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Jumping isn’t just for the horses at the Royal Windsor Horse Show

Back in the late 80’s I was a Vet student and a referee at the Royal Windsor Horse Show every May.

The marathon was part of a 3 day trial for drivers and their horses. It involves a 2-3 hour drive to test the horses’ endurance, followed by a series of complicated obstacles to be completed as fast as possible.

The ref’s role was to travel around the marathon course checking that the equine athletes were not breaking the rules by trotting when they should walk, or vice versa. I was in the carriage of an international competitor, wearing a helmet and a numbered tabard.

After a couple of hours I was tiring of the constant jolting in the un-sprung four wheeled vehicle.

We approached one of the final obstacles, and the groom standing behind leant in, grasping a large handful of my scruff and the driver’s. The driver had a seatbelt, but there was none for me. “Hang on here!” was all the warning I got as the horses jumped over a railway sleeper, leaving the front wheels of our carriage to slam up against it before riding over.

We rattled around the rest of the obstacle and raced to exit the way we had come in, uphill now. This time, when the front wheel hit, I felt my whole body rise up into the air. The horses turned right, and I rotated around my left hand which was still gripping the only available handle. The groom’s grip on my collar kept me upright, so that I landed on my feet, but outside the carriage, with my head level with my former seat.

I only had a split second to decide what to do. The horses had to trot now, but it was still over a mile to get to the finish. I could walk back in embarrassed mortification, or finish with the team. I was unharmed so far, despite my spectacular fall, but re-mounting a moving carriage is a risky choice, and they were certainly not going to lose precious seconds stopping for me. I ran for it, focussed on the small step to leap for, and launched myself.

Luckily, I judged it well, and settled back with my clipboard as if nothing had happened. I retired from refereeing after that, but am still happy to have been part of such an exciting sport, in a very small way.

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