(“They came down eventually—about the same time the poor horse’s mind did.”)
Our horses have to put up with more than unclear aids, unbalanced riders, mosquitoes, and our whimsical travel plans for them. At times what they are able to endure shocks even us.
At one show the dressage court was placed within a high fenced enclosure. There was enough room for the horses to circumnavigate the arena before I quacked them in, but my judge’s stand–a folding table on a slightly raised plywood platform under a lightweight collapsible canvas canopy–took up too much space and was set in the gateway to the blacktop promenade. The morning classes went well. We were set to resume after lunch, the first horse trotting around the arena outside M, when a sudden breeze came up. The unsecured canopy only levitated several inches but skidded out from over us and across the parking lot for nearly a hundred yards before crunching into a light stanchion. The mightily surprised horse (Did I mention it was an Arab show?) recovered by the following Thursday.
Another time I was judging in one of two adjacent arenas where the show photographer had stationed herself in line with our booths and halfway between the two of them. That way she could catch riders in both rings without having to move around. She had a pair of folding chairs – one for herself and one upon which set a large stack of letter-sized order forms which competitors had filled out to acquire her services. Again, all was peaceful and quiet until a young horse approached C before his test. Then out of nowhere a formidable dust devil blew up and tracked directly towards the photographer. It picked up her pile of order forms and corkscrewed them hundreds of feet into the air (not unlike the cow in Twister). They came down eventually—about the same time the poor horse’s mind did.
And dealing with one more airborne nemesis, I recounted this one in DRESSAGE Unscrambled. It happened during a first ride of a morning clinic session. The woman was on a borrowed horse she didn’t know and was nervous at the outset. In the distance I observed a hot air balloon floating low over the fields. As the lesson proceeded, the balloon did not drift left or right. It just seemed to get larger and larger. It became clear to me it was going to track right down the center line at about 200 feet, occasionally making that whooshing noise that balloons do to stay aloft. It only seems fair to point out its approach my student. How would the horse react? Neither of us had a clue. As the balloon wafted overhead and its pilot called down his greeting, the diligent little horse kept trotting his 20 meter circle, albeit with his eyes rolled skyward and his belly scraping the sand as he crouched lower and lower hoping to make himself invisible.