels are down in these boots" when Grey pulled his signature spook and spin left. Slick leather does not grip the same as suede half chap, and before I knew what happened, he had jumped out from under me. I literally bounced off his rump and landed (whooompfh) on my fanny in the sand, my feet stuck out in front of me.

But now I am fully accustomed in riding in field boots and breeches. I even had the pleasure of outfitting myself to go fox hunting this spring. I bought a second hand black melton coat, and got myself fully outfitted in brown gloves, stock tie and the works. What fun! I love that hunt coat.

My husband managed to snap one photo of me on "Remus" (far right)

This past summer I've noticed a funny thing about dinner parties and introducing myself to strangers. When I say I "ride side saddle", and "go fox hunting" (yes, only once but I shall again, despite the fact that fox hunting requires awaking before the sluggish autumn sun rise, which I highly disapprove of) it some how transforms me in the person's mind from silly house wife with large, impractical, pooping pet horse to some sort of mythical, feminist Annie Oakley character who drinks her whiskey straight, then throws the glass in the air and shoots it to smithereens. Don't ask me why, but it does and I find it highly entertaining.

The Old Dominion Hunt from the back of my horse.

First flight catches up to the hilltoppers.

And then my husband will chime in with his account of the fox hunt. Yes, I toted my husband along on my fantasy vacation, and he went along with the car followers and got the quintessential fox hunting experience complete with two views of the fox, eccentric landed gentry, guests from England, and a score of horse crazy women who had caused domestic disturbances forsaking their husbands to join "the gals" for a weekend of drinking and hunting. It went something like this:

It was a windy day, and we had hounds EVERYWHERE. I heard that the huntsman lost the pack at least once. The fox was only mildy inconvenienced, and the whole thing played out like a farce. It actually lent a shade of the ridiculous to what I had always seen as a noble and elegant pursuit. That cartoon kept running through my head "which way did they go? which way did they go?". A good time was had by all, but mostly by the fox who was home laughing in his den at least an hour before the whips found all their hounds.

Perhaps some day I can say that I fox hunt aside. Now wouldn't that be something? Plenty of women do, especially on the High Holy Days of Opening Hunt, Thanksgiving and Christmas. That's what I love about fox hunters. They're not afraid to dress up in top hats and tails to go galloping through mud and briars just for the fun of it. You have to love that.


  1. I rode as a child and have returned to the saddle after 20 years. We never had amazing adventures out and about like you though, particularly since our pony club was in the paddock next door to our farm. People always seem rather impressed when I say I've been riding, although at the moment they are querying the unfortunate stiff limp I have due to a hard whump onto the ground from the height of 16.2 hands. I'm really proud of myself for getting back into it and not letting it scare me too much!

  2. Oh what a small world! I just came across this post while looking for foxhunting photos. I have also ridden Remus of Hunter's Rest, though when I hilltopped I rode X. Betsy's horses are great.

    1. I had so much fun that day. I'm thinking it's time to go back!