I was at a barrel race last night and had the misfortune to witness a horrible wreck. A girl I do not know had just crossed the finish line when her horse just crumpled and flipped forward, summersaulting over her. She was crushed into the dirt and I was pretty sure the horse broke his neck in the fall. There was an instant of frozen silence before anyone moved. The girl was out from under the horse and was sitting up by his head. but obviously was completely dazed. The horse laid there for a second but then tried to get up, further battering the dazed cowgirl in the back. By that time, people had come flying from every direction, but were approaching the horse slowly from behind, instinctively trying not to startle him and cause him to try to get up again. The girl would have been severely trampled if the horse had succeeded in floundering to his feet.
Once contact was established, people piled on the down horse to keep him from getting up, while others tried to determine the extent of the girl's injuries. Nobody wanted to move her, but at the same time, she needed to move to get out of harms way. Finally, she crawled a few feet away and collapsed on the ground.
Once the girl was out of the way, guys pulled the horse's saddle and I could see one of them look up and shake his head at another one. The horse's neck wasn't broken, but his shoulder looked dislocated and one leg was flopping. That simple head shake told me this horse was done for.
Even though I had watched the wreck with my own eyes, I couldn't tell what had happened. The girl had just crossed the eye and hadn't even had time to sit up yet to stop her horse, when he just crumpled and flipped. The general consensus was that his leg had actually broken (just behind the knee) on that last stride and that is what had caused the flip.
The girl ended up being okay enough to get up and was helped out of the arena. I never saw her again, so I don't know if they took her to an emergency room for good measure or what. I would hope so.
I couldn't watch anymore as I was getting physically sick to my stomach, but eventually I looked over at the arena and the horse was up and being slowly led from the arena on 3 legs. He didn't make it any farther than out the gate though and that is where they had to wait for the vet to show up to put him down.
And not to sound callous, but the barrel race could not continue with the horse standing in the gate, so after what seemed like an eternity, I pulled from the race, untacked my horses, loaded up and went home. The vet was there by then, the horse had been moved and the race continued, but I had lost any interest in running. As had many of the other barrel racers. About half of them had already pulled, loaded up and left.
The biggest joke there is about barrel racing is that, 'Barrel racers have to be cremated...Because the ground is never good enough', but I've never seen girls exodus a race like they did this one simply due to poor ground conditions. This was not a ground condition accident. It was just a really horrible, we-know-this-can-happen-but-never-admit-it-to-ourselves accident and it shook a lot of us up.
Last summer a good friend of mine's horse snapped a hind leg in the alley before his run. He just set to leave to make his run and (snap). To this day, she won't talk about it. Not that I've asked her, because I can tell that she still thinks about it, but is desperately trying to block it from her mind. Some people like to talk these things out and some people don't. I did talk to her husband to see how she was really doing, because she has another horse now and is back to running and he said as much as I had already deduced. She rushed into buying another horse just to get back into the arena. That horse didn't work out, so she bought yet another horse and tried him and he didn't work out either. Under any other circumstances, she would have known those horses weren't right for her, but I could sense her desperation to keep moving forward. Not to just keep competing, but so that she did not get sucked into the web of fear that might prevent her from ever coming back. Everybody is different in this aspect. Some people need the time to mourn, some people deal by pushing forward.
If you've been around horses for any length of time, you know that those suckers can destroy themselves in a padded stall if they so chose, so knowing that they can break when we chose to ask them to do extreme events is just a given. This is why we spend countless hours and untold amounts of money to provide and do things for them that a lot of people think is unnecessary and borders on extreme; therapy products, feed supplements, injections, massage, accupuncture...I mean the list of things competitive people will do to protect and extend the life of a competitive horse is just endless. And in the back of our minds, we know...One misstep, one slip, one kick...That's all it takes and a career is over and sometimes the life too.
Moon looked at me a little funny when I started untacking him. He knew we were there for a race. Sensing his confusion, I gave him a hug and a little petting and told him, "Not tonight buddy. Tomorrow maybe. Friday definitely. But not tonight.".