BY DEBORAH JANE NICHOLAS
Meredith and Linda had been meeting up at 10 am every Sunday for the last 6 months in order to hack out together. There was nothing particularly different about this day, they also chose to ride the same usual trail. The two ladies enjoyed each other’s company and would ride side by side chatting about the previous week’s events which involved work and family life. They both enjoyed this particular route as it consisted of a woodland trail that would lead to open country side with gentle grass slopes. There was one such slope that the two ladies always chose to canter up, and this day was no exception.
Meredith would always lead the canter as her horse was more sensible and easier to control. Interestingly however, no-one had ever suggested to Linda that if her horse was not easy to control, perhaps cantering through open countryside might be a bad idea. Both ladies went into trot, and canter quickly resumed as the horses had already anticipated this gait. Within two seconds this ‘normal’ day became catastrophically different from all the other days they had ridden together.
Linda’s horse was not interested in a sedate canter up the hill and went into gallop, quickly outpacing Meredith’s horse. The latter was not accustomed to being left behind, so quickly followed suit which meant both horses were now racing uncontrollably up the hill. Usually in these situations the rider will swear profusely while trying to regain control and will anticipate the horse will probably stop at the top of the hill as normal. Things may have turned out this way but Meredith decided to perform an emergency dismount (her words) when she could see that Linda had lost control of her horse, and her own horse had then become strong. In what have must been a split-second decision, Meredith decided her life was in danger so threw herself from her horse. Unfortunately Meredith’s right fibular wasn’t designed to accommodate 11 stone of human hitting sun-baked ground at 25 mph so responded in a way which meant Meredith’s riding hat would be left gathering dust for the next 14 months.
Here you may think I’m about to wrap the story up, and inform you of the absolute disadvantages of using the emergency dismount, but no, it gets worse.
Linda was doing relatively fine during the first 4 seconds of this bolt, and even though she had lost control, nothing had really changed during this short interval. Both horse and rider were heading up the hill at neck-breaking speed, so while probably terrified she was at least still in the saddle.
Linda had almost reached the top of the hill and her horse was starting to slow, at this point I fully believe Linda may have been able to gain control. Additionally the horse had probably been unwittingly trained to stop here anyway, as both women had done exactly that for the last 6 months. Meredith’s horse however, which was now riderless, completely out of control, and undoubtedly spooked at his rider’s dismount, swept past Linda like a run-away freight train. The circumstances of what unseated Linda at this point are unclear, but they would be multitudinous nonetheless.
Linda’s hat will not be gathering dust for the next 14 months like Meredith’s, as Linda is now paralysed from the waist down and will be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
Was this an unavoidable accident? Not in my view.
Rightly or wrongly, I believe Meredith put Linda in terrible danger by not continuing to try and gain control of her horse. Linda’s chances of gaining control with a panicking galloping riderless horse behind, beside or in-front of her were greatly diminished. All sorts of catastrophic events could have occurred with this horse running in a blind panic, there may have been children in the area, or even a busy road to cross further on. The hill should have not been cantered up every single time the ladies were out, and riding the exact same trail was a mistake. I am by no means blaming Meredith for Linda’s now tragic circumstances. However Meredith gave up all responsibility of the animal and the proceeding events by removing herself from the horse and the situation…to the detriment of Linda.
There is no way I would throw myself off a moving horse and I will hang on for dear life if I have been unseated. The times I have been thrown have been so fast and unexpected that I have hit the floor with relaxed muscles.
Leave the intended dismount at trot, canter and gallop to the professional stunt people and trick riders. They have spent many years perfecting this technique but still probably broke bones along the way, it is also unlikely they call it an emergency dismount. If anyone would like to practice an emergency dismount at a canter or gallop perhaps stand on the roof of a car travelling at 25 mph and throw yourself off, I already know you won’t be so keen on the idea.
*This is a true story although the names have been changed
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.