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09 August 2013

To Ride or Not to Ride

I'm sitting in a cafe having a rare proper coffee. I'm tired. The coffee is strong, and makes me wince and wish I'd asked for it to be weak, so I put a 2nd sugar in it instead.

On Monday a young woman jockey died during race 6 at Fannie Bay racecourse on Darwin Cup day. Her name was Simone Montgomerie. Her horse was leading in the straight and while reports are sketchy, it appears her horse shied, throwing her, and that she was trampled by the following field. She was treated frantically at the scene by paramedics and 2 doctors and rushed to hospital. She died shortly after arriving.

Simone grew up in Streaky Bay in SA, then moved to Darwin to further her racing career. She had a little girl, who's now aged 5, named Kodah, and I believe she was happily in a relationship with Kodah's father Brendan, another jockey. Her father Peter trained On a Jeune, who came second in the 2005 Melbourne Cup behind Makybe Diva. Simone was Darwin's premier jockey and the racing community is close knit. Peter and Simone's mother Lee-Anne were both present on track, and in a cruel twist, Lee-Anne owned the eventual winner of the race that claimed Simone's life.

I've never photographed the Darwin Cup. But I've been to Fannie Bay in 2000, where the committee surprised me by rolling out the red carpet. They wanted me to speak at their lunch. I'm not really practiced at this. And, like with a recent ABC Radio interview, it makes me anxious. And every year I get a Christmas card from Ian McNeil , or "Lumpy" as he's affectionately known. He used to work at Parliament House with my mum and is the Speaker in the NT Legislative Assembly. And he's heavily involved with the Fannie Bay Club. I need to call him this week.

What I've found since Simone's death is that everyone loved her. And are absolute shattered at her loss. And the community, led in amazing but unsurprising fashion by one of my friends and colleagues Greg Irvine, is now involved in an amazing money raising process to help support her family. Greg told me this:
"Anyone who met Simone couldn't help but be inspired by her positive energy and love".
Readers and friends know that I am a rider. Since I was 6. On my first trip to horse riding school they asked "who would you like to ride?" The tiny 6 year old, looked up and replied "the biggest horse you have". I can remember saying this and can still remember the big bay gelding I rode, called Simione. That was my first love affair with a horse.

That school eventually closed and I joined another. During my time there I had several falls. I had the usual evil pony scrape his tiny rider off under a tree branch. And on one occasion, of which my dad still likes to remind me, he picked me up after my lesson and asked me why was there was blood inside my riding helmet? Apparently I said I didn't know and can't remember.

I've also had a number of falls at high speed. Others when launched upwards by one of Freelance's spiraling bucks. And there were times Tickles reared so high I would gracefully slide off his back and watch him topple over backwards. The bail factor is important on those occasions. I've been galloping at full speed when my horse came down on a dirt road, surrounded by pine trees. My knee was hurt. But I got up and walked away. And kept riding. And Tickles (always Tickles) once jumped a paddock gate (locked and solid, and one of the full sized ones that come up to my chest) at full gallop when I was 17 and riding him bareback. No helmet. I stayed on and he didn't fall, although he bent the gate

Parting company from your horse, particularly at high speed, is a sickening feeling. So is the heavy impact as feel you land.  But  a horse is a living breathing creature and they are prone to doing what they want! And to acting unpredictably.

But the feeling of being astride a horse, connecting with a horse, watching his ears flick back and forth as he listens to you, and feeling that harnessed energy, power and strength is an amazing and wondrous one.

I've had a number of long breaks from riding. I'm riding again now and am taking new directions with my riding. And I'm loving it. And wanting to do more.

And when I watched and photographed the jumping last weekend, including Snips' round during which he jumped impeccably, it reminded me of the hazards involved. As did Simone's shocking fall and death. But I don't want to stop riding because of fear.  And basically, I just miss riding so much when I don't do it. 

On Monday I found myself glancing at what size rugs Snips wears. And wondering if they will help me see if my own dressage saddle fits him. Thankfully the events of this week haven't lessened my desire to ride, and to learn more about this earnest, brave and bold little horse. Actually he's tall and I can't get on him without a mounting block, do he's not little at all. But he has an honesty about him, just like his owner Grant does, that I find reassuring.

I'm not financially in a position to donate lots of money. My finances will never attract someone to me. I realise that. But I do have a library filled with high quality images of many horses, none better than Black Caviar. So I will do my best to help Kodah and Brendan. I try not to think of that little girl and how she will cope without her mum who I bet she treasured, because my eyes are already red and sore.


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