We were having a quick brunch at home this morning, and M heard a horse go by on the street. Arsenal wasn’t playing, why would there by any horses around? (The police usually go on horses to control crowds here).
He popped his head out of the window, and true enough, there was a couple in a carriage drawn by a horse. Nope, not the Cinderella carriage, just some wooden planks put together in the most unromantic ways. M told me to have a look, I did and I felt my stomach lurch a little.
I can’t go near horses. I can’t even really look at a picture of a horse without feeling irritated. It’s not because I don’t like animals. It’s because I fell from a horse shortly after our wedding last year.
Here’s the story. After we returned to London from our wedding, we made arrangements with two of our friends to spend the Bank Holiday weekend in New Forest. We also booked ourselves on a one-hour horse-riding session for beginners, and thought we would treat ourselves to spa sessions after we were done with it. It was a lovely weekend, sunny but cool, and the skies were clear.
After having lunch at the hotel, we changed into grubby clothes and drove out to Burley-Villa School of Riding. We signed some papers, put on safety helmets, and were led to our horses. My horse was called Sparkey and it was led by an 11 year-old girl.
I was scared stiff when I got on Sparkey, he was pretty tall to me, so sitting from a great height on a thing that moved and breathed was pretty nerve-wrecking. I relaxed after a while when I felt that Sparkey appeared tame at the waiting area. The session began, and we were led (well, some weren’t as they were more experienced riders) to the trail in a single file. I was right at the back of the line.
It was weird, swaying from side to side as I tried to move with Sparkey. But it was easy to get into the rhythm after 10 minutes and I got the hang of things, turning left and right, making Sparkey go faster and getting him to stop. Soon we arrived in the forest (more like shrub land actually as there were no trees, just grass and shrub everywhere), things got a bit more bumpy because of the terrain but I could still manage the ride. I was starting to enjoy it.
About 45 minutes into the ride, we were on our way out of the forest, and I thought Sparkey was acting weird. The girl who led Sparkey had to coax him a little more than usual, and he was looking nervous, often shifting his head to the left and looking at something in the sky. Before I knew it, he galloped off, with me hanging on for dear life. The girl was too young and too small to hold on to him. I couldn’t scream, my voice was caught in my fear, and all I could think of was I was going to end up horribly injured or dead. I couldn’t hold on any longer, I could hear people shouting, everything was a blur, and Sparkey flung me off his back. I landed on my back, and was unable to move. I was in a lot of pain and in a lot of shock. Only when I heard M shouting ‘Let me off the horse now, it’s my wife!’, that I started crying.
I vaguely remembered that someone put a picnic mat around me to keep me warm, and she kept reassuring me that everything was going to be okay. M was by my side, and now that I think about it, I thought he did well, he was professional and did a quick medical check on me. Someone asked me if I could get up to walk, or if I needed an ambulance. I refused an ambulance as I didn’t want to admit that it might be something serious. I was in a bit of a denial. After what seemed like hours of being immobilised in the position I landed in, M decided that it was best to take me to the hospital. By that time, the manager of the riding school arrived to take me in his car. I made it to the car, leaning on M and the manager most of the time, and was in so much pain that I couldn’t stop crying.
As luck would have it, there were no doctors in the emergency unit. It was the Bank Holiday (go figure, yes, NO doctors), and I was attended to by nurses and wheeled into the hospital. They gave me some painkillers, asked me some questions and did all sorts of check-up on me. I was horrified when they asked me if I could give them a urine sample to test for internal bleeding. I was in too much pain to walk to the toilet and manage a urine sample for them! Some nurse frightened me even more when she told me that I might have to be air-lifted to the nearest big hospital in Southampton because they being nurses, weren’t allowed to order X-rays etc. I prayed that I didn’t have to be because that might mean that something went horribly wrong. There was a tiny trace of blood in my urine, but nothing more. The painkillers were kicking in and I was in less pain. They decided to discharge me, and said that if I felt any more pain, I should go back to a hospital for a check-up. I was prescribed with tonnes of co-codamol and that was it.
The rest of our stay in New Forest was somewhat subdued. The spa sessions were cancelled, I stayed in the room whenever I could and took co-codamol to relieve the pain and help me sleep. We still managed to go out for our meals, which was something I insisted on because I didn’t want everyone else to have a lousy holiday because of that accident. Other than sitting in the car and in the seats at restaurants, I had to move slowly but was very happy to do so because that meant that I hadn’t sustained injuries that would handicap me for life.
In the following weeks, I took painkillers only when I couldn’t bear with the pain, and was away from work for two weeks. With a lot of care and advice from M and my friends, I got better and now, I’m almost pain-free. Sometimes, I still get back pains but they don’t bug me for too long, so I think everything’s okay. What I couldn’t accept was how Burley-Villa allowed children to lead horses for amateur riders. When my friends and M confronted the manager, he mustered a weak comeback and said ‘well, nothing like that has happened before’ and shrugged it off. No offer for compensation, no nothing. He even blamed it on the kite-flyers in the forest, saying that they shouldn’t even be there in the first place because horses get spooked by flying objects. Yes, Sparkey was spooked by the kites, that was true, but that wasn’t something that the school could control for. What if a plane had flown past, what if there were a plastic bag had been whipped into the air by strong winds? My point was if Sparkey had been led by a grown man instead of an 11 year-old girl, perhaps I wouldn’t have fallen off.
I thought the whole incident was really due to poor management. Burley-Villa is a certified riding school in the countryside, the least they could do is to do everything in their power to ensure the safety of riders. Yes, horses go out of control sometimes, but like I said, the simple provision of an adult to lead my horse would have been something in the likes of ‘everything in their power’. To-date, we haven’t received a satisfactory answer from the school.
Having told my story (good to get it out of my system), I’m never going horse-riding and I will never trust my money and life with an establishment like Burley-Villa again.