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2008 Al Nahyan Ladies Challenge
Images by Steph Teeter
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Rider Fall Down - by Steph Teeter

This was my pull code. Really and truly. (I think AERC needs to be a little more creative minded in their pull codes. Just think of the possibilities.)

Actually it was a little more complicated than falling down. This was my first honest runaway, and it was a doozie :) I rode the mare 2 days ago, just around the paddock area. Several guys had to hold her while I got on (and off) but once I was on she didn't seem too bad. Definitely hot, but I felt like there was some steering and brakes there. Yesterday I took her out on the training track, with one of the trainers and another rider. They held her while I mounted (seems that is normal for this mare). She was pretty reasonable going out - we walked, trotted and then galloped for a few miles . She sort of flipped out as soon as I turned back towards the stable, danced around some, but eventually we galloped back in w/o any real crisis, and I attributed it to her being on her 'home training ground'. (found out later they'd only had her for a couple weeks, so home is relative!). I really thought I could manage her - I sort of like a hot horse and she didn't feel like she had any buck or bad spook in her. She'll settle down when we get on the trail...

The clues started piling up, but for some reason I remained clueless. Perhaps all of the rides I've had on horses I didn't know that worked out ok - gave me an oblivion to the possibilities. We arrived at the ride venue for vetting, and more clues - she was pretty wigged out for the vet. Jim Bryant was vetting and she kept dancing around and trying to kick him. I think he gave me a look... but I was most likely smiling and nodding my head, still clueless.

This morning, the clues were raining down upon me, and kicking me in the butt.. and still I figured no problem, she'll settle down on the trail. 45 minutes before start time the grooms were to ride the horses some and get the warmed it. It took a good 5 minutes before Saud was able to get on Suzi (3 guys trying to hold her) and then she did another good dancing session before he got her straightened into a trot/jig forward sort of thing. She'll be fine once he rides her some. Then it was my turn to get on - it's still dark - 15 minutes to start time. Saud need the guys to hold her while he got off. (another clue??). Madiya had mounted Cindy and Grace asked her to bring her over stand next to Suzi while I got on (assumedly the horses had bonded on the trailer ride over and Cindy would offer some comfort to wide eyed Suzi). The guys couldn't quite get her settled enough for me to get on (did I say clueless?) and then Cowboy came over and managed to get her still enough long enough for me to get on. So I did, and realized immediately that the girth was a little loose, the stirrups a little long, but was too busy trying to bring her back to earth to think twice about it. She rammed into Madiya, slammed her pretty hard while throwing her head around - it was kinda tense and Madiya's shoulder took a blow - but again, she settled eventually, I was still on. I was able to sit deep and the stirrups were long, but not impossible, and I'd forgotten about the girth. We'd be fine, not to worry, just need to get her going down the trail. We walked/trotted around the crewing area some - ok - we're ok. then headed out the gate into the staging area (in the dark still) - she almost wiped out the stewards going through the gate, but I found Madiya again and figured she'd settle once we got going. She did one serious wig out while circling and I called out to Madiya - I think I'd better go back, this might not work - but she settled again, sort of, and I thought 'what a whimp - I can ride this horse. (clueless still).

We started at the front and it wasn't too bad - very strong - at a good fast canter - but I think she'll settle down. The horses were all pretty excited, and there was quite a bit of acting up - but we're going straight. And then after a few kilometers other horses started passing us. we were doing at least 30k/hr at this point - a gallop I'd call it - she'd gather speed and I could pretty much bring her back, but she was a liability - keep veering into Madiya when I tried to rate her. I was really afraid I'd mess up Madiya's ride - I think dear Suzi was making her horse more nervous, so I decided go on ahead (pulling back was not an option) and leave Madiya alone. There were quite a few horse out in front of us by now - and the sky was starting to lighten - I'd just catch up with the next group and she'd settle a little again. Well, that was that. As soon as I give her even a little rein she took off. Gradually working into a full gallop. We passed a few, and by now I had absolutely no brakes. The grooms had put a nose band on her so she couldn't open her mouth, and I'm guessing the long shank gag bit was was biting into it. Her neck was straight up with her chin pressed flat against it. I couldn't really turn her, and had no leverage with her ears in my face.

At one point I gave it my all, jerking on one rein as hard as I could. She jerked up and jammed her front feet into the ground and I flew onto her neck, but she never really slowed her gallop and somehow I got back into the saddle... the ground whizzing by below me, still pale dawn light. I scanned the desert to start a big circle but it was pretty rough with rocks and scrub and I decided I'd stay on the course. We had a couple turns to make, and did manage to stay on the track, more or less, and then we came to a sharp 90degree left turn where the course trail turned to follow the fenceline but the main road kept going straight.

There was a truck parked in the road, and a steward standing next to it to guide horses to the turn and keep them from going straight through the gate (which was a different color loop). This mare was in full bolt, and she wasn't thinking of turning. In the few seconds there I tried hard to turn her, but we were then headed sideways into the truck - and the steward - he saw us coming and started running for the truck - I realized the left turn was not an option, broadside to truck was a worse option, and gave her back her head hoping she'd straighten out and miss the truck. She did, just barely, but we clipped the steward and threw him against the truck. She had slowed somewhat to miss the truck and I figured maybe I could turn her now and circle her to stop. I got her turned back towards the fence and took her right up to it. she had to stop, but then made a quick turn back up the fenceline and I felt myself slipping (if the girth had been tightened I might still be out there galloping...) - my right shoulder was against the fence at that point and she was starting to run again and I didn't think I could straighten up enough to get back on her back, so I let myself slide against the fence. I came down pretty hard on my head and shoulder, but that's one nice thing about sand... By now the saddle had slipped sideways and she took off, away from the fence and truck and steward and other people and straight out into the desert. My last glimpse of her was bolting away as the saddle started sliding under her belly. Damn - poor mare was totally berserk by now.

I got up and went back to the gate - the steward had a cloth held to his head, he was bleeding badly and there was blood all over the tailgate. When the mare bumped him she had knocked him headfirst into the bumper. I hope to find this man again later and apologize all over again. The other stewards were scrambling around, radio calls - accident at 9km point on yellow loop - rider off, horse loose, steward injured... etc etc. The injured man (Mohamed I think) waited a bit and finally decided to drive himself back in - we piled in (a photographer, a few others) and headed back. We were met part way in and they took him off to the hospital - he would need stitches. The rest of us went back into camp. In time to see gray horse come galloping into camp with no rider - and I heard later that when this horse dumped it's rider, another spooked and took off running straight back to the barn. It was pretty wild out there....

I really can't blame the folks that gave me the horse - I had tested her and thought I could handle her. She was much worse at the race than at the paddock - and given her behaviour before the start the right thing to do would have been to scratch the ride. I found out they hadn't had the horse very long, but had been assured that it was a good horse, just a little nervous, and had carried a junior rider to a 4th place finish a month earlier. Could be... maybe this day, this ride, this very fast start on a wide open track was just too much - maybe I should have had a stronger bit, maybe maybe maybe.... But it was what it was. I felt (and still feel) ashamed to have had an out of control horse out there - to the point of causing injury to one of the officials. There goes my reputation! Rider Fall Down.

But I suppose it could have been worse. I actually never felt afraid - too busy trying to figure out how I was going to stay alive and manage this run-away. Plenty of desert out there, but soft uneven footing - would be pretty easy to trip and tumble. I was still trying to come up with my game plan for stopping this horse when the gate and truck and steward appeared, and that was that.

I'm off to bed now, up again in few hours - tomorrow is another ride out at Al Wathba - and Madiya is riding again on a different horse. I'll have her story next-

Steph

(whew!)