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« The Apple Tree | Main | In the Dumpster of Life »

Horse Play

In 1958 and I was taking part in a road race in Buckinghamshire, England, just North West of London. The race was held under the auspices of the British League of Racing Cyclists. (BLRC)

About an hour into the race, the riders were still in a single group, or “Bunch,” as we referred to it. The maximum number of riders allowed in a BLRC event was forty, so it was a Bunch rather than a Peloton.

We rounded a bend on a country road and passed two people riding horses; the bike riders startled the horses, and one of them threw its rider and bolted. The rider-less horse ran onto the road, right into the middle of the bunch.

By some miracle no one fell, but the bunch split. There were about a dozen riders in front of the horse, and they sprinted away. It was initially a move to get away from the horse, rather than to take advantage of the situation; although racing cyclists are not above seizing on such opportunities.

I found myself immediately behind the horse, and I can tell you it was a pretty scary situation seeing those large steel hooves that appeared to be directly in front of my face with each stride. I slowed as best I could, but was aware of the rest of the riders immediately behind me.

I was also aware that the horse could fall in front of me which would not be good. Steel hooves on asphalt do not make for the best of traction, plus the horse’s reins were trailing between its front legs, the animal could easily trip. As a kid, I had witnessed a runaway horse slip and fall on the road, it was not a pretty sight.

I needed to get around the horse; the road was clear so I went a wide as this somewhat narrow country road would allow, and out of the saddle, sprinted as hard as I could. As I went past the horse, I startled it again and it veered to the left and onto the grass verge.

I was now ahead of the horse and still sprinting as hard as I could. However, the horse now running on grass started to go faster; I could hear the quickening hoof beats immediately behind me. The faster the horse went, the faster I went.

I looked up and saw I was catching the dozen or so riders who were up ahead. Now I had a double incentive; the chase was on to catch the lead riders. At the same time I was being chased by a large brown horse, and the last thing I wanted was to have him in front of me again.

As I caught the lead group, it included one of my team mates. “I see you got up then.” He said as I pulled alongside.

Another rider turned and quipped, “Did you have to bring the bloody horse with you?”

Just as I had done, the pace quickened to stay ahead of the horse; only now there were a group of riders working together. Gradually the hoof beats faded; I'm not sure whether the horse slowed, or we just dropped him. Or maybe he found some open fields to run in.

The lead group kept up the same pace that the horse had initiated; this proved to be too fast for most, and we dwindled down to three riders by the finish. I got second place that day. Had I have still had the horse to lead out in the final gallop, I might have won.


Reader Comments (5)

Hi Dave-- I was set to ride my horse in a parade many years ago in the small town of Vermillion, SD where I was going to university. There were about 40 riders and we were waiting our turn at the end of the line. I'd never ridden in a parade before, and like every body else, I thought it would be an easy-going walk and I'd wave to my friends on the sidewalk.

The parade was a bit disorganized and for some reason we got held up, so a large gap developed between the horses and the last float. The horses were getting edgy because of all the people and marching bands and floats. Main Street was packed with families and students, most of them a little intoxicated as it was the homecoming football game that weekend.

Suddenly the street cleaner truck started up behind us, scaring the horses, and they all bolted and took off at full tilt down toward Main Street. Like everyone else I was holding on for dear life and the horses were in a tight terrorized bunch thundering down the road into town. I could see people grabbing their children and running for cover--a lot of people looked surprised and then pretty scared and ran to get out of the way as it was a stampede.

I can't remember now if Vermillion had one or two stop lights, but we must have blasted through Main Street and run the mile parade route in about 30 seconds! Luckily nobody got run over and none of us fell off. When we were finally able to stop just outside of town and get control of everything, I got the feeling that the horses were saying to each other, "Hey fellas, that was pretty awesome!"

I glad I gave up horses for bikes--I just know how they can spook and take off.

Cheers! Bruce

July 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBruce

I spooked a horse pulling a buggy in Amish country, Dave. I was living in a rural county north of Pittsburgh, PA. On a slight grade I was faster than the buggy up ahead, so I passed it. The horse jumped sideways as I came alongside and he almost overturned the buggy.

I've been extremely careful around horses ever since.

July 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEd W

My only horse story centers around a bank, of which I was the new manager, in a rural town in West Marin, CA. The town has an annual parade that, if I remember correctly, centers around the 4th of July. As this is a "horse town", with horse rails still outside the local saloon, the local newspaper thought it would be a great idea if they could get a picture of the new bank manager inside the bank while on a horse. I wasn't very keen on the idea since I had never really been on a horse before, but one of the employees convinced me that her older horse would be a great choice to ride since she was so tame. Wanting to appease the lot, I agreed and the next day, dressed like Roy Rogers, I mounted the steed outside the Bank.

The editor of the paper was there to take the shot and he proceeded to wait in the bank lobby for me and the horse to appear. Unfortunately for the horse..and me...there were a few brick stairs to climb before entering the lobby of the bank and the horse really wanted nothing to do with stairs. I asked the owner if the horse would agree to enter an elevator since it appeared to be lazy. At that, she gave her a slap in the arse and up she went...rather briskly, i might add. I had to duck entering the doors or the picture would have shown a headless horseman entering the Bank.

Once inside, she wouldn't settle down since the floor was tiled and her momentum, along with her shoes, were causing her to slip all over the lobby. Think of a horse on roller skates. Luckily, the owner grabbed her and managed to calm her down enough for the editor to get one picture....and lucky enough to have the picture come out ok. But, in all of the slipping and a sliding, the horse decided that it was time to relieve itself and it did so....all over the Bank lobby.

The upshot is that all of the employees had a good laugh at the "gringo' on the horse and then refused to clean up the mess since they thought it was my lame brain idea to take the shot. I'm sure the horse had a good laugh later while I was left to wonder if Roy Rogers ever had to pull out the pooper scooper.

July 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaltese Falcon

Speaking of Britain and cyclists, I interviwed a very prominent bicycle guru originally from the UK. You may have heard about Prof Wilson who wrote bicycle science. Take a look here for my 5 part interview with him! You might like to read this...

Conversations with David Gordon Wilson

Also don't forget to involve yourself in this small contest I'm running on the blog :) CozyBehive all modern who-what-why competition.


July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRon

Very funny post, Dave. Thank you. The worst I ever had to deal with was in a mountain bike race in San Jose. We had to loop around a dead cow, lying on its back with legs pointing straight up. Plus, there was a squirrel carcass with tread marks on its back after a lap or two. It must have been distracted by the dead cow. I think it was the Sizzler (?) in about '98. My friends and I remember it as the Dead Cow Race.

July 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Brown
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