Monday, 24 October 2016

Royal West

Royal West is a major indoor hunter/jumper show that happens in Calgary in the fall. It's 11 days of competition and some classes have serious prize money. I won't elaborate any further on the hunter/jumper portions so I can hide my ignorance at least slightly, but the point of this post is Dressage Day!

This year, for the first time, Royal West included a Dressage Day. It took place on the first Sunday of the show, which was yesterday. The dressage day was organized independently of the other days, but took place in the same great facility with spectator seating, immaculate footing, etc. The dressage portion was registered as a Gold Equine Canada show, and was part of the Tilted Tiara series (I scribed for another one earlier this year).

The venue (there were more people on the side I took the photo from)

To add to the grandeur of the event, and to support the local dressage community, there was a VIP evening organized. During the evening portion of the show, a VIP ticket entitled you to seating at VIP tables, access to a cash bar, free hors d'oeuvres, and most importantly, an earbud to listen to Cara Whitham give live commentary during all the tests.

It sounded like a fun experience so I decided to go watch. I carpooled up with L, a young rider who lives near me and has also been infected by the dressage bug. I frequently end up going to dressage events on my own, so it was cool to share the experience with someone else who was as enthusiastic about everything as I was.

Cara's Commentary

For those who don't know, Cara Whitham is an FEI 5* judge, and has also provided technical commentary for CBC and CTV during the Olympic games and WEGs.

Cara provided commentary on 18 rides, ranging from First Level all the way up to Grand Prix. The classes were arranged in order, so it was really cool to hear her talk about the purpose of each level, what she was looking for, and how it should build on the level below.

Cara was excellent at relating everything back to the Dressage Pyramid. I've really been trying to focus more on the pyramid in my own riding lately so I really appreciated having things broken down that way.

One thing Cara explained was how in Training Level, you are just looking for the first three elements of the pyramid: Rhythm, Suppleness, and Contact. In First Level you add Impulsion and Straightness. Collection is introduced in Second Level. In some ways, that is what the blurbs at the top of the tests say, but some different terminology and extra words are thrown in so I really liked that simple way of explaining it.

My info-graphic, this is how I visualize it in my head now 

Most of the riders in the show did two tests, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening during the VIP portion. Cara had been judging the afternoon classes, so she had already seen all of the horses and riders earlier that day and could jump right into commentary about what she saw as the strengths and weaknesses of each pair.

Cara's comments were interesting, matter of fact, and sometimes bitingly funny. Some gems included:
"I think she was supposed to be doing a half pass there, I won't say any more because that tells you what I thought about that."
"He's not lowering his croup enough in the piaffe, he tries a little but I don't think sitting is his favorite game"
"This rider is very creative with designing her own test around the short end"
"He's going, 'Oh look, I can do lots of changes', that would make the score go quite low, but in a case like that I would say in the comment 'nice tempis, wrong test!'"
"I don't know what that was, but it certainly was not a 15m circle. I think Easter has come very early this year"
(all paraphrased the best I can remember)
She said nice things too, but those weren't as funny or memorable.

There was quite a range in types of horses and level of ability, so many different issues were highlighted through the evening. Two things stood out as general themes though. 1. Self-carriage - Cara thinks that this concept is not properly understood in North America in general. She never wants to see the horse leaning on the reins. 2. Suppleness - at all levels there was at least one horse who was having a hard time with certain movements due to lack of suppleness.

In general, hearing the commentary during the show was like scribing but with the added advantage of being able to see more of the test (since I didn't have to write anything down).

Everything Else

The evening had some other fun elements too:

- There were several vendors set up. I resisted the urge to buy all the things, and settled on one reasonable purchase of a beautiful equestrian themed belt made by Cal-Tack, from The Whole Bit. A lot of my breeches have belt loops that are too small for my Mango Bay belts so I needed a slim belt anyways.
So pretty

- The hors d'oeuvres were fancy enough to deserve the VIP label. There were some bacon wrapped sweet potato bites that were amazing.

- Going to these kinds of things is so good for getting to know other people in the Alberta dressage scene. I chatted with a few people I know from scribing, and was able to watch some of the trainers and riders I know compete. I'm kind of socially awkward and not naturally good at getting to know people, but I'm gradually becoming part of the dressage community. I like knowing the organizers of shows, being able to identify some of the riders by name, face and horse, and just generally feeling like less of an outsider when I go to a dressage event. I feel like I have to work harder at this than some people since I'm not part of any dressage barn.

I know this person, and might be going to one of her clinics soon

I didn't get home until after midnight but it was worth it for a great evening.

Have you ever been to anything similar?


  1. This sounds like a very cool event! The commentary VIP package is super neat and sounds like it was interesting and beneficial.

    1. It was! Any chance to watch people ride dressage at upper levels is inspirational, getting to do it with commentary makes it educational as well

  2. Very cool! The headset commentary was my favourite part of watching dressage at Rolex a few years ago. I wish it was available more places!

    1. Ooh, going to Rolex would be so cool! This wasn't nearly that caliber of competition, but it was still fun. It would be great if commentary was available more places, but I think part of the problem is lack of people who are sufficiently qualified to give good commentary

  3. This sounds like so much fun! I require good commentary to be able to focus on dressage tests. Which is probably why I like clinics and scribing so much.

    1. Agreed, I love dressage but even I will admit that watching a test after test (especially low levels) without any commentary can get a little boring haha

  4. Love the commentary! Very funny :) I'm going to have to be your scribing buddy sometime next season!

    1. I was literally laughing out loud a few times listening to her.

      I was talking to one judge at the event and might be scribing for her at Ponoka next year. She's also going to judge carrots and cocktails but I want to ride in those shows. Let me know if you want any contact information for getting in on scribing gigs, I highly recommend it :)