Rider to Rider: Biggest Show-Day Blunders

In the April 2009 Rider to Rider column, Practical Horseman readers shared their biggest show-day blunders. Read MORE embarrassing competition moments.

Eating Dirt
My trainer called me over to review the plan for my Special Hunter flat class. She noticed my saddle had slipped back so I hopped off and put on my jacket while she fixed it. I have a habit of making the girth too tight, so I wasn’t surprised when it felt a little loose. I didn’t say anything as I trotted my horse around in the minutes leading up to the class.

I entered the ring, and things went downhill from there. I tried to balance on my wiggling saddle to no avail. The announcer called, “Canter please, all canter!” and as soon as my bumpy pony hit the turn, she fell down and I went off. I instinctively curled up in the wet dirt. Betsy nudged me, and I jumped up and took off the saddle, then felt her legs for heat and cuts. After I was done, I was standing in the arena, covered in dirt, with a muddy saddle in one arm and a bored Connemara in the other. “Number 32, can you, like, stand in the middle or something?”

I learned to trust my gut… and not my pony’s bloated belly!
Melissa Prantl
Cincinnati, Ohio

I have had many show-day blunders, and I remember a few. Once I fell of the same pony four times in the SAME show! It was a schooling show, so they allowed me to continue. I was pole bending and the horse I was riding and I “parted” in different directions. I rode a horse once, then I showed it in a jumper class and in my warm up I had a crazy fall! I won my class because I had no clue on how to control him, but I stayed on and just steered. Once just for fun I went into the barrel racing class. I was FLYING but the pony decided that he did not want to go anymore on the way to the top barrel. That day I learned the law of inertia: An object in motion will stay in motion until something stops it (in my case the ground!). The crazy shows are the best shows and the most memorable ones!
Rachel Pauls
Kitchener, Ontario

My biggest show-day blunder was not at a show, per se. I was trying out for the dressage team at a college I was really interested in attending. Just as I was about to depart, the car didn’t start. After a quick look under the hood, it turned out that the battery cables had completely eroded off. Fortunately, my sister’s fianc?e and his father were somehow able to fix it, and we were soon on our way. When we FINALLY arrived (more than six hours late), I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Once again, luck was on our side–we managed to catch the equestrian tour just as it was about to depart. I was assigned to a huge, 17.2-hand beast of a Thoroughbred, who was supposedly “a saint.” My female intuition kicked into overdrive when I mounted up, and I began to have second thoughts about this. Instead, I sucked it up and got on. I froze up and panicked, my horse picked up on it and I ended up on a wild ride around the arena. I ended up doing an “emergency dismount” right into the PVC that was lining the arena. I was so embarrassed!
Chrissy Brown
Charlotte, N.C.

Off Course!
My gelding suffered an injury that would put him out of commission for an entire show season, so the owner of my barn offered me the use of his horse, Snappy, so I would have something to show while my horse convalesced. No one else ever rode Snappy. This was quite an honor, and I vowed to live up to the magnitude of the gesture.

It was our first show, and I had painstakingly prepared for it. Snappy was perfectly braided with his coat so shiny, it could double as a mirror. We looked like the team to beat. The flat class was enormous for our area, and I could not have been happier when we won. My head just about swelled beyond my helmet from all of the accolades from strangers congratulating me and commenting on how handsome my mount was.

When it was time for our first course, we strode into the ring with the confidence that comes from a big win and knowing the judge likes you. We made our opening circle and cantered evenly down to the first line. We came off the second fence on the correct lead; our pace was steady, our spots were perfect. I could feel my weight sink down in my heels, I was relaxed, my back was flat enough to bounce a quarter off it, my eyes were up. I might as well have been on the pony in front of Wal-Mart, because I didn’t have to do anything but sit up and look stunning; Snappy was on his game. As I approached the last line, my heart was pounding. I could barely contain my excitement. We had a very long approach to a single brush box, and I typically had trouble seeing spots on such a long approach. But we were laying down the trip of a lifetime, so I knew it would be there. And it was! Up and over. Not a chip, not a foot wrong. It truly was a round of fences for the textbooks. I knew we had won the class, even though I wasn’t the last rider. We circled and exited the ring.

Why was my trainer just standing there looking at me like I had two heads–with all color drained from her face? She was calmly motioning me over. I must have rendered her speechless with that trip! Finally, she took a deep breath, looked up at me and said, “That would have been the best ride I have ever seen out of you–except that you totally missed the first fence in the last line.” I could feel my helmet getting bigger.
Sherry Bryan
Ashburn, Va.

My biggest show-day blunder is when I forget my pattern. No matter whether it’s a jumping course or a showmanship pattern, I’ll get too excited and then go into the arena and forget! Most recently I went to a jump show. It was my first show in a long time, and I was really excited that we were jumping 2-foot-6 over really nice looking jumps. I started doing my course but realized after the second jump that it was the wrong one. I yelled out, “I forgot my pattern! What do I do now?” Luckily it was just a schooling show, so they let me continue where I left off.
Jess Foss
Corning, Calif.

I was three-quarters through my Training Level Test 4 ride on my 30-year-old Appendix Quarter Horse, when halfway through a 20-meter circle, I glanced to my right to find a competitor trotting up centerline toward me. As I was having a nice ride, knew I would not collide with the other competitor and the judge did not say anything, I continued with my circle until I heard a whistle and stopped. Apparently the other competitor thought I was done and was getting ready to exit, so she entered to save time for starting her own test. I was instructed to redo my circle and continue to complete my test. Incidentally, we won the class with a 70 percent despite the interruption. Needless to say, the other competitor, who was a local trainer, was utterly humiliated and kept apologizing!
Gayle Welsh
Grants Pass, Ore.

It was my very first show and I was riding my trainer’s horse. When it came to my jumper class, I got mixed up with what fences to jump in what order. I ended up off course, and I was completely lost.
Johanna Oberhauser
Diamond Springs, Calif.

I was competing on three very different horses: A Quarter Horse-Arabian light dun known as “The Duke” in jumping classes, a bay Quarter-pony named “Pleasure Pretty” in dressage, and a strawberry chestnut known as “Millers Miss Muffin” in an open Western division.

My first classes were hopefully hunter over fences on “The Duke.” We only did two classes, but the first one we had three refusals and the second class I took a frustrating spill. I did get back on to finish the course, but already I could feel my blood pressure bubbling. Next were my two dressage tests. My hot-blooded pony was quite the sight–her headset was so high and obnoxious that her ears were a little over a foot from my chin. We also managed to jump over the chain link dressage ring during our test. At last though, I still had my Western classes that I had worked so hard on preparing my horse for, but come to find she had gone abruptly lame, and we were automatically last in every class. You would think entering is an assurance of getting at least one ribbon. HA! Looking back now of course I laugh to myself and smile in spite of that you can still find me in the show ring today and always no matter what show ring blunders I encounter.
Jennifer Townsley
Verona, N.Y.

My biggest show-day blunder occurred was when I worked for a big local barn, taking students to shows on the school horses, and I would show one of the green horses. I got so involved in making sure my students’ horses and tack were ready and organized for me to drive the van to the show that I left my own tack at the barn! Fortunately, one of the dads was able to collect my stuff and bring it to the show.
Lee Ann Mcalpine
Lebanon, Ohio

Back “in the day” I was a trainer and showed in Open Jumpers. My career in horses ended with a devastating accident which left my left leg and ankle crushed, requiring three surgeries over the years, numerous stress fractures and a bone graft. My ankle had no mobility, and I was unable to get a boot on. I periodically taught some special students over the years, but I was unable to compete.

Hooray for the invention of boots with zippers! I decided to try riding and jumping again, starting in the Long Stirrup division and working my way back to jumpers.

Last year in February, I was lucky enough to compete in Level 1 Jumpers at Thermal, Calif. After a couple of clear rounds in Level 1, I walked the Level 2 (1 meter) course and was surprised at how high and wide the fences seemed. After setting my mind to it and with my daughter’s encouragement, I entered the Level 2 classes. I had a rail down in the first class and a time fault in the second, but I was ready for my last Level 2 class of the show. I walked the course and plotted and planned. The only fence I thought I might have a problem with was the oxer at the far end, leading to a combination, a rollback and then the final vertical near the in-gate. That oxer had big yellow sunflowers on the standards, and my horse is always looking for an excuse to get out of work! I need to stay totally focused or she’ll get the best of me.

As I came off the triple combination and began the route around the far end to the sunflower oxer, I saw a man on his horse calmly walking back to the barn area, probably after schooling. For some reason we made eye contact and I could not for the life of me look away. It seemed like forever when I heard him say, “GO!” My horse and I had only a split second to try to jump the oxer, and we had a rail down. We finished the combination, the rollback was good and the vertical was clean.

As I walked out of the arena, my family commented that I had called the sunflower oxer correctly as the fence we would have a problem with. I replied, “No, actually I was temporarily distracted by a handsome man.”

Now this was the last thing my family ever expected me to say. I wasn’t wearing my contacts, so I really wouldn’t have been able to see who it was, and whether he was, in fact, a handsome man. Within minutes, the man in question came riding up on his horse to give me a “high five,” but I’m sure he just wanted to see who could get so distracted in a competition like that. Believe it or not, it was a trainer from just down the road where I kept my horse! He rode away, and I hoped he wouldn’t recognize me again.

What makes it especially funny to me is that I am a 62-year-old lady with a bum leg, riding a 15-hand, 14-year-old Quarter Horse who should have the name “Naughty or Nice,” “Sybil” or “Almost a Pony.” I haven’t dated since 1989. I may compete again, but I will always have the memory going along with me on course of the biggest horse-show blunder–getting distracted by a handsome man!
Pam Chase
Portland, Ore.

It was a perfect Sunday for a horse show; a perfect day to conclude our zone finals in the Midwest. It was also angry bee season–the time of year in early fall when this category of insect exhibits behavior that lends credence to the old phrase “madder than a hornet.” These little guys were plentiful and aggressive on this beautiful day.

My horse and I had just partnered to a respectable third-place finish in a very competitive hack class and were about to begin another with even more horses than the last. I am a novice competitor, still learning the ropes of navigation in the big hack classes. Despite the dismantling of many jumps, the ring was still packed in carousel fashion. With my alpha-temperament horse in hand, this would surely be an interesting learning experience in what I thought would be artful navigation–little did I know the real lesson would be artful recovery!

We were holding our own up through the trot in spite of my gelding giving heavy consideration to drifting into a herd-like mentality. In short, he was thinking this romp was fun, but I could also sense he was trying to figure out how to lead his pack of peers. Thankfully, the judge saw the potential for this novice hack class to turn into demolition derby and split the canter into two groups. We were in the first group and executed the left lead without incident. The canter is a gait we are still a bit inconsistent at performing so I was relieved to have one direction finished and was setting up for the right-lead call. Now, back to my earlier reference about “angry bee season” and you can guess what happened. .

Almost simultaneous with the call to canter, my extremely skin-sensitive mount took a direct hit to the hindquarters. I caught sight of the stinger-clad, winged perpetrator (a big one!) out of the corner of my eye as my show-perfect horse was about to launch, and launch he did!

These things always happen in a matter of nanoseconds that seem like an eternity. All I can remember is that my carousel horse went rodeo starting with a half rear used only to gain enough momentum for his infamous buck/kick combination. Down the rail we went, our spectacle witnessed by all present (who could have missed it?) including the judge. I was completely unseated with only one boot in the irons, but surprisingly found the moment that either gives in to the blunder or makes the recovery. We all know the feeling when we are faced with coming off and by luck or skill, grab mane, find our balance and regain control. There was no halt or dismissal. The lost stirrup was picked up amidst a few half-halts and we transitioned into one of the loveliest hack class canters I can personally remember.

For the first time, the ribbon did not have to present itself as the benchmark to show ring achievement. I did not walk out humiliated, but walked off with new confidence that I could handle the unexpected and with an audience to boot! Let’s face it; if we choose to participate in this sport of many variables, blunders will happen. How well we recover from our blunders in the show ring and in life, is what gives us an inner strength and confidence independent of someone handing us a winning ribbon.
Jacquelyn Knoop
Chicago, Ill.

It was typical of my forgetful self–I had forgotten my bridle on show day! I realized what I had done as I attempted to tack up for my first class! Obviously, it’s hard to ride in a horse show with no bridle, so my mom had to drive back to the barn, grab my bridle and race back to the show grounds just in time! Next time I’ll be sure to make a checklist or risk coming unprepared!
Abigail Burson
Monson, Mass.

Wardrobe Malfunction
Last year was the first my 10-year-old daughter and I showed together. I’ve been showing for years and am an old pro, but throw Mini Me into the mix and we have a totally different situation! It was her very first dressage show with about a 45-minute road trip to the show grounds. We went to take her pony out of the trailer to school to find that my daughter had left her bridle in the tack room at the barn. My 16.3 Thoroughbred’s bridle was not going to fit him. I had to unhitch the trailer, get in the truck, drive home, drive back (a one-and-a-half-hour round trip) and make it back in time for her class–thankfully we always get to shows early. While she was waiting for me, our trainer had her ride her pony in his halter and lead rope. I made it back in record time, however, when my daughter ran back to the truck to get the rest of her gear, she tripped and fell in a mud puddle while wearing her new white breeches! Then when she went into her class, her pony decided he didn’t want to leave all of his buddies and jumped out of the arena. She got him back in the ring, but the rodeo fantasy continued. The judge came into the ring to give her some pointers. She was the only entry in her class, so the judge told her she was giving her a first place ribbon for courage. My daughter had a smile from ear to ear and didn’t care that she had a new career as a bronc rider because she got a blue ribbon–her very first ribbon!
Niki Sackman
Olmsted Fall, Ohio

Once, during my Junior days, I got to a show and realized that I’d forgotten to pick up my hunt coat at the dry cleaners the day before. I was mortified by my mistake, and there was no time to go home and get the coat. Fortunately, I was friendly with many of the other competitors and also with the woman who ran the tack trailer, so I was able to borrow another rider’s coat for some of my classes and one from the tack shop for the others. It’s nice to know that when you’re in need, there’s always someone ready and willing to help you out.
Joanna Garbarino
Ithaca, N.Y.

My biggest show-day blunder nearly had me eliminated before stepping foot in the ring. My hunt coat fit well at the last show of the season, and shortly thereafter I began riding a new horse: a charismatic and eager jumper who, while adjustable and responsive, pulled like a winch. It was not unusual to stop several times a ride to rest my arms and shoulders from the relentless pulling. Four months later, at the first show of the new season and our first show together, my coat felt a little snug around the shoulders while warming up on the flat. But it wasn’t until we began to (attempt) to jump that I realized how tight it really was! Apparently riding a strong horse really bulks you up, and I had developed so much new muscle that my coat acted like a straightjacket when trying to release over the fences. There was no way I could jump in that coat, but unfortunately this was a rated show, a cool day and coats were required. A compassionate and generous tack vendor came to my rescue, lending me a coat and saving the day. Moral of the story: ALWAYS try on your show clothes before an event!
Laurie Burns
Magalia, Calif.

Read more hilarious–and humbling–show-day blunders in the April 2009 issue of Practical Horseman magazine. Have one of your own to share? Post it in the Practical Horseman forum.

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