‘We left the arena and careered around the judge’s car’ and 21 more dressage bloopers

Dressage is the picture of harmony and elegance — except for the times when it’s not. Here, 21 Horse & Hound readers recount their hilarious stories of when things didn't quite go to plan between the white boards...

1. “The end of our test went: halt, salute, shake head, keep shaking head, bridle swinging in the breeze (pictured). I had no clue what to do other than gather it up and amble towards A, then jump off with my horse Red Cell, or Sir Red to his friends, looking rather chuffed. One judge even commented on my test sheet how calm he was. I was glad not to be eliminated, and came fifth.” Laura Eaton

2. “I took my home-bred four-year-old to his first dressage competition, and ‘canter at A’ became ‘buck at A’. I lost both stirrups, my hat tipped forward and Dougal belted off. Unable to see where we were going, we left the arena and careered round the judge’s car. Somehow, I managed to find one stirrup, shove my hat back up and re-enter the arena. I scrambled through something that approximated vaguely to the test and when I halted at X, the judge and her scribe were doubled up in laughter — so I dropped my reins, held up my palms and shrugged. It seemed more fitting than a salute.” Catherine Robinson

3. “My pony once trotted down the centre line straight past C and stuck his nose into a plate of sandwiches on the judge’s table.” Alison Job

4. “I decided to enter my four-year-old ex-racehorse Mr Hill (Billy, pictured below), in an intro class. He was so chilled out he didn’t care about the white boards or dressage markers or the scary judge’s box. Smiling away about remembering my test and how well Billy was going right to the end, we halted at G, I saluted the judge, and literally out of nowhere Billy decided to salute too. I was still smiling and the judges loved his salute.” Emma Marshall

5. “My horse Olena hated dressage and was looking to get to the ‘good bit’ of the BE 90. We were doing the dressage on grass, and it hadn’t occurred to me to use studs (I did learn my lesson), so while doing a rather unbalanced 20m potato, aka circle, in canter she slipped and fell at X. Then she sat there for a while refusing to get up — she was unhurt, just disinclined to do any more dressage. I was mortified, not just to have fallen off, but that my horse was now taking a nap in the middle of the arena with all the competitors after us wondering how on earth there could be a hold on course for dressage! We were actually allowed to finish the test and, following a thorough vet check, to complete the event.” Jo Parkes

6. “I travelled to Bury Farm, Bucks, from Edinburgh for the British Riding Clubs dressage to music championships a few years ago, when my horse was badly spooked entering the main arena. Poor startled Onyx bolted and jumped the white boards and flower pots — and we found ourselves in the arena standing in front of the judge at E. Whoops – it wasn’t quite the dramatic entrance I had been planning.” Sarah Johnsen

7. “As the previous competitor finished their test at my first Area Festival, I was allowed to walk around the outside of the arena. As I did so, my horse Harry’s tail brushed on of the plastic bushes decorating the arena. He leapt into the air, then spooked at the audience, jumped into the arena over the white boards, and finally unseated me, leaving me in a pile on the floor. He then trotted up to the other competitor who had just halted at the end of her test. Luckily, as I hadn’t technically entered the arena, they let me get back on and we finished second!” Hannah Burrage

8. “As a teenager I was halfway through a prelim test on my pony Minstrel and everything was going well. Then he decided to throw in one of his special bucks. I slid straight down his neck, and on the way down, I somehow managed to hook my thumb through his headpiece and remove his whole bridle. I don’t know who was more shocked: me or everyone else watching. But I tacked Minstrel back up, got on and carried on with the rest of the test. I saluted to the judge, gave my pony a big pat and left the arena calmly. I made it all the way to the trailer before bursting into tears!” Sophie Irvine

9. “A couple of weeks ago at the British Dresssage summer music championships, I did a beautiful freestyle test. My transitions were spot on to my music changes, I was grinning from ear to ear, up the centre line, salute, big pat for my amazing pony… Then I heard the bell ring — I was facing the wrong way and the judges were sitting behind me! I’d turned up the centre line the wrong way…” Sarah Hayter-Sharpe

10. “Many years ago I entered my 18hh Shire/Clydesdale/thoroughbred, Maisie, into two prelim tests. There was a short break between the two, so I slackened my girth and went for a walk around the warm-up. Unfortunately I forgot to tighten my girth before the second test…  We were going well until the 20m circle when my saddle and I slowly slid around to Maisie’s side and gravity eventually took hold. The judge ran over to check I was alright and help me remount. We then carried on and finished our test.” Alison Dummer

11. “In our music test at the Horse & Hound Festival of Dressage at Sheepgate, my horse took massive exception to the hog roast. He decided he couldn’t possibly go beyond P towards it, and that upwards was the best option! Forced to retire I then faced the acute embarrassment of being unable to get out of the arena (and all of this to the tune of The Lion Sleeps Tonight)!” Lesley Wheatley

12. “A few months ago I took my youngster to his second ever dressage show. We entered the arena, went down the centre line and that was that! He didn’t want to dance so plonked his feet and wouldn’t move further than 10m, regardless of what I did. In the end the judge was laughing as I laughed, shrugged and saluted my so-called test. ‘Needs more miles on the clock’ and ‘well tried’ were the comments, with a rather bad mark next to it.” Madeleine Moon

13. “I was once doing a prelim dressage test with my pony, who is a cheeky chap. He spooked just as we had started the test and his foot went through one of the wooden dressage boards. It was stuck — luckily he is a calm pony and after seeing he was not injured, my Dad and the show organiser ended up sawing the wooden board off his hind leg! After checking he was unhurt — and gathering quite an audience — we went on to complete the test and finished third!” Hollie Blakeston

14. “I have myself a little plane spotter; he will watch planes and helicopters! When I first got him just over two years ago I had no idea about his little hobby. We were competing for our local riding club in the area dressage competition, and coming down the centre line to halt. Just as we got to X the British Red Arrows flew over in full formation, and my horse stopped dead and stuck his head in the air to watch them fly over.” Demi Davis

15. “I had no one to look after my children so I took them out to Field House, and told them to stay in the café as I could see them from the indoor arena. As I started the dressage test my daughter came out of the café — I gave a her a stern look and shouted “back in the café!”. The judge’s comment was ‘stressful entry’ — but we still got a seven!” Julie Barber

16. “I had learned the test but it went completely out of my head, even though a kind person called for me. All I wanted to do was get to the end and get out of the arena. Crossing the diagonal, I heard the caller say “and show some medium trot strides” — and realised I was still in canter. The judge rang the bell and got out of the car, but I was so desperate to finish the test that I ignored her and kept going. I don’t know who was more traumatised: the poor caller who read the test perfectly, the judge who had to mark the last two movements standing at the car door, or me.” Elizabeth Rushton

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17. “Having successfully completed a dressage test for once without any major dramas, I relaxed as we moved off on a long rein after the salute. At that point the judge stood up and pulled back the sliding glass window in the judge’s box. My pony teleported left. I ended up lying on the ground on my back looking up at the judge, who said ‘oh…sorry…was that my fault?’” Jane Sanders

18. “My horse was a jumper, but I misguidedly did a dressage test on him. Cantering down the long side, I felt him suddenly setting himself right to jump the hedge, which was the boundary on the short side. I couldn’t convince him not to jump it. The judges called me back and suggested I should stick to jumping.” Jackie Bell

19. “Competing at local indoor dressage championship, I was incredibly nervous and there was a big silent crowd of local riders watching. As the bell rang to start, I trotted down the long side and my horse farted very loudly — echoing around the arena. I heard the booming voice of my trainer saying ‘Oh! Poor Rebecca, she suffers so badly with competition nerves!’ The crowd collapsed into laughter — as did I.” Rebecca Jackson

20. “I had almost completed a nice novice test on my cheeky coloured pony, Patch. As I came to halt on the centre line, Patch, totally without warning, decided it was the perfect time to get down for a roll. I managed to get her up mid roll, jumped back on, saluted the judge and left the arena with a very red face! Thankfully the judge had a sense of humour to match Patchy’s, and we got a four for the halt, with the comment simply saying ‘rolled’.” Claire Hazeldine 

21. “When I was young I attended a local unaffiliated dressage test on a little grey pony called Dinky. The owner was calling the test for me and at A I commenced a 20m circle in trot with the intention of cantering left before X. As I asked for canter Dinky did a huge buck and sent me flying. The owner swiftly gave me a leg-up and I commenced the movement again from A — the same thing happened again. The third time, the bridle came off with me! By that time there was quite a large audience gathered and the judge then popped out of the box to say that she thought it was time to leave the arena.” Katie Rutter

And a bonus story from H&H’s dressage editor…

“During a test on my extravagant Anglo-Arab gelding, Toby, one of my contact lenses got dislodged just as we set off across the diagonal in extended trot – his party piece. Unable to see properly, and to judge how far away the intermittent white boards ahead of us were, we sailed straight out of the arena at M and almost made it to the boundary fence. The judge called after us, ‘Oh do come back!’…” Polly Bryan