Horses 1 – Photographers 0
Some Horses Get Crazy and Trample People Just Because They Can
I was photographing the Indian Relay Races at Ft Hall, Idaho on August 11, 2016. It was a day like all days with little warning that it was going to be an extraordinary day filled with head wounds, bruises and general unconsciousness unlike any I’d ever had before. It was warm with little to no breeze to cool one down. Shade was hard to come by out on the race track. It was one of those days where you just settled down, sweat and waited for the action to start.
I’ve done this photographing of horses, riders and races many times before in various parts of the country and have always had a good rapport with the horses involved in what I call Chaos on Four Hooves, or as they are really known, Indian Relay Races. As such I was not totally prepared to be run over and trampled unconscious by one of those horses for no other reason than I was there. In fact, as the day dawned I did not even think that such a beautiful and gracious creature could even harbor such maliciousness and spite, let alone act on it. I’ve always thought I was a pretty good judge of character in both Man or beast. After all I am a high school graduate and a veteran. I vote. I have been somewhat educated by our magnificent public education system. I have an I.Q. higher than a geranium but lower than a programmable oven that has served me well so far. I’m kind to puppies and little old ladies. Most of them anyway. I did not know this horse. I had not spoken to this horse. I had not slighted it in any way that I was aware of. The horse just decided that I was there so I should be trampled into a state of unconsciousness. And so that is what it did. And I’m told it appeared to enjoy it.
A little explanation for those who do not know what Indian Relay races are. It’s quite simple really. You get a bunch of horses divide them into groups of three, find a single rider for each group, then simply race around the track once, return to your starting place where you have your extra horses waiting, jump off your horse, run to the next one that your horse handlers are holding at the ready, leap on it, race around the track once more, return to your starting place, jump off your horse, leap onto another one, race off… well you get the picture. This is done until all the horses have been ridden and someone who has managed to stay alive and on top of his horse comes across the finish line before anyone else. Thus winning. This is the good part. Of course everyone goes gonzo nuts, yelling and screaming for their team and against all the others and a good time is had by all. Except unconscious photographers. They don’t have a clue what just happened. They don’t even know if they’ve been snake bit or struck by lightning.
How the race works sounds quite simple and in theory it is. What you don’t factor in until you’ve attended one of these races is the noise, the dust, the confusion, the energy, the horses who range from those silently waiting to those who have to be physically restrained by maybe biting its ear, until the rider returns and mounts it. There is the yelling of the crowd, the thunder of the hooves as they race by, the single-minded purpose of getting on your horses and winning this race at all costs, all this and more add to the general mayhem of Indian Relay Races.
This is the actual ‘photographer trampling horse’ on its way across the track to do the trampling. I, being a trained observer, noticed its unexpected approach but thought little of it. I have to state here that this was a premeditated act on the part of the horse. You could see it in its eyes. It looked crazy. Demented. Homicidal. It looked like one of those people counting ballots in California late into the night or more like someone reading the election results that next morning. The rider was powerless at this point to stop the horse, turn it from its chosen path or to reason with it in any manner. If you look closely he is trying to talk the horse out of this unreasonable behavior but to no avail. That horse wouldn’t listen. It was driven. Its looks are deceiving as it appears in the photo as if it is ambling across the track in a leisurely manner, but in actuality it was at full gallop and coming across like a Burlington freight train and you’re stuck on the track like a stranded gasoline tanker. You just know there is going to be a fire, not to mention a lot of noise. This is mere moments from what is now known as TTP or ‘trample the photographer”. A day which will live in infamy.
Some of the things that go on as the race unfurls are crashes where one horse and rider will crash into another, either by accident or in some strategic hope of knocking the other guy out of the race, or just sheer exuberance in being in alive on such a beautiful day. This is all considered good fun and hardly anyone takes offence. Below is the aftermath of one of those events.
As you can see, the horse has most likely kicked this young man in the stomach. And stolen his shoes, plus probably created a small amount of trauma induced blindness causing him to use a special ‘kicked in the stomach’ stick to find his way off the race track before he gets trampled by the oncoming herd. That may not be the accurate explanation of events but since there was a lot going on it’ll do. Meanwhile back in the center of the track where there is a lot more mayhem happening, a rider is on his knees begging the horse to let him back on and of course the horse being a horse is having none of it. In fact it looks like the horse is trying to position itself so that it can kick him in the stomach too. Of course the crowd finds this all vastly entertaining and cheers loudly.
Here is the final almost actual happening of the trampling. The horse is breaking through the barrier. The photographer at risk, which in this case would be me, you can tell because I’m the one in the white hat with the red arrow pointing at me, doing my version of the moonwalk trying to get out of the area. I was prepared to Moonwalk clear to Boise if necessary. The horse apparently was wise to that ploy however and made an immediate right turn and trampled me. I, as a matter of self-preservation, immediately became unconscious and played dead, having heard this will often trick the attacking animal into leaving you alone. That part must have worked because as soon as it had its trampling done it turned and raced back on to the track in a vain attempt to win the race. It didn’t.
I awoke a short time later lying on the ground, looking up to find my self surrounded by EMT’s. One said “How you doing?” I asked if I was hurt. ” No.” He replied, ” you’re just old.” It was at that point I told him to do something anatomically impossible. They all laughed as if all of this was great fun and helped me up. Not badly mangled I returned to shoot the rest of the race.
Getting trampled by a great huge ugly horse filled with an unlimited amount of malice is not something I’d recommend to you. It’s really uncomfortable. But after the fact it becomes one of those things guys talk about where you have some bragging rights, kind of like someone who gets shot and lives to show off his bullet wounds. “Yeah, check this out, I got this in a drive by over on Cranston. Damn near killed me” However once is enough. I am not a slow learner. The next time I shoot a race I’m going to have my giant telephoto lens and shoot the race from across the parking lot. On top of an RV. That ought to be safer. Let that crazy bastard try getting me up there.