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  • Sandra Sanche

Saddle Seat Invitational, New Orleans, 2023


By: Sandra Fenstad – Sanche

HOT!! Well, that was the understatement for the week, with record heat

warnings for New Orleans. Temperatures were as high as 113 F on one of the

competition days. Even too hot for the well-seasoned patrons that call New

Orleans home. Never mind a team of young riders from Canada!

New Orleans was in the middle of a record-breaking heat warning during this

year’s competition. With the temperatures well into the high 90s F during the

practice days.

The team was able to take in a few tourist activities such as touring the famous Bourbon St. and Jackson Square in the French Quarter. Tasting the local cuisine, and listening to jazz bands whose sights and sounds filled the streets. We ended the first evening with a dinner cruise on The Creole Queen paddle wheeler on the historical mighty Mississippi River.

That wasn’t the only historical place on the

agenda, as the teams were all staying at the lavish HOTEL MONTELEONE. This

hotel is listed as one of the historic buildings in Louisiana dating back to 1886,

providing luxury accommodations. Nestled in the French Quarter, it features the

first and only rotating bar, The Carousel Lounge which was first in operation in

1934. The hotel is close enough for a leisurely stroll to explore the legendary Bourbon St. and the historic gems in the French Quarter. The hotel was founded and is still owned to this day by the Monteleone Family.

June 27-30, 2023, saw Canada’s 3 gaited Saddle Seat Equitation Team at the

United States Saddle Seat Association (USSSA) INVITATIONAL SADDLE SEAT

EQUITATION EVENT. This competition is an exciting part of the sport of

saddle seat equitation. Showing the skills and talents of riders who compete on

unfamiliar horses after only a 20-minute practice. The event saw top riders from

not only Canada but multiple teams from the U.S.A. vying for titles in three and

five-gaited divisions. The Invitational Event is held every other year, with the

World Cup held in alternating years. The competition not only brings

together like-minded and passionate enthusiasts but creates

international friendships and memories to last a lifetime.

The event begins with a draft-style draw for horses, order of go, division group,

and pattern to be ridden. There are separate draws for each of the two days of

competition. The process is repeated for the five-gaited riders as well. This is

followed by an intense practice session on one of the horses that the team drew.

Coaches only have the limit of a 20-minute practice to put these new pairings of

horse and riders through their paces and make horse/rider combination changes

as needed. Once the coaches, riders, and managers are happy with the pairing of

each rider, the horse selection is submitted to the committee and no changes are

allowed after that time. With the exception of a vet scratch or a horse considered

unsuitable. This process is repeated for all teams, for the three-gaited and five-gaited.

As you could imagine this can take most of the day to work through. Every horse

is donated for use for this event. It can be very physically demanding on these

horses, so under the ISSEA regulations, horses are only allowed to go once per

day. Therefore with two days of competition, the practice days usually take two

days to complete.

The first day of competition, saw the mercury climb even higher than the previous

day, to just over 100 F. Remember, this is saddle seat equitation, so the riders are

all in full 3-piece suites. Every step was taken to ensure the safety of the riders

and horses. The organizers provided ice stations including water and various

forms of hydration throughout the venue. Including an endless supply of snowballs! You cannot visit the South without enjoying snowballs (what Canadians call

snow cones).

With the patterns walked, hair in buns, make-up done, underpasses pined and

back numbers on, it was show time.

The three-gaited division was split up into two groups, with the Canadian riders

represented in both sections A and B. Horses are tacked up by grooms, lead out to

the warm-up ring, riders stand with their assigned horses and wait for the call for

“riders up”. From that moment they only have five minutes to re-acquaint

themselves with their mount from their practice two days previous, before

heading into the rail portion of the competition.

The rail portion is just like any other equitation rail class. With riders showing at

the walk, trot, and canter in both directions. The big difference, obviously from

classes back home was these girls were on unfamiliar horses, in a different

country with many never competing outside of Alberta. Adding to this, was the

intensity of the competition itself and the extreme heat thus creating a very busy

and high-energy situation, indeed.

The riders are then called into line; the panel of three judges walk the line and

mark their judges’ cards.

Then the riders are excused into the hitching ring area.

Only the rider on deck is allowed to be warming up at this time, and they

only have 1 minute to do so. Everyone was cautious of the horses’ and riders’

wellbeing in the extreme heat. With grooms, coaches, and managers spending the time icing down their mounts and making sure riders were hydrated and not

getting overheated.

Once all the groups are finished both the rail and pattern portions, saddles gathered and riders and horses cooled down, we were able to head back to the hotel where our Canadian team wasted no time heading to the hotel’s pool to relax and cool down.

Day two of the competition was run the same with the second pool of horses.

The only difference was the temperature had topped a brutal 113 F. There was a

last-minute change to the event schedule to ensure the safety of both the riders

and their mounts. Moving to start the five-gaited riders earlier in the day to try to

avoid the mid-day extreme heat.

With the two blistering days of competition done, all the teams had a chance for

some downtime, pool time, and fellowship, before the closing ceremonies and

medal presentation.

The closing ceremonies were hosted at the Hotel

Monteleone. Our Canadian three-gaited team came home with sun tans, new friendships, and memories to last a lifetime and were awarded the bronze medal.

Team Canada members were:

Ava Rusinko – Sherwood Park, Alberta

Kennedy Boswell – Beaumont, Alberta

Kiara Crossley – Beaumont, Alberta

Lauren Off-Fong – Sherwood Park, Alberta

Marlee Simon – Sherwood Park, Alberta

Selah Guenther – Beaumont, Alberta

Manager: Raylene McWade – Sylvan Lake, Alberta

Coach: Sandra Fenstad – Sanche – Ardrossan, Alberta

Team Canada would love to thank Cascade Stables for hosting this well-organized event and all the special people who provided horses (33 horses in total, no small endeavor), and the many sponsors and volunteers who made this possible.

This event could never have happened without the support

from the riders’ families the support people that made the trip down and those

who cheered the team on from home on the live stream feed.

Thank you to all the coaches in Alberta that opened their doors to offer extra lessons, insights, and experience to our team members.

The organization of fantastic team wear and the financial assistance and fundraising which allowed the team to travel.

As the dust settles on this Invitational Event. The planning has already begun for

ISSEA’S World Cup 2024, which is being planned to be held in South Africa

December 2024. Rider applications will be available soon. If you are interested in

attending a pre-application workshop, obtaining a rider application, interested in

sponsorship opportunities or would like more information on the sport of Saddle

seat equitation please contact the team Manager, Raylene McWade:

Submitted by:

Sandra Fenstad – Sanche,

2023 Invitational Coach

President of Saddle Seat Canada


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