Just Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella

I was raised in Oregon, where we lived that phrase above. I also now use it a lot at shows – we can’t hold an umbrella over our heads when we show in bad weather, so we just have to smile and get on with it.

There are horses, riders and miserably wet show volunteers out there behind that curtain of raindrops. Charley, my paperweight, is very happy to be sprawled on a dry dashboard.

Generally, I hate judging out of a car. I feel separated from the horse and rider in the ring. The windshield causes a subtle distortion that I feel can “flatten” my impression of the horse, as if I am seeing them in two dimensions rather than three. The only time I am happy to be in a car is when Mother Nature throws a tantrum and drops endless buckets of rain on the show. We have no choice but to duck behind glass and windshield wipers, not just to protect judge and scribe but also all that paper involved.

The picture above shows the view I had last weekend for two straight days at the Potomac Valley Dressage Assn. show in Leesburg, VA. Well, that was the brief portion where we turned off the ignition to give the battery a break. We really didn’t have that many scratches due to the weather, at least until Sunday afternoon, and the riders just kept showing up relentlessly. Dressage riders, and their horses, just don’t shrink when they get wet.

Not only was I impressed by the determination of the riders at this show, but I was hugely impressed by the volunteer corps! I had protection but not so the ring stewards and runners who just kept on truckin’ even though they were soaking wet, cold and muscle sore from slogging through the deep going. The riders, resilient as they might be, didn’t have to stay out in the foul weather all day, unlike the volunteers. This PVDA crew gets my full admiration, not only for their toughness but also for their good humor all weekend. (That includes the wonderful scribes I had who showed up with clean trucks that could get into tight spaces in deep wet grass and muck without getting stuck. Those trucks were pretty well trashed by the end of each day.)

I have mentioned before that often a show seems to have a theme, some area of particular consistency in performances. The theme this weekend was for walk movements. I realized by the end of the day on Saturday that I hadn’t used the dreaded “L” word even once, not to mention that I scored a lot of 8s and nothing at all below a 6 – well, maybe for some walk pirouettes and turns-on-the haunches, but not for the walks themselves. As Sunday progressed, with no mention of “lateral,” I started to hold my breath a bit as the walks started. What was it about these folks in Northern Virginia that they all had such clean walks?! Could it be that the puddles were keeping the horses attentive in the walks or breaking up any tendency to stiffen there?

With two horses left to go on Sunday, darn, the penultimate horse (Third Level) had a lateral medium walk, but then he swung into a clean extended walk, so it at least wasn’t a big hit on the gait score. (I love the word “penultimate” and grimace when I hear it misused to mean the last-to-go, rather than the next-to-last, or substituted for “ultimate.” It just sounds so good when it rolls off the tongue.)

The last horse had a clean walk to finish off the weekend. I think that may be the longest straight stretch of horses I’ve judged where I didn’t need the “L” word in my repertoire. I didn’t even say “BV” very much, either. Again, could it have been the weather? Certainly, I felt the horses were really handling the footing well, not holding back or slipping. The horses were paying attention to half halts, staying upright, and moving with freedom and balance. I may have been stuck behind a windshield, but I was seeing some nice riding.






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