The news that three-day eventing super pony Theodore O'Connor was euthanized following an accident really disturbed me. That's not because I'm a huge follower of eventing, but because he was a small horse-- only 14.1-- that had become larger than life due to his competitive spark and his successful performances in world class competition. Despite having spent much of my life riding warmbloods that towered above me, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the smaller horses that neglected to realize that they were shorter in stature than their peers. Teddy suffered catastrophic injuries to a hind leg after he bolted, slipped and fell. Just like that, his fate was sealed due to a freak accident.
Teddy's fate was on my mind today while I was leading Wally down to the large arena near my house. He'd been idle since his two big trail rides over the holiday weekend and needed a longe before I hopped on. Wally being Wally, he started revving up like Secretariat going postward in the Belmont Stakes. I could hardly control him as I led him down the short path to the arena. Keep in mind that I inherited this behavior problem; I didn't create it. But it takes all of my physical strength and determination not to allow Wally to overpower me and begin whirling around in circles on the bridle path. Even more so today, with the spectre of Teddy's accident fresh in my mind, I realized that if Wally should bolt and get loose, he'd be dragging the longe line as he galloped... where? Into the street? Across my neighbors' lawns? Would he crash into the split-rail wooden fence that lined the bridle path? I held so tightly to that longe line (and the stud chain which, as you can imagine, was being used to its fullest measure) that I strained my bad arm. But it was worth it. I knew that should Wally get loose and run amok, he could also end up mortally wounded. Teddy's tragedy reminded me that even at the best barn, with the most experienced handler, a rambunctious horse can get itself into trouble. And unfortunately in the horse world, there are rarely any "do overs."
In yet another instance of bolting off, I found a link to this news story on Horse Channel's homepage. According to the report, a bay Arabian gelding named Charlz bolted while on a trail ride and unseated his rider. He galloped off into the forest and hasn't been seen since. Lost in the Forest?
I remain confident that Charlz' story will have a much happier ending than that of dear, heroic Theodore O' Connor. Yet the potential is always there for one of our beloved horses to bolt off into oblivion, despite how hard we hold on to the reins. Or the longe line.