Thursday, May. 23, 2024

The Competitor From Hell

Sadly, our columnist’s fictional dressage queen character is sometimes closer to reality.

In October of 2005, I wrote a column titled, “Dear Management,” in which I voiced some of the complaints and wishes competitors tend to have. After publication, I received a letter from one of our most prominent dressage show managers, politely pointing out that competitors may have reasons to whine at times, but there’s a different point of view when you’re occupying the manager’s chair.
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Sadly, our columnist’s fictional dressage queen character is sometimes closer to reality.

In October of 2005, I wrote a column titled, “Dear Management,” in which I voiced some of the complaints and wishes competitors tend to have. After publication, I received a letter from one of our most prominent dressage show managers, politely pointing out that competitors may have reasons to whine at times, but there’s a different point of view when you’re occupying the manager’s chair.

Since I’ve spent some time on the other side of the fence—thanks to the many shows we ran on Long Island in New York—I easily walk in those moccasins too.

Say hello to Suzie Dressqueen, every show manager’s nightmare:

Suzie fills out her entries at the very last minute, and because she’s in a hurry, her writing is close to illegible. Having forgotten to renew her U.S. Equestrian Federation and U.S. Dressage Federation memberships on time, she hopes that that fact isn’t discovered, but it’s more difficult to fake the Coggins test, which has expired and may not be drawn and returned by the show date.

Suzie is distracted by all of these annoying requirements, forgets to include a check and, unfortunately, doesn’t make it to the mailbox on time.

The show secretary cuts her some slack and enters her horses without charging a post-entry fee, although the entry is technically too late. She also takes the time to inform Suzie that the payment was not included.
A few days later, Suzie calls at 10 p.m. and wants to change the classes for one of her horses. The secretary tells her that the change entails a whole new entry, and this time it will be a post entry. Suzie isn’t pleased and makes sure her feelings are known to the secretary.

The day before the show has arrived, and there’s Suzie, pulling her trailer into the fire lane and leaving it there for hours while she decides that her allotted stalls aren’t suitable for her horses and goes in search of better quarters.

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She settles in somewhere she doesn’t belong and causes havoc for the stable manager and the competitors who arrive later. While she’s at it, she helps herself to some extra bags of the initial shavings, which actually belong to someone else. She sets up her tack room all over the aisle, where she also ties her two large dogs on long ropes for everyone to become entangled in.

After looking at the schedule, Suzie discovers that one of her students will ride at the same time she’s riding. It’s time for a little hike up to the secretary to straighten matters out.

With hundreds of entries to sort and hand out—as well as a line of people waiting to receive their entry packets—it’s virtually impossible for the secretary to change the master plan around right before the start of the show. This doesn’t stop Suzie from stomping and pouting, and she’s not the least embarrassed as the line grows behind her because her paperwork is incomplete and they cannot find her Coggins copy.

When Suzie finally leaves the office, having endeared herself to the staff and her co-competitors, she proceeds to the barn to discover that she’s left a bag of oats where another person’s horse could reach it, and the horse has gorged itself on the goodies. The horse later colics and has to be attended by the veterinarian.

Suzie feels no remorse, but, instead, proceeds to tack up and ride to the schooling area, where she terrorizes the other riders by galloping her big hairy horse around, and, preferably, right across their mounts. At ringside she screams directions to her students with incredible volume, using language that makes even the horses shy away from her.

The first day of the show dawns, and Suzie is in rare form. She warms up in the wrong arena and refuses to leave after giving the technical delegate a piece of her mind. She takes this early opportunity to complain about the footing, the flags, the banners and the flowers to cover all bases that could excuse a poor performance. She graciously waits until the scores arrive to complain about the judging.

While checking her score after the test, Suzie discovers that the horse who ate her oats placed ahead of her in the class. She promptly marches to the office to file a complaint, since she suspects the horse was treated with drugs that may be illegal, and how unfair that would be!

The matter causes some chaos, and it’s discovered that the horse was not, in fact, given any forbidden substance. It just beat her anyway.

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Depression sets in, and Suzie cannot seem to be able to get herself to the awards ceremony on time. She finally arrives after keeping the other riders waiting, and she does get some satisfaction out of glaring at the officials who misjudged her, and charging up behind a horse in front of her in the victory gallop, causing it to bolt.

Suzie’s now in a slump and elects to scratch one of her horses. Although she knows there’s a waiting list for some of her classes, she doesn’t inform the office of her decision. So, there are the judges staring into space while the ring remains empty and everybody loses, including Suzie, who could have scored a much-needed brownie point by letting the office know in time to fill the scratch.

After using everyone else’s hoses and pitchforks without asking, and having her dogs wreak havoc in the aisles, Suzie is dismayed to discover, at the end of the show, that none of her colleagues are rushing to help her load her unwilling horse on the trailer.

Well, at least she left plenty of garbage behind in the stalls to cause grief. After the battle to convince her horse to load, anybody who might have missed seeing her at the show is now aware of her presence. As Suzie drives away, there’s a sigh of relief going through the grounds. There are all kinds of ways to let people know you were at the horse show, but Suzie’s is not one to be recommended.

As always, we cannot really identify with and look at a situation from “the other side” until we’ve lived it. That’s why volunteering to help at a show, or performing any function as a worker or official, will immediately widen a competitor’s horizons.

While you may not have reacted to Suzie as a co-competitor, unless you were one of the people she literally ran over, her behavior sure would make an impression on you if you were part of the show management or crew. It’s an enlightening experience some show managers would love to make a requirement for competitors! 

Anne Gribbons



Anne Gribbons moved to the United States from Sweden in 1972 and has trained more than a dozen horses to Grand Prix. She rode on the 1986 World Championships dressage team and earned a team silver medal at the 1995 Pan American Games. An O-rated dressage judge, based in Chuluota, Fla., Gribbons serves as co-vice chairman of the U.S. Equestrian Federation Dressage Committee. She started contributing to Between Rounds in 1995.

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