Malcolm: An avoidable tragedy in Leadville (letter) |

Malcolm: An avoidable tragedy in Leadville (letter)

First off, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to JJ Swirka on the loss of her horse this past weekend in Leadville. Losing a horse is hard no matter the circumstances, but particularly under violent ones such as Saturday’s ordeal.

As a competitor in various equestrian events and shows from jumping to reining, I went into Leadville’s Skijoring event with excitement, looking forward to learning something new. We arrived on time, at 1:30, and initially everything looked fun and light hearted. Around 2:30, however, as the sun grew higher, the middle of the intersection at which I was standing was proving to be a troublesome spot. Half a dozen horses stumbled through this area within a short time period. Then, the inevitable happened. Right in front of us, a horse stumbled in the warming, slushy snow, and went down.

It slid on its shoulder for a distance, the rider and skier safely went off to the side and the horse popped up instantly and walked off unscathed. At this point in the competition, anyone who had any experience with horses could see the writing on the wall. The conditions were unsafe. The footing was not suitable.

It happens in equestrian sports: pay your entry fee 2 months in advance, travel across the state with your horse, finally get to the arena and think, “oh crap, the footing is too ____” (deep, shallow, rocky, slick, wet, etc., take your pick). And at that point, you have a choice: go home or compete. Under normal circumstances, the organizer of the event will be notified by several angry competitors that the arena surface is unsuitable and they work to fix the problem. But, rarely, you go home without swinging a leg over your horse to protect them and yourself. But more importantly them.

There were a lot of people who let Logan, the trusting gelding, down on Saturday. Saturday’s incident should never be, as Loren Zhimanskova of Skijor International put it, “the reality”. Accidents happen, absolutely. But Saturday’s incident was avoidable. One of the event’s organizers, Paul Coppper, was quoted, “Horses have no problem running through 8 inches of snow, but it just got so warm, and we noticed two horses stumbled”. At that point, the race should have been called and rescheduled for the morning, when the snow was guaranteed to be firmer.

The history and culture of skijoring should be protected and celebrated in Colorado. But let’s not let Logan’s unfortunate death go without a few lessons learned on the part of the competitors as well as the event organizers.

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