While I was at the fair today, I also attended The World's Championship Horse Show, which apparently is the world's biggest competition for the American Saddlebred. I didn't know that; I had to look it up. I knew nothing about the competition before I went, and now that I have been, I am more-- not less-- baffled by the whole thing.
I didn't even know what an American Saddlebred was until last year when a student of mine competed in the event. This year, I promised her I'd go to see her compete. It's a week-long thing with today and tomorrow being the Big Days. She took home a ribbon in the 3-gaited junior horse division thing; another student got one for the 5-gaited. Apparently, if they've made it this far, they've already won some Big Prizes. And I'm afraid that pretty much covers my knowledge/understanding of the event. (Ignorance evidenced when I was speaking to woman in the seat next to me and, without thinking, I referred to my student as a "jockey.")
According to the Fair website:
This exciting and prestigious event, held annually in conjunction with the
Kentucky State Fair, crowns world champion Saddlebreds in different divisions
each year. The show attracts people from all across the country and the world
including more than 2,000 horses competing for over $1 million in awards.
Clearly, very impressive. And it was a beautiful and sometimes interesting experience. First of all, spectators dress up for the event like they do the Derby, except in eveningwear. Cocktail dresses and suits. I wore a sundress to beat the heat and felt underdressed.
The program for the event costs $15 and is a spiral-bound tome of dictionary proportions. After spending all that money just to go ($7 for the fair, $5 for the parking, and $16 for the show... not to mention the $15 I spent on food and drink), I chose to forgo the program and just bug my neighbors for the numbers of my student-riders-- they all look the same (elegant, even regal) in those dapper little hats and dress coats.
The competition varied between horses with riders that went through a series of different running styles-- trotting, walking, cantering-- and then horses that pulled little pretty buggies and also went through a series of different running styles. Sometimes the horse and rider competition involved the riders getting off the horses and removing the saddles and showing the horses like the dogs at Westminster. Sometimes the riders stayed on the horses the whole time. No jumping. No racing. Personally, I would have been more interested if the competition involved racing as well. Or maybe demolision derby type stuff. If you knocked another rider off his or her horse, you got extra points or something.
I have to say, while the event was surely a spectacle, as a mere spectator, I felt completely in the dark. While the announcer comments extensively on the goings-on, he does so in jargon that was lost on me. And gosh darn it, all the horses and riders (not jockeys) are so pretty... how am I supposed to know which ones really "brought it"? I really couldn't tell what, exactly, was being judged. It seemed like a beauty pagent, but was it the horses or the riders or both who were actually earning the ribbons?
I certainly recognized the "Stage Moms" in the pagents, but I don't know who they were. When the riders would dismount and show their horses, there was, inevitably, someone else who would stand in front of the horse and either wave a towel or throw some sawdust into the air. I'm just guessing, but I think this wild and rather undignified act was performed to try to get the horse to look up? Again, it was like watching any other sporting event without having at least a passing understanding of the rules. More often than not, I thought I'd pegged the winner and was totally wrong. In fact, in the 5-gaited junior competition, I was sure that my student had it nailed. They gave out 8 ribbons for a field of 16, and she didn't get a ribbon at all!
The constant reiteration of the words "World Champion" gave weight to the evening, although there wasn't much of a "world" presence that I could tell. A horse from Canada won something, and a stable from South Africa won something...
I doubt I'll go again unless I have another connection to the event. Both of my students have maxed out age-wise on the junior competition and will be off to college next year. If I do go back, I'll do my research ahead of time. And I'll remember not to call the riders "jockeys."