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.