“I felt my right rein go and I thought, OK, I’ve broken a rein here,” Cheshire told Horse Racing Only. “Then, probably a stride later I watched the bridle come straight back over the horse’s head and down its neck.”
The horse, Secret Blend (barn name Exo), took his unexpected freedom and held the lead for the first part of the race. Cheshire turned to jockey Robbie Agnew as he came up on the outside and asked if he could help pull her horse up.
“There’s nothing to grab!” he replied, but told her to hang on to her breastplate and he’d help steer her around the corner.
Cheshire and Exo made it around the turn with the pack, then dropped to the back. Cheshire thought the horse would slow down to a stop once the rest of the field slowed after the finish.
Exo had other ideas.
Because there was no bridle, there was nothing for an outrider to grab. That meant Cheshire had to wait and hope Exo would run himself out. She pulled the dangling bridle up so that it wouldn’t be slapping him on the shoulder, encouraging him to keep going. She was able to yield him over to the inside rail, preventing him from darting out the open gate into the unsaddling enclosure where there would have been a serious risk of collision.
On the second lap around, an outrider approached on his pony again.
“Just ease down the pony and maybe my horse will ease down with you,” Cheshire told the rider. The plan looked like it might work as Exo began to slow. Then one of the reins slipped and got caught around the horse’s back legs, causing him to panic and kick out. He twisted his body, causing the saddle to slip to one side. And he bolted on, headed for a third lap of the track.
Cheshire stayed on and straightened her saddle as the horse made his third trip around the bend. By that point, it seemed Exo wouldn’t stop until he collapsed from exhaustion or physically crashed into something—neither option would end well for horse or rider.
“I thought, well, he is listening to my neck rein. Maybe I’ll try and get him to turn up the mile chute,” said Cheshire. “That was a big ask, to get him to do a U-turn like that, but I thought, what else am I going to do to try and stop him?”
She was able to turn him toward the fence and despite a brief moment where it looked like he might simply jump the fence and keep going, he had slowed enough in the turn that Cheshire had an opportunity to jump off and put the rein around his nose to walk him back.
Miraculously, the ordeal ended with no major injuries to the horse or the jockey. And Cheshire has nothing but positive things to say about Exo.
“That horse could have done anything he liked for three laps,” she said. “He could have made bad decisions with bad consequences. He could have put both of us through a fence and maybe we wouldn’t have walked away from that. But instead, he kept me safe. I honestly believe he was just asking me to guide him and listening to me when I did.”
Read Cheshire’s firsthand account of the incident and see photos at horseracingonly.com.au.
Watch a race replay at tweedriverjockeyclub.com.au (sixth video from the top; Secret Blend is the #7 horse and Cheshire is in purple and white stripes.)
Leslie Potter is a writer and photographer based in Lexington, Kentucky. www.lesliepotterphoto.com