In praise of the brave

The terrible fire in a multi-storey car part next to Liverpool International Horse Show’s venue has made international headlines. But for most of us, the most important part of the story is not the fire itself, but the fact that all the horses there were evacuated safely.

It could have been so different, and proves that in times of crisis, horse people find courage. Show organisers have praised the grooms and others who brought horses – not necessarily ones they knew or looked after – out of the stables while the sound of exploding vehicles signalled how danger was escalating.

They kept their cool and kept the horses calm. Maybe you, like me, have wondered how you would have reacted.

Many non-horsey people reckon we’re brave – or bonkers – for trusting horses under any circumstances.

“His teeth are so big!” a non-horsey visitor said of my much-loved cob, whom we reckon is Clydesdale cross Labrador. “Aren’t you scared he’ll bite you?”

No, I’m not. The only time anyone would be in danger would be if they looked like a carrot and the worst thing those fearsome teeth have done is to untie his lead rope so he can wander off in search of food or attention.

Obviously, all horses retain their natural prey instincts and we must use common sense when handling them. The quietest horse can surprise you with lightning reactions when startled, and those who insist on kissing their horses’ muzzles while they take those cute selfies might wonder how they’d feel if a horse chucked up his head and knocked out their teeth. It happens.

Bravery comes in many forms. If I look at my friends, it ranges from the rider who felt sick at the idea of riding a dressage test, but trotted some nifty circles and raked in sponsorship to help rescue cruelly treated dogs, to someone who is paralysed from the waist down but showjumps and competes in dressage to a decent standard and has even won rosettes for barrel racing.

Being brave isn’t the same as being foolhardy. Some people reading this might be prepared to jump hedges containing wire, or where they have no idea what’s on the landing side. Feel free to disagree, but to me, that really is bonkers.

Who is braver: riders who compete in top-level eventing – and are definitely not bonkers, because they know their and their horses’ capabilities – or those who are terrified at the idea of jumping, but put their faith in a good trainer and overcome their fear to jump round a 60cm course?  Answers on a postcard, please…

Being brave means knowing there’s a risk, weighing up the odds and deciding that you can minimise it. In a way, we do that every time we get on a horse. But now and again, horse people go the extra mile – which is why everyone who helped get those horses to safety in Liverpool deserves our admiration and respect.