Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Royal Success - Our two cents from the Royal this past week

A Royal Success
By Lindsey Partridge (formerly Forkun), www.PartridgeHorseHill.com

This past week was another successful year at the Royal Winter Fair. We went to the fair both Tuesday and Wednesday (November 6th and 7th, 2012). We enjoyed some of our traditional favourties, and watched the Royal Horse Show with a natural horsemanship perspective.

If you are wondering what day to go to the Royal next year, I would opt for Tuesday - the crowds were much smaller, the lines fewer, and still plenty of action with Super Dogs and International Horse Jumping. Of course every day at the fair there is sure to be fun and excitement, but if you are looking for a less crowded day, Tuesday seems to be a great pick.

Every year I get excited for the food. My favourites are the Rosti (hash brown type potato with sour cream and cheese), the Roast Bison on a bun, perogies, and the very popular apple dumpling with ice cream and caramel, yumm! I always forget about the Foods of the World section though because it is tucked away at the opposite end of the main hall so I haven't tried anything from there.

The Super Dogs were fun and fantastic as usual. I really love the dancing with the dogs because it shows off their tricks and looks really fun. I was happy to see they had moved on from the destructive bull dog routine... that same routine has been happening for a few years so it was nice to see something new. One thing to keep in mind for the Super Dogs show is the last show is at 6pm and you can't enter late, so it can be hard to get to if you are coming after work. Usually they do a similar but different show for their performances, but this year we only went to one so I couldn't compare.

We enjoy trying all the different samples at the Royal and this year was no different and the Royal didn't disappoint - there were many choices including jams, chutneys, smoked fish, smoked meats, goat cheese, cookies, apple slices, different types of milk, juice, cream cheese bars, and even a cooked potato with butter!

The displays are really fun and there is so much to see just from walking around and so much to learn. The butter sculpting is always impressive, we enjoy browsing all the booths, and taking a sneak peak at the Horse Palace.

We spent a lot of time browsing the shops - we came home with jams, chutneys, smoked fish, horse blankets, bridles, shipping boots, bits, lead ropes, leather belts, belt buckles, moo bars, and my personal favourite pumpkin pie fudge! Despite so many purchases, we were a bit disappointed with the shopping deals.

The sales at the Royal used to be legendary - I remember the days of leather gloves for $7 at Greenhawk (retail approx $30), and rain sheets and winter blankets for $50 at Pleasant Ridge. This year there were still some deals (a $20 gift card from Picovs with the purchase of a Bucas was one of the deals we took advantage of), but nothing so spectacular to brag about - let us know if you found a great deal!

The major excitement is always about the Royal Horse Show - and we always watch with an eye for natural horsemanship and if the riders seem like they are a partner or an intimidater. We were pleasantly surprised with the international jumpers - many of them showed really calm leadership with their horses including Shane Sweetnam of Ireland that was one of the riders to calmly show his horse some of the scary fences before crossing the start line.

It was Christine McCrea that really impressed me though. Her Dutch Warmblood mare, Zerly, a young 8 year old, entered the ring really nervous and upset. Zerly was bucking and trying to go back out of the in gate. To my delight, Christine helped her horse so calmly and was patiently persistent in coaxing her horse forward politely.

Christine didn't use a crop and didn't get aggressive with her horse - and it paid off with a clear round! Some riders would have smacked the horse for misbehaving and probably would have provoked the horse to become even more upset which means even more dangerous, but Christine kept a level and patient head and helped her horse.

There were also displays of riding that I wasn't happy to see, including Angela Covert-Lawrence aboard a 15 year old Belgian Warmblood mare. Her horse had its tongue out the side of its mouth bracing against the bit, was jerking the reins from the rider, and carrying her head really upright and tense - the horse was very clearly telling the rider to soften up but instead of listening the horse was equipped with contraptions to leverage the horse's head down and tie the mouth shut.

The horse fought with the rider so much on the way to a jump that is caused a knock down. This is an older mare, and an experienced horse - the horse should be softer and more accepting of the bit, but instead the horse has really learned to fight the rider.

I completely understand having a horse that hates the bit and is strong - my own horse Thetis is an ex race horse and used to hate the bit and would stick her tongue out if I was pulling too much. I switched to riding her with no nose band so if she needed to open her mouth she could, but I also do a lot of freestyle work where I ride with no bit all. I've softened Thetis up so she doesn't pull and is very easy to ride with no bit all, and even with a bit she doesn't stick her tongue out anymore.

I know my horse is different from Angela's, but it's just an example that horses can change and become softer - the answer isn't to 'shut them up' with contraptions but instead to fix the root cause... with such an older and experienced horse I would have hoped to see a horse and rider really meshing together and traveling as one - not fighting at every turn.

Overall I think the Royal Horse Show was a fun and spectacular event with a lot of really great riders.

When we watch the Royal we always play a fun game - if its a non jumping class, everyone in your group picks an entry and see if someone can guess the winner before the placings are announced. If it is a jumper class then everyone in your group picks two jumps. Every time your jump gets refused or knocked down you get 1 point, and the most points win (it makes you think about what jumps are the most difficult in the course).

Another game we will play is counting down the strides - people in the group take turns counting down the strides to the fences, and for every time you get it right you get a point. Most points wins.

The Royal is always a fun event to attend every year - and it seems to me that more and more riders are becoming better leaders for their horse.

I think it's important for all riders (including myself) to remember we need to keep learning and trying to understand our horse. After all, a horse that understands you and is willing will be much more successful than a horse that is fighting every stride.

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