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The Royal Winter Fair 2015

ByJochen Schleese|November 16th, 2015

royal-winter-fair-logo1I was actually going to write about another very sad case study of a horse but I thought it would be timely to put some thoughts down about our iconic Canadian horse/trade/agricultural show instead. (So case study will be moved to next week’s entry). For those of you who have never worked the Royal – the hours are long, the atmosphere exhausting – and pretty much everyone gets sick during the course of the 10 days. I remember when it used to be 14 days long; I actually did my first booth at the Royal after being invited to exhibit (I can’t remember which organization invited us) when it was still the old format and there were really mainly only equine-related businesses there. We had a 200 sq.ft. booth and exhibited the coloured saddles that we had been making for Spinneybeck Leather Company. Spinneybeck had just won a ‘best booth’ award using these coloured saddles in a carousel theme at the Interior Design Exposition, and they certainly did attract a lot of attention.

This was in November 1988, just after our first daughter was born and since Sabine was still at home with the baby, the 12 hour shifts were pretty much covered by only me and my German saddler friend who was here for three years to help us train Canadian apprentices in the trade of saddlery. It was a truly exhaustive two weeks, and I remember shortly thereafter we shut down the shop for four days and flew south for some recovery time.

The Royal has changed a lot over the years. We exhibited once more in 1989 and then not again until the mid-1990’s after we started our equestrian boutique store – Caparison. At that point we had gone up to a 400 sq.ft. booth and it seemed to be the height of the equestrian industry’s presence – just before they decided to change everything and move everyone around into the new building. We had this presence for about three years, and then I lost our Caparison manager and we decided to shut down that company and concentrate on making saddles only.

For probably the next decade we didn’t exhibit at the Royal, mainly because the Equine Affaire in Massachussetts is on at the same time and I was speaking there on a pretty regular basis. Probably about four years ago we came back with a very small presence in a 10 x 10 booth just to get our feet wet, but quickly decided that a 10 x 20 would be a more appropriate size – especially since we wanted to have Schleese and Saddlefit 4 Life® share the booth space. Our painted horse Bailey acted as a spacer between the two companies, and proved to be a huge visual draw – especially for the hordes of school children that attend during the week and used Bailey as a backdrop for their selfies.

Royal Winter Fair - November 2015

Schleese at The Royal Winter Fair – November 2015

So this year our booth was really only Schleese – with our “Jeté Story” backdrop (featuring our oldest daughter Samantha as both rider and dancer to illustrate the analogy between the two), and our long-time friend and client Jane Savoie (former US Olympian) serving as model for the dressage backdrop. I have to say though that while it’s always great to see clients and even old friends and we did spread around the ‘duties’ amongst our staff – it was a different Royal. The atmosphere is getting to be more and more flea market – people selling bed sheets, shower heads, pots and pans, purses, etc. Of course, the food is wonderful, even if getting pricier every year. The entry fee of $25 just to get in and shop also seems a wee bit high…a family of four will be out by several hundreds of dollars when all is said and done, and that doesn’t even include watching any of the competitions! Thankfully, there’s still lots to do and see with all the other animals – but even this becomes more and more difficult to see. With both of my daughters being vegan and passionate animal rights activists it’s hard to see the sometimes bloody newly shorn lambs and see which cattle and pigs have been bought by which meat processing company.

And then there’s the horses… I had to share this absolutely brave and spot-on rant I found on Facebook by an attendee at dressage night. I’d be interested to read your comments on the Royal if you had the chance to attend this year.

Warning: POST ROYAL RANT ALERT!!! Well I took the girls down to the Royal Horse Show last night, which was Dressage night. … I woke up this morning with a renewed urgency for my quest to help reform our system of training here in Canada. As I sat “cringing” while Ashley Holzer (long time CET member) narrated as 2 young girls, presumably her students/ YR’s “demonstrated” various movements … poorly. One poor horse had its tongue out and was never allowed to come even to the vertical and consequently had to be ‘see-sawed’ to maintain the hyperflexed position. Neither horse was calm nor happy and consequently there was virtually no quality dressage going on at all! It was hard for me to watch. I was really hoping to see at least some minor improvements with at least our three Canadian team members during the actual class (did I mention there was a $25,000 purse and only 4 competitors?) but sadly no. Still had to watch as horses were being ridden over flexed, stuck in the poll, stuck in the neck, stuck in the lower back – producing animated front ends but lagging, dragging hind ends. Medium (or extended – it was hard to tell the difference) trots where hind limbs never reached the imprint of the forelimbs. Not one (!!!) horse even had a clear 4-beat rhythm in the walk! Makes me wonder what the judges even consider correct! Or did they all have their “EYES WIDE SHUT?” Made me furious and embarrassed! The horses deserve better! 

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Hi Amanda [Silver] I want to thank you and to let you know how much I appreciate you and my Schleese saddle. Oni is a dream for me to ride but I know this would never be if he did not have this perfect saddle for him.  Today you adjusted for the changes in his muscle development after riding in his Schleese saddle for a year and the difference is so wonderful. I am very grateful that you can adjust his saddle in such a way to fit his big Friesian shoulders. I can hardly wait to get on him tomorrow. Amanda, you and your husband are so knowledgeable and kind and easy to work with. Oni and I both enjoyed our saddle fitting today very much. See you next year!

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