hether you happen to work with horses in a professional capacity or in any other career field, there’s a certain ‘on the job’ feeling that most of us recognize all too well. That moment when your stomach drops 55 elevator stories into the basement floor, your palms start to sweat, your heart races, and you instantly begin to panic-scheme any number of solutions to get yourself out of the mess you’ve just created (no, not even cutting off all your hair and moving to Phuket that night is off the table).
It might have happened in your grooming days—working for two straight months on three hours of sleep—when you ran behind with your first horse and left your amateur adult stranded at the far ring, horseless, just moments before her big class. Or maybe it was an office job, when you zipped off that pitch-perfectly scathing email only to learn that your superior, Karen (who you’d been complaining about for four paragraphs), was also copied on that cyber grenade just a second after you hit send.
The bottom line? We’ve all been there, and yes, many of the best riders in the business have too. From tack cleaning fails to Devon doozies and all the missteps in between, these five riders are sharing their biggest career blunders with NoëlleFloyd.com.
TJ O'Mara and Queen Jane. Photo by Erin Gilmore
"This past summer, I was riding a few horses for someone and I decided to take an unfamiliar horse on a trail after I worked him. When I got onto the trail, I heard a snap and a branch swung right into my eye. I thought I was fine until I looked down and saw blood all over my shirt and the horse’s neck. Luckily, the horse knew where it was going to take me back to the barn, but after 15 stitches to my eyebrow, I learned the hard way to never go outside your comfort zone with unfamiliar horses!”
"Once when I was competing in jumpers, I was using the last class of the lower division as my warm-up round. I was clear into the jump-off, but I hadn’t really memorized it. Halfway through, I had to stop and ask the crowd what the next jump was. It was kind of a fun moment of everyone coming together as the crowd shouted out each next jump until my course was over (‘The blue one!’ ‘Yellow!’). I guess you could say I wanted the audience to feel included.”
"I had received the Ronnie Mutch Working Student Scholarship and I got to be a working student for Missy Clark and John Brennan for two weeks. It was my very first day at North Run, and here I am, a super-dweebie 13-year-old from California, and I think they didn’t really know what to do with me so they told me I could clean the bridles.
After cleaning about 10 bridles, someone walked by and realized that I had been cleaning the already-clean bridles (the ones that were perfectly tied up and ready to be put away). I was so embarrassed and thought, How could I be so dumb?! But really, I had never been in a big show barn before and I had no idea. We all still remember it to this day and laugh about it! It definitely made me realize how important it is to just ask questions when you aren’t sure or you are new to something. It’s always better to ask, even if it seems trivial, than to just go about doing something wrong.”
"Feeling nervous, I entered the ring for the Washington jumper phase. A lot of emotions were running through my head, and I went through the timers after the buzzer. Making a circle, I then executed the course nicely and finished the round with a smile—thrilled—while I awaited my score. Quickly, though, my grin turned into a frown upon hearing [I had received] a 30. I remember this ‘blunder’ often to remind myself to keep my emotions separate and stay focused on the task at hand.”
Geoffrey Hesslink and Cadoretto. Photo by Shawn McMillen
"At Dressage at Devon a few years ago, I was warming up around the perimeter of the Dixon Oval about to ride my Intermediare I Freestyle. I was more focused than ever going into the Freestyle, with some of my best scores in the I-1 the day before. As soon as the bell rang to start, I felt all of my hair fall out the back of my hairnet and start bouncing around. I had less than 30 seconds to pull off to the side of the ring, lean over the rail while mounted, and have my mom try and bun-up my hair from the ground while time was running out to get into the ring! (Note to self: do not try a new type of hairnet/hairstyle the day of competition.) I learned two things, my hair can have a mind of its own and that, no matter what, never break focus!”
–Mary Bahniuk Lauritsen
Feature photo by Thomas Reiner