How can you love a game that does this to its most devoted? That is the brutal question but be sure that ‘love’ was in Lorna’s answer.
She adored the game. It had lit up her life for 20 years. It had taken her across the world. It had even granted her that never-to-be-forgotten day at Fairyhouse in November 2015 when she and Moonlone Lane came home clear of Lizzie Kelly in second, Katie Walsh in third, and our Cheltenham and Grand National heroine Rachael Blackmore in fourth. All of them know well the question and you can guess that they and Lorna would have the same response.
For to ride a galloping thoroughbred over fences is a thrill like no other. Beneath you is half a ton of purpose bred athlete which is the equivalent of a jumping motorbike with its own mind which when perfectly blended makes you nothing short of an actual centaur. You can gallop towards a four and a half foot of fence at 30 miles an hour and leave it soaringly beneath you. On the best of days the bells ring in your head as it happens again and again. On a bad one? Well, yes, that can happen too.
The fact that death comes about so rarely does not remove the awareness. Everyone will have their memories. Seared into my consciousness is an afternoon almost 60 years back at Chepstow when Freddie Dixon took the sort of deadly jack-knife fall which winces into your eyeballs. 40 years ago last Saturday 54 year old amateur John Thorne chased Bob Champion home in the Grand National. A year later, a fall in a point to point killed him. He too, and all of those of us who loved him, have to answer the question.
For riding over jumps means falling over them too. That also sears deep into the consciousness. One moment you are a soaring centaur, the next it is as if some tripwire is pulled and you are whacked into the turf with hoofs and bodies around you. Most of the time you roll clear and get up to shake yourself ready. Sometimes you lie with the wind knocked out wondering if there will ever be another breath. Sometimes you know at once that a limb is broken. Yes, sometimes it can be worse.
But facing up to risks enhances one’s hold on existence. Knowing that they are there is important, for it gives every ride, every race that extra feel of fulfilment. Long before you get to the racetrack there are hard hours, bad weather, painful bumps, hungry days and ugly mouthed as well as well as sweet tempered horses. But then there are the jockeys silks, the paddock pantomime, the hack to the start, the goggles pulled down, the tapes fly up and you and your rivals are the only being alive in the spinning, galloping, jumping, crashing, straining world that is the race.
Of course, non- believers will still think race riding a form of madness but for Lorna and the rest of us it’s best to resort to those famous lines from Longfellow:
“Ask not, the helmsman answered, the secrets of the sea
Only those that have braved its dangers, can comprehend its mystery.”