Well we did it, we “Successfully” performed at the Royal Winter Fair!
Friday evening, we met up with Karen who was kind enough to truck Bentley downtown for a night and day of adventure. Bentley was tolerant of the change in trailer, despite having some concerns about the back door being open on the drive down – always looking back as if to say “uhh, ladies I think part of the trailer is missing!” Very distracting for me driving behind, grinning from the cuteness of his face.
We got to the Direct Energy Centre, Bentley unloaded and strutted right into the building like he owned the place. I could barely keep up! He got quickly to work on his hay, and made friends with the neighboring horses in his stall behind the scenes. I took him for a quick practice ride in the theatre, which was closed for the night, and he was brilliant – calm, cool, and real workmanlike. Karen and I headed off to our hotel, happy that he had settled in like an old pro.
Saturday morning we were up before dawn and back at the fair as the sun rose, not that I had actually gotten much sleep of course. First thing was to introduce Bentley to his stall on the show floor. Woah! Did the eyes ever bug out, taking in the sights of the hanging banners, petting zoo, carpets, lights, activity, oh my! I welcomed my grooms in from the front entrance, and went back to tack Bentley up for a warmup. I couldn’t get his bridle on him fast enough – he was already shoving his nose through it as it hung in my arm while taking off his halter. He really wanted to get on to his job.
The warmup went beautifully, he was relaxed but energetic, and I was able to ride around beautifully with loose reins, and even do some nice lateral work. They tested the music and brightened the lights, and Bentley did not care. Wonderful! But it wouldn’t last!
After tacking up for the performance itself (which was about an hour after we finished our quick warmup), I was told that we were not on until another half an hour. Turns out since we had 3 OCTRA horses (Solstice’s horse Angel had arrived that morning) we were going to have our own special OCTRA show within the Spirit of the Horse show. So we chilled and waited for our time again. Then things started to get noisy!
The creaking of the bleachers as people got up and down during the show started bothering him behind the scenes. I mounted, and he walked excitedly back and forth up the blue carpet behind the theatre entrance. Linda and Solstice did a RNT demonstration on Sable, then we were up. There was a lot of lookies and running at all the scary things the people did for the first 5 minutes of our presentation. Thankfully, by the end, he had blown off some of the steam and came back to me enough that we could jump the little crossrail at the end. Not a great performance, but not a bad one too. Just a little disappointed since the warmup went so well, but I understand why he was so nervous!
We returned to his stall to do job # 2, be an ambassador for OCTRA and equines as a whole! We already had a crowd of 20-30 people waiting to see him outside of his stall, boy was it overwhelming. Bentley spent a good hour, pawing his displeasure at being kept in a stall, and calling to his friends Sable and Angel who got to live backstage. His screams made a few poor children cry as they werent expecting him to be so loud, and parents have a tendency to put babies right in the horses faces. Some babies loved it, others, well, I already mentioned they cried. It was easy to see who was going to grow up to be riders, even if they were only a few months old!
Eventually (and with about half a bag of treats) Bentley decided he wanted to be social with the crowd. He came forward in his stall and gobbled treats out of my hand as hundreds of tiny hands pat him on his cheeks. Occasionally he lipped hands too, which was met with great delight from the kids and adults alike, and no nipping. He was very brave and gentle, and the perfect ambassador.
After a few thousand introductions, he had his fill. He was so smart and pleasant, when he got tired and crabby, or someone approached him wrong, he just backed up in his stall just out of reach. Still visible and handsome – no grouchy faces at the crowd. All the horses got crabby and tired from all the grabbing hands, so it was not unexpected or unusual, and he represented us wonderfully! I gave him a closed door, and Lee and I went off to watch some of the show and eat our lunch.
The afternoon was spent hanging out more behind closed doors, he had met his limit earlier and was happy with people looking at him, but it was clear no more grabbing hands would be tolerated. We did have a few private openings for some repeat guests, who were clearly his biggest fans!
I had high hopes that the evening show would be better than the morning, as everything would be less scary. I was wrong!
The lack of warmup and day full of activity had Bentley pretty crabby as we entered the ring. No standing still to wait for our turn, we went back behind the scenes. When our turn came around he really wanted to blow off some steam and bulldozed around with me being my strongest to keep him together enough that we wouldnt bulldoze down any rails and into the crowd. Thankfully Linda assured me after that he came across as a zesty endurance horse, and we never appeared out of control (we never were, but man was that control ever difficult to keep!). It was 50% fear, 50% crabbiness and not wanting to walk – which I was hoping would settle him! Nobody makes Bentley walk! He would much rather go fast! The crowd seemed to like him anyway and came to visit after our performance.
After the crowd dispersed, we blew off that steam he was looking for, cantering until he turned from crab to happy sweaty horsey. Always good to end on a good note, and we were very fortunate we were the last show of the day and could school afterwards!
Overall, it is a lot to ask of a horse who is young and green (inexperienced), and he was a very good ambassador. The performances weren’t fantastic, but I have to remember we were sharing the ring with horses who were doing this for the third time too. I have to consider, will we go back next year? Not sure! He didn’t hold a grudge, performing beautifully the next day after we both were home and mostly rested, so maybe he did kinda sorta like it. Maybe.