BY DEBORAH JANE NICHOLAS
Even with 120 hooves splashing with thunderous gusto along the rutted muddy farm track I could still distinguish that 4 of them were gaining on us from behind. This isn’t normally a concern but my ears informed me that this horse was becoming dangerously close to the rear of my horse. I took a swift look behind and saw it was George on his strapping great piebald cob. He met my swift gaze with a look of apologetic dread as he pulled frantically on the reins. But from my view point it may as well have been a new born kitten pulling on the horses mouth, it had no effect what-so-ever. In that instant we both understood he was out of control and there was nothing anyone could do to help.
The tightly packed field on this narrow track should have made it impossible for a horse to pass us safely… or even politely. Obviously his horse hadn’t read the book on hunting etiquette. No, the large well-built gelding would indeed have a gap if my pony could be pushed out of the way. The intention was completely clear as he menacingly advanced on us like a low flying airbus.
Usually when two horses clash sides, remaining seated is entirely possible even if the stirrup is torn from one’s foot. The major problem with being completely barged out of the way by an animal weighing 650kg is that it hurts.
The gelding was close now, just as his flaring nostrils were 6 inches behind my left heel, I felt my mare being pushed to the right. All thoughts of an impending crushed leg vanished from my mind as I looked in that direction, I had bigger problems. With a good deal of horror I realised this side of the track was flanked by a very steep embankment. Not to imagine Dover Cliffs, but I would estimate it to be a drop of approximately 30 to 40 feet. The short stout tree’s growing on the slope could perhaps stop my pony plunging to her death, but I reasoned it diminished my chances of being thrown clear should she tumble over the edge. Images of myself sandwiched between a tree and a flailing horse flooded my mind as adrenalin levels reached an all-time high.
This was the first hunt of the season hence the large field, and like everyone else I had been looking forward to this day. But here I was, feeling sure this would be my last ride…ever. However this wasn’t the first time my mare had experienced horses attempting to push past us.
Exactly one year previous to this a similar situation had developed in which a horse had come galloping up behind my mare. The red ribbon that adorned her tail is actually quite useless during hunting. As while every rider may know the significance of it, argy-bargy dominant horses fuelled by oats and adrenalin, do not. Unfortunately this particular huntsman’s horse would not be taught the danger of galloping up behind my cantankerous mare this day. Albeit with admirable aim, my horse delivered a killing shot with enough power to incapacitate an adult buffalo. It would have under normal circumstances put paid to high spirited shenanigans…had there not been a human knee in the way. Regrettably the rider suffered a fractured knee cap and was out of action for the rest of the season.
One year later I’m staring down at this steep embankment at full gallop, we are so close that the edge is breaking away causing soaking wet clumps of soil to roll and bounce down the slope. My mare’s ears are pinned flat to her head and she has one eye on the piebald airbus, there’s a silent exchange of equine swearing occurring between both horses.
I don’t care if she is angry, I don’t care if she’s gesticulating to the horse to move away. I want to know if she’s seen the bloody steep drop, I want her to concentrate on that as opposed to arguing with George’s horse!
George is also aware I am about to be pushed over the edge, he is both terrified and furious at his horse and is panic-shouting something of an apology. It occurs to me I could use my stick to crack the horse across the muzzle in an attempt to move him away. But as it turns out my horse had other plans. Just as I’m certain we are both about to plummet to our deaths if I don’t intervene, my mare delivers a formidable blow with a back left.
The sound is audible even above the many hooves travelling at speed in 8 inches of water logged mud. This isn’t the dull thud of a hoof impacting muscle either. This sound is comparable to the discernable crack of a whip, expertly and powerfully used by the likes of Indiana Jones when relieving a gun-wielding bad-ass of his weapon.
My mare doesn’t strike the riders knee as in the previous year, no she booted the knee of George’s horse.
Let’s just say this horse fully understood the perils of galloping up close behind someone’s horse that day, because he was instantly crippled. The horse pulled up immediately on 3 legs hopping lame. I’ve no idea how long it took poor George to negotiate his way back to the lorry with his broken steed in hand. Although news did reach me some weeks later that the horse was likely to recover after 3 months of box rest.
It is at this point I should point out, if you haven’t guessed already, that the owner of the fractured knee cap from the previous year was also called George.
The same George in-fact.
Yes for 2 years straight my horse is responsible for making one particular huntsman hang up his riding boots right after the opening meet, and entirely missing two seasons in a row.
Deborah Jane Nicholas has been around horses for nearly 40 years and has worked within the horse industry in a number of roles. Deborah’s other passions are her 2 dogs, countryside walks and writing, which she does here.