Yesterday I happened to come across the report of an inquest into the accidental death of a horse riding lady named Sandra. It was apparent that I had known this same lady as ‘The Mistress Sandra’ for she was the joint master of a foxhunt whose hunting ground is the upland moors of the Brecon Beacons.
Anyone who knows Mid Wales will quickly confirm that the terrain of these moors is rough, hilly and treacherous to the inexperienced horse and rider. Yet it was over such bill top moorland wastes that this lady had regularly galloped in the pursuit of a huntsman in a red jacket, who was chasing after a pack of hounds, which in turn was baying for the blood of a wily fox. To follow the hunt provided a day of exhilarating riding. Sandra, a sprightly 67 year old had been riding as a farmer’s daughter since a child. Her horse was a very sure footed and capable grey cob mare. The couple made a formidable horse and rider combination who were used to riding amongst a herd of excited horses over uneven terrain in all weathers. To say that The Mistress Sandra was a formidable horsewoman would be no false description.
According to the report of the inquest, Sandra together with her equally competent sister had gone out early in the morning to exercise the horses so as to keep them fit for hunting. The route they took down through the single track country lanes was well known to them. They were dressed appropriately with a warm jacket, riding boots, gloves and both were wearing riding hats. As they rode down to a bend in the lane from uphill, around the corner appeared a farmer on a quad bike towing a small trailer carrying three farm dogs. Both horses startled, the sister retained her seat despite her horse spinning round, but Sandra came off her horse and banged her head on the tarmac. She was taken to hospital but within seven days she was pronounced dead from a fractured skull and the swelling of the brain.
As I read the details of the incident so many questions came to mind as to how such an incident could result in the death of this lady. She was a life long experienced horsewoman, riding a well schooled horse which she had known since a youngster, on terrain she knew well in company with a competent companion on an equally sensible horse. The accident took place within half an hour’s drive of the Accident & Emergency centre of the major hospital in the area. A quad bike is a noisy machine which the horses would have heard coming long before it reached the bend. If I had the answers to my questions maybe I might have been able to apportion blame for such a tragic outcome but for sure there would have been no single dominant factor for such an accident unless perhaps a helicopter had flown low and directly overhead.
I read the report and asked myself what was there for me to learn? I came to the conclusion that there was no point in delving into the details of the incident.
The farmer had not meant to startle the horses.
Sandra had withstood far sharper shies from her horse whilst hunting.
She was wearing a riding hat to protect her skull.
The location of the fall was a quiet single width country lane.
My only query was how long did it take for her to receive medical treatment
In all probability no one had really made a fundamental mistake which on its own had led to the death of this rider. There was no blame to cast.
The lesson I learned in that instant was that horse riding is a dangerous sport because one’s head is always at least two meters from the ground at all times. And if one’s head hits the ground from that height, the probability is that the brain will bleed from the shock of impact.
In this instance if any blame was to be apportioned it was Sandra’ s - for ever putting her foot in the stirrup iron some sixty years previously. However as her husband said to me, in effect she died unexpectedly, doing what she loved to do, mounted on her much loved horse in the company of her sister. Luckily even in death there was no prolonged agony or suffering for her.
In contrast, a few years ago I fell off my trusty steed at speed and I hit the tarmac hard. Luckily I could stand up, so I walked after the horse, caught it, mounted up and rode groggily home. Over the next few days a lump as big as a football grew over my lower spine. My riding hat had to be discarded because of the stones embedded in the area of the riding hat which had protected the base of my neck against the full force of my head hitting the tarmacced surface of the road from which I suffered minor concussion. My riding jacket had been torn to shreds.
I had been so, so, lucky whereas Mistress Sandra had been so unlucky. If any individual decides to ride a horse, then he or she takes the risk of serious injury or even death. At best, all the rider can do is to learn how to minimize the risks of injury but for sure even good safe practice cannot eliminate all of the risks involved when playing with half a ton of wilful horse. But being lucky is one of the gifts of life isn’t it?
I'll miss The Mistress Sandra, she was a lovely lady and a lot of fun to ride alongside. She was pivotal for my experiencing good memories of times spent on my own horse and not many people have the ability to grant that gift.