The sport of eventing had a bleak weekend after two horses died while competing at affiliated one-day events, although rumours of more fatalities proved unsubstantiated.
Invicta, a nine-year-old horse owned by Lady Cranley and ridden by Oliver Townsend, made a fatal mistake at a combination fence on the intermediate course at Bicton on Friday morning.
“He came to the 16th fence, which was a step-up out of a cornfield onto a bank and then a bounce over a log. As he stepped up, he tripped and his head hit the log in front. The impact and speed of hitting the log broke the horse’s neck,” says Bicton organiser Arthur Stevens. “We must have had 30 horses going up and it is not a new fence. It never caused problems before. It was a freak accident.”
Two days later, another horse died at Hambleden’s one-day event. Woodmount Spry, owned by Anne Smurfit, Christian Kwek and Bill Levett, and ridden by Bill Levett, collapsed in the flat between fences during the Open Intermediate class. “We think he had a heart attack,” reports Winnie Murphy of British Eventing.
Rumours of another fatality at Bicton on Friday, circulated throughout the weekend, but British Eventing has refuted it. “We haven’t heard of any other horse [dying] and we have received no paperwork,” says Murphy.
Stevens thinks that Chinese whispers may have started after the horse ambulance went to the finish twice on Friday to pick up two horses that went lame between the last fence and the end of the course. “The vet wouldn’t have them go any further, but they absolutely didn’t pass away. I heard from one of the girls that her horse had pulled something,” he says.
Both Invicta’s accident and the two horses going lame occurred early on Friday when the going at Bicton was dry and very good, according to Stevens. Later, however, the downpours became so bad that all Saturday and Sunday classes had to be cancelled.
“The organisers first decided to wait and see what happened on Friday night, but I got a call late on Friday night saying they had just had too much rain,” says Murphy.
Despite having sandy soil, Bicton Arena just couldn’t take cope with so much continous rain. “We were waterlogged,” confirms Stevens. “[After the initial dry spell], the rest of Friday rode perfectly in wet conditions. But it kept raining and we had 21 hours of continuous rain. As it went on, the ground was getting heavier. I walked into the dressage arena and was ankle-deep in mud. I said: ‘if we can’t do dressage, we can’t do anything else.’ We didn’t even check the cross-country course — we just decided to cancel. The next day, we found that the show jumping arena was completely covered in water.”
Riders were told the news on late on Friday night and they were very supportive. “[They] came out and said: ‘we are glad you made this decision, rather than us asking you to make it,” says Stevens. “It is sad we had to abandon it, but good that they appreciated it. So that’s Bicton 2005, but we’ll be back next year.”