Recently someone posted, on Facebook, the video I have included at the bottom of this post. It is of Halla, a famous jumping mare whose rider was seriously injured at the Stockholm Olympics – yet she carried him around a clear round to win gold! Revisiting Halla’s story, and watching that ride, brought back memories of a ride where I too was injured, and relied on a special horse to get me through. Although not on the scale of what Halla and Hans accomplished, it is yet a powerful memory, and a personal lesson in how amazing horses really are.
The horse in question was Wicki, my first Appaloosa. We had been together just over a year, and we were competing in our fourth three-day event. The third jump on cross-country was a double down-bank. The space between the two banks was a hard packed fire road. For some reason, Wicki stumbled between the two banks. He went down on both knees, and I sailed over his head. I landed on the hard road face first. In a vain attempt to save my face, I put my right hand out – and bent my middle finger backwards.
Wicki was shaken, dirt on his face, and I was still down. Well meaning bystanders tried to catch Wicki – but he kept avoiding them and circling back to me. As I struggled to catch my breath, I waved them away. I was worried that he’d bolt if they persisted. They backed up and Wicki came right up to me. Someone offered to help me back to the start – but I dazedly insisted on getting a leg up. Still shaking, I circled Wicki back and did the double bank again.
I cannot recall much about that course. My face and head were throbbing, my right hand could do no more than just keep the rein from falling. I do remember, vividly, one particular sequence of fences – a path weaving through a forest up a hill, right turn to a log wall, then to a steep gully – straight down, jump at the bottom, then straight up. Wicki was a powerful and fast little cross-country machine. I had learned by now to stay out of his way, and only ask when I needed him to really listen. This combination worried me on the walk – and that’s when I was planning on being fully able bodied!
As we headed up through the trees, I began to talk to Wicki. I was rapidly weakening, and my voice was the only reliable tool I had. I talked all the way through the trees – “Now slow down. Turn right. Slow. Steady. There it is. Good boy.” I could hear the folks around the fence laughing at the dialog, as they had no way of knowing how close I was to coming off again!
Now to the gully. I was by now terrified of this jump, but had no thought of quitting. “Please slow down Wicki. Please!” As we reached the crest, my usually bold little fellow slowed to a walk. He then carefully jogged down the steep grade, gently hopped the fence, then carefully jogged up the hill. At the top, he stopped and waited until I signaled that I was ready to go on.
Two more fences were all that was left! The entire rest of the course I was blabbering at him about what a wonderful, special boy he was! I wish I had the picture of the last fence to show you. We should have bought it – but I was too embarrassed! In it I was literally hanging off the side of his neck, one arm hooked over it, my heels up to his flanks. I would not have stayed on much longer! Wicki crossed the finish line and trotted right up to one of our friends. I slid off and almost fainted, but managed a huge hug of my boy’s neck before being escorted to the first aid truck.
My injuries weren’t very serious, so I rode stadium the next day with a splinted finger – although it was against doctors recommendations. But no one ever said riders are sane!
As I said, it was no Grand Prix jumping course for Olympic gold – but for that teenage girl it might as well have been! Who wouldn’t treasure having your horse take care of you at a moment of great need? What better measure of your relationship?!
So, with that, please enjoy this video of Halla and her historic moment – still remembered with admiration by riders the world over!
Be good to your horses… and may they be good to you!