King of Spills
The pro: Arabian trainer and judge Chris Culbreth of Wolf Springs Ranch in Colorado and Arizona, 2001 Arabian Horse World top Western pleasure trainer, and International Arabian Horse Association national and regional judge.
The show: A Half-Arabian Horse Association show in Pomona, California, in the early 1980s, aboard Khalifah Amir.
The blooper: The show was shaping up to be a success, and Chris radiated confidence, especially as the day drew to a close. "I felt like I was king of the world," he remembers.
He waited in line on his horse at the end of the class in expectant silence, hoping to clinch the Half-Arabian Open Western Championship title. Suddenly, the sky opened and pelted the ground with raindrops, making a mucky, muddy mess. The announcer confirmed Chris' hopes; he won. Enthusiasm spurred him to lope his horse out of line. That's when it happened.
"Unfortunately, my horse took a bad step in the mud and did a complete somersault," he recalls. "I ended up doing a face plant right out in center ring."
His horse was fine, but Chris was smeared in muck. "Back in those days, we wore tight-fitting silk show shirts," he says. "When I stood up, I must've looked like a slimy alligator coming out of the swamp. I looked over at the judge for sympathy, but there was none. He was rolling in the gazebo with laughter. So I climbed back up on my horse and sloshed out of the ring.
"For those who are curious," he adds, "my tight silk shirts went away with my bell-bottoms and sideburns."
Words of wisdom: "Never think you're too big for your boots. No matter how cool you think you are, a horse will always find a way to bring you back to earth."
Chris Culbreth recalls another funny blooper. He was judging an Andalusian stallion class in Burbank, California, in the early 1990s. At the end of the class, he ambled down the lineup, asking each handler to show him their horses' bites. Many of the handlers hailed from Spain, the breed's home country.
Chris approached one of the Spanish handlers and asked, "May I please see your horse's bite?"
The handler shot Chris a puzzled look. Chris repeated his request. Again, the handler offered no response. Losing patience, Chris asserted one final request, finally eliciting a response.
"The poor gentlemen looked as though he was going to run out the arena screaming," Chris recalls with a laugh. "When I thought all was lost, he looked at me and shouted 'No senor, my horse no bite!'"
"Once I understood the problem, I asked him in my best high-school Spanish, and he politely complied," Chris says. The horse went on to be named show champion stallion.
Words of wisdom: Study hard in Spanish class; you never know when you're going to need it.
The pro: Carol Ellis, a top barrel racing competitor.
The show: The 1983 Fort Smith Futurity, Fort Smith, Colorado.
The blooper: Carol--one hand in a cast from an injury two weeks before--had zipped around the first barrel when her 5-year-old mare, Chelsea, suddenly and uncharacteristically ducked out of the second barrel. Even worse, the duo barreled down the wall toward Kenneth Springer, the well-known show photographer. He was shooting from his chair seat inside the arena.
"The poor guy had nowhere to go--it was a concrete wall," Carol laments. "I was so humiliated."
She struggled to regain control over her speeding mount. Quick reflexes on his side, Kenneth managed to scramble out of the way, unharmed. Carol regained control, then loped Chelsea through the pattern, off the clock. In retrospect, she realizes that odds are that Chelsea ducked out because she was hurting.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, a physical problem underlies a bad run, especially with good barrel horses."
Words of wisdom: "Regularly ask your veterinarian to use ultrasound and other high-tech diagnostic techniques to check your barrel horse for possible injuries."
Back in 1966, Carol had her girlish heart set on winning the title of Miss Rodeo Colorado, held in Durango. The town was a good distance away from her home, so instead of hooking up the trailer, her father borrowed a pony horse from the local track.
Carol, astride her borrowed mount, began the first of two horsemanship patterns. Suddenly, the horse started to buck. She thinks a crack in the snaffle bit may've pinched the horse's delicate mouth tissues.
"He pitched a fit," she says. "I fell off, and landed on my butt and back."
Undaunted, she resumed her pattern. Impressed by her pluck, three judges awarded her extra points for finishing the pattern. But her story doesn't end there. The next day, while mounting up for her second horsemanship pattern, Carol tore her pants across the seat on the inside seam. So what did she do?
"I didn't get off my horse until I finished the pattern," she says. "Then I asked the judge if I could remain on my horse." She explained why, eliciting a round of chuckles. "We all laughed, but I really wanted to cry," she remembers. Needless to say, Carol walked away without the title, but she went back the next year and was crowned first-runner up.
Words of wisdom: "You have to laugh about it, you don't take it personally, and you have to realize it does happen to everyone else."
For more show-pen bloopers, see the May 2003 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.