Saddle Seat Invitational, New Orleans, 2023
“THE HEAT IS ON”
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
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
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
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
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:
Sandra Fenstad – Sanche,
2023 Invitational Coach
President of Saddle Seat Canada