There were a dramatic few minutes in the Palexpo Arena at the CHI Geneva horse show in Saturday night’s speed class, after an incident involving Irish rider Conor Swail and the brilliant gelding Vital Chance De La Roque.
The pair had completed a scorching round in the five-star class and had soared over the final oxer when the 13-year-old gelding decided to throw in a mighty buck to celebrate, as he always does at the finish.
There was then a collective gasp from the packed stands as every rider’s worst nightmare unfolded and the bridle came clean off the gelding’s head. As Conor explained to H&H: “I was forward in the saddle, riding through the finish, so this time when he bucked, he threw me up his neck.
“I was pushing myself back to try and get back in the saddle but that was when his head suddenly came up and I just pushed the bridle right off,” said the US-based Irishman, currently ranked number five in the world.
“Then, with the bridle off, he just started to run, and I almost came off the side, but thankfully the corner was right there in front of us and him coming round to the left helped me get back up.”
Vital De La Roque, who is usually competed barefoot, then cantered off around the arena with Conor perfectly poised in the saddle, but with the bridle hanging from one hand and no means of control.
Remarking on how he managed to keep his cool in what could have been a terrifying incident, the Irishman said, “He’s normally quiet, so I wasn’t that bothered that he would get too crazy, but we kept running for a lot longer than I expected – I thought he’d stop before he did.”
Vital De La Roque eventually came to a halt and stood very calmly as the bitless bridle was put back in place, much to the relief of everyone involved.
Despite the dramatic aftermath, the pair’s round was good enough for a fourth-place finish.
“He jumped incredible,” said Conor, whose team-mate Shane Sweetnam claimed victory with Alejandro.
Earlier in the week at CHI Geneva, Conor Swail had teamed up with another of his great partners, Count Me In, to win Friday’s speed class, which acts as a qualifier for Sunday’s Rolex grand prix.
“He jumped good the first day but just had one down, then obviously the grand prix qualification is very important,” said Conor. “In order to do that I felt I needed to be in the top 15 in the speed class, so you needed to do one of two things – you go slow and clear, but if you have one down you’re out, or you go quick and if you have one down you’ll also probably be in the top 15 or 20 and my horse is very fast anyway and careful, so we played that card and thankfully it worked very well.”
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