A Remarkable Ride
23 Feb 2010
An equestrian gymkhana is an event with a series of timed games on horseback. One game that is often run is a race against the clock called a keyhole race. Horse and rider come to the starting line at a gallop, race the length of a ring passing through two upright posts, turn, pass through the posts again, and race back the length of the ring to the finish. The pattern is the shape of an old fashioned keyhole, hence, the name of the race.
Having said that, this is not a story about a gymkhana or a keyhole race. This is a story of focus by a rider, athleticism on the part of horse and rider, and the understanding and communication between them.
Photo 1: In the early part of the race the pair are moving along rapidly but in control.
Photo 2: As they approach the posts they are at full gallop and the rider is working very hard to slow things down in preparation for the turn.
Photo 3: By now she has slowed the horse some, and she is at the very beginning of the turn .
Photo 4: The pair are now turning in earnest. The rider is focused and working diligently; the horse is responding to the signals.
Photo 5:They are far enough through the turn that the rider is now looking to get her bearings and determine her next steps. Events, however, are beginning to go horribly wrong. The hind end of the horse is beginning to slip.
Photo 6: The hind end of the horse is on the ground, and things don't look good at all. (Main photo above)
If time had stopped at this point, and the person next to me had said, "Looking at this picture, what odds would you give me that the horse and rider remain upright?"
I would have answered, "One in a million. Look, the picture is crooked. In reality that rider is closer to the ground than that picture shows."
No doubt the person (being an astute horse person) would have replied, "Don't be hasty. Look at her. She is relaxed. She is looking where she needs to go. There is not the least bit of concern on her face, not an ounce of panic. She is giving the horse as much of the reins as she can so that he can use his neck to right himself."
"Okay," I would have said. "Maybe...one in a hundred thousand."
You can probably see where this is going. I would have lost a lot of money that day.
Photo 7: Somehow, through the sheer athletic ability, focus, and training of the horse and rider, and probably hundreds of hours together in the saddle, they made it through that corner. They avoided, what would likely have been, a terrible crash.
Photos 8 and 9: After just a brief pause, with a light hand on the reins, they were off again in a flash, back through the posts at a full gallop, and on to the finish line.
This all happened very rapidly. Based on the timestamps on my photos, the time elapsed between the first and last of the nine pictures shown here was 4.5 seconds. The communication between horse and rider had to be instantaneous. There was no time for the rider to analyze and determine a course of action, and give direction to the horse. They had to know what to do, and they had to do it together. But as fast as they responded, they didn't win the race that day. I don't think they even came close. What they showed that day, however, was a bond and understanding between a human and an animal that is far more important and far more extraordinary than a winning time.
I don't know who the rider and horse are in these pictures. A friend and I are trying to locate them, because they deserve some recognition. They earned these pictures, this is their story , and I would love to give them this tribute to a remarkable ride.