Losing a beloved companion is always gut-wrenching and painful, often beyond words. Losing one in a public fashion like Liz Halliday-Sharp did with her beloved Irish Sport horse Cooley is almost unthinkable.
Halliday-Sharp was taking part in the Burgham Horse Trials in the UK when Cooley misread a jump and broke his leg, throwing Halliday-Sharp and fracturing one of her vertebrae. Cooley was quickly euthanized as Halliday-Sharp was whisked to the hospital.
The trials Halliday-Sharp and Cooley were competing in consist of three events (dressage, cross country and show jumping) meant to show off varying levels of skill and mastery. The type of obstacle where Cooley broke his leg (open rail oxer) has been a source of controversy at the Burgham event, with other riders and horses being seriously injured.
Halliday-Sharp posted a passionate plea to the FEI (International Federation for Equestrian Sports) on her Facebook page, asking them to reevaluate the course, and their policy on the types of jumps used in the competition. The text is below:
“I want to put something out there about why this tragedy happened to my wonderful horse, and I’m hoping that it might trigger some consideration and maybe some change for the future from the FEI and national federations. I also want to say that in no way at all am I blaming the Burgham event itself, as they have all been very helpful and supportive throughout this terrible situation.
“Where we fell was at a very wide, but not very tall, open rail oxer off a turn. When I walked the course I remember thinking it was one of the widest I had seen in an Advanced competition and that it would demand respect and proper riding, and I was concerned that a horse could possibly misread it as a bounce.
“I went out on Blackie (Fernhill By Night) first and he jumped it well, and when I went out on Cooley I planned to give it the same amount of respect. I arrived at the fence with the correct pace and a good shot (confirmed by people who saw) and plenty of leg on, and as Cooley jumped he must have suddenly thought it was a bounce, and he came down in the middle of the fence, just in front of the back rail.
“The fence was pinned, but I do not remember if it released and no one seems to be able to answer that — anyone I ask says they weren’t paying attention to the fence, as they were all apparently attending to me since I had hit the ground so hard and was unconscious, and of course my horse was injured.
“Cooley was the bravest, best cross country horse I have ever had, with more scope and heart then any horse I have ever sat on, and there is no way that he would have jumped into that fence unless he thought that he was supposed to and had just misread it.
“This is not the first time this year that an experienced, talented horse has misread and jumped into one of these open oxers and that the horse and rider have both been seriously injured. Sadly, on this occasion my wonderful Cooley had to pay the price with his life.
“I feel that perhaps the FEI and national federations need to think about how wide an open rail oxer can and should be, and perhaps beyond a certain width they should be made as a table or be ascending. Just because a fence is pinned does not mean that it should be pushing the boundaries of what horses can understand. Just one honest and experienced horse misunderstanding and losing his life is too many in my opinion.
“I hope that I am not alone in feeling this way, and perhaps if anything can come of this horrible tragedy, it can be some change and some consideration of these particular fences. My broken heart hurts so much more then my broken neck, and I cannot imagine going home and not seeing my gorgeous grey boy over the door.”
Our hearts go out to Liz and Cooley. Hopefully the lessons learned will help prevent such tragic heartbreak in the future.
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