September 22, 2016
Last weekend I took a day trip down to Cannon Falls, Minn., to get out of the city and get in touch with my equestrian side. My friend was competing in a saddle-seat riding competition, which I knew nothing about, but certainly received the full experience. Saddle seat is an incredibly competitive equestrian sport, but unlike the barrel racing or cattle roping you’ll see in rodeos on ESPN III, it is incredibly refined.
The riders compete in classes, or groups of two to 12 horses in the ring at the same time. The riders enter the ring and must follow the MC’s instructions to get their horses to walk, trot and canter at the MC’s command. The judges inspect the riders’ technical form, the horses’ technical from and the control each rider has over the horse. According to the United States Equestrian Federation, saddle seat riders should convey the impression of effective and easy control.
Different classes are judged on just the horse, just the rider, or horse and rider combined. Classes judged on just the horse are called “Pleasure Classes.” For these, horses should be well-groomed and have correct shoes — yes, horses have shoe rules too. Judges look for presentation and good behavior — no head tossing or tail flicking and how high they carry their knees. Classes judged on just the rider are called “Equitation Classes.” Riders are expected to smile, wear a full face of makeup and are judged on details of their appearance and form while riding.
Some classes are divided up by the breed of horse competing. One such class we watched was of Friesian horses, a breed that looks straight out of a “Game of Thrones” episode — huge, muscular, dark, with impossibly long, luxurious manes and tails. Even in the flickering fluorescent lights of the arena, these horses looked just as knock-out as this one:
It can be a grueling competition, but these riders sure do look good doing it. To the naïve eye (mine) the riders looked straight out of “Downton Abbey” or another period piece about riding the rolling, romantic hills of the English countryside. Appropriate saddle-seat riding attire consists of tuxedo-type jacket with matching jodhpurs (pants), color-coordinated bow tie/vest with a matching jaunty hat. Even the horses get dressed up for the competitions — faces rubbed with baby oil to appear shiny, ears and legs trimmed with shavers, even tail extensions (called switches) are added to make their tails thicker and longer. Here’s a photo of my friend in her outfit and her horse, Gus.
But all work and no play makes for a boring afternoon at the arena, so the competition wrapped up with a costume class competition. “Purple Reins” was my favorite. By the end of the competition we all smelled like horses, had hay stuck to our jackets and my friend won a blue ribbon in her class. It was a great day at the stables.
September 22, 2016