Thursday, January 17, 2013

Crazy Stupid Idiots



by Francesca Prescott

I recently went for a nice quiet trail ride with Céline, a lovely lady and Grand Prix rider who has become one of my trainers. It was a beautiful sunny day, relatively warm for January, and our horses were happy to be out, strolling along peacefully. Céline rode a friend’s horse, a grey Lusitano stallion tending to be pretty laid back about the world at large. As for Qrac, he’s become far more laid back during outside rides than he was when I first bought him; he’ll look at things, sometimes stop and think about them, wiggle around them if he thinks they might be a bit dodgy, but rarely does he spook and spin like he used to. He’s far more sure of himself and sensible.

So Céline and I ambled along, chatting, our horses behaving particularly politely on this gorgeous day. We didn’t go far, just walked the easy hour-long loop through quiet country lanes and forest paths. And then we headed back to the stables.

To reach my stables you have to go down a long stretch of narrow country road and then turn right, down the private entrance to the barn. It’s not a busy road, and for part of the way there are open fields on both sides, so if there’s a car coming, or a tractor coming, you can push your horse over onto the grass and have plenty of space. However, as you get closer to the right turn for the stables, the fields on the right-hand side turn into horse paddocks, so there’s only a narrow grassy verge between the road and paddocks. But it’s usually fine, and I’ve found that the majority of people in cars slow down when approaching horses, or if they don’t do so spontaneously, they are willing to slow down if you turn around, smile, raise an arm and make “please-slow-down” gestures. Most tractor drivers do the same.

Naturally, as a rider, I always slow down, or even stop when I see riders, giving them plenty of room to pass. So if I was a farmer driving a tractor down a narrow country road or down any road on the planet, and I saw people on horses ahead of me, I’d slow down and try to keep a safe distance. As a farmer, surely I’d know enough about the unpredictability of horses (or dogs, or cows, or sheep, or any animal) to have the common sense to take my foot off the accelerator, hang back a little, give the riders time to get themselves organised, find a safe haven if necessary, or turn their horses to show them what is approaching. Surely I’d have safety in mind. Surely I wouldn’t hurtle towards them at full speed when I could see full well that the only place they’re allowed to go without breaking the highway code is onto a narrow grassy verge between the road and a line of paddocks. Surely I’d have enough imagination to conjure up disaster scenarios and do everything I can to avoid them.

I know it’s a stereotype and that I’m naïve, but I tend to have this image of farmers being friendly, kind, nature-loving people with rosy cheeks and big, bouncy dogs, as depicted in the English pony stories I read during my childhood. Sure, they’d give you a bollocking if you ploughed through their fields on horseback, and they’d have every right to do so. But they would never behave like the criminal moron Céline and I met on the road back to the stables. As far as I’m concerned, nobody would. Ever.

I heard the tractor long before I saw it. I could tell it was going fast, and something in my gut told me it might cause trouble. I turned in my saddle and saw it speed down the hill, past the church, hurtling towards us, just as we approached the area where, if traffic approaches, you’re supposed to ride along the grassy verge between the road and the paddocks.

“Uh-oh, there’s a tractor,” I said to Céline. “Coming fast.”

“He’ll slow down,” she answered, matter-of-factly. She’s very poised, Céline.

“I’m not so sure,” I replied, glancing behind me worriedly as I pushed Qrac to the side of the road and onto the grassy verge.

We didn’t have the opportunity to discuss whether he would or he wouldn’t. Because the moron in the old red tractor definitely didn’t want to, and was only forced to do so because, as he powered towards us, coming really REALLY close, our horses freaked out and clattered into the middle of the road.

At that point I figured tractor-twit would stop, allow us to reassure our horses, get them back under control, let us ride ahead and turn right down the private road into the barn. Yeah right. As Céline’s horse launched himself across the road and into the field on the left hand side where he took off at a gallop (she stopped him within a few strides), and my panic-stricken Qrac swung left and right, cantering on the spot in the middle of road, slipping and sliding, totally petrified, the tractor continued to roll forwards. I couldn’t believe it. Speaking reassuringly to my horse, I encouraged him to cross over to the left side of the road and into the open field. As I did so, the tractor continued to come towards me. The man scowled at me, gesticulating impatiently for me to get out of the way. I managed to get us into the field where Qrac also took off, coiling his haunches underneath him for a couple of strides before I could stop him.

“We’ll trot,” yelled Céline, dealing with her own panic-stricken, seriously coiled Lusitano. Her idea was to reach the turn-off to the barn as quickly as possible as tractor guy wasn’t going to give us a break, and we’d almost reached the walled private property at the end of the field and couldn’t go any further. There was no way in heck that the horses were going to stand still and wait for the tractor to pass, so we power-trotted forwards, clattering back across the road and to the relative safety of the right turn to the yard where at least we knew the tractor wouldn’t follow. As we coaxed the horses back to a very tense walk, tractor-man roared past us, revving his engine, scowling.

“I can’t believe it!” I exclaimed, still trying to steady Qrac’s nerves, not to mention my own.

“There are idiots everywhere,” said Céline. She has her own stables a few minutes away by car, and told me she regularly deals with morons in tractors.

Qrac’s heart was still pounding and my legs felt like jelly as Céline and I dismounted about two minutes later. A few people had watched our misadventure from the stables’ car park and asked me whether I’d got the tractor’s license plate number, knowing what exactly what I meant when I replied that I’d been far too busy trying to stay alive to do anything of the sort.

I’ve thought about this incident many times since, wondering what the heck was wrong with that guy in the tractor. I’m aware that many farmers around here dislike horses. They harbour a lot of animosity and jealousy towards riders, even towards barn owners, whom they consider rich and spoiled (incidentally, the owners of my stables are also farmers). But harbouring animosity and putting lives at risk danger isn’t the same thing.

I don’t want to imagine what could have happened if Qrac or Céline’s horse had slipped on the road. I don’t want to imagine what could have happened if it hadn’t been Céline and me out there, but other less-experienced riders, who hadn’t been able to regain control over their horses. I don’t want to imagine the dozens of other catastrophic scenarios that could have gone down. However, I’d like to believe that the twit in the tractor has since had his licence revoked, been locked up for criminal behaviour, and is sitting in a dingy prison cell being forced to write “I won’t harass riders with my tractor ever again” a gazillion times. Sadly, I doubt it.

Have you ever been bullied on the road while out riding? Why do you think people behave that way? Of course, as Céline said, there are idiots everywhere, but what do you think could be done to increase awareness and discourage people from behaving like this?

16 comments:

redhorse said...

We hire a young man occasionally to help with the farm work. I believe he drives the tractor like a maniac, and has no knowledge of horse behavior. I feel unsafe riding in the outdoor pen when he's around.

He also works at a farm down the road, where they are actually hostile to horses and horse people, and their son drives like a maniac, he ran over one of our dogs a few years ago, never paused or apologized for it. I don't know why this is happening everywhere. I think some of it is lack of knowledge about horses, and some is a testosterone-driven love of power and speed. Let's face it, a tractor is the biggest thing on the road, and it seems to bring out the worst tendencies in some people.

irish horse said...

Scary! So glad you are all ok. I can't imagine how the tractor driver, when he saw horses scattering across the pavement, just kept coming! Like you I always slow, whether it is horses or not on the side of the road.

But we have it here as well. This once rural area is now a very expensive area to live, lots of clueless city people in big mansions in the country. They just blast by on the road, never moving over or slowing down, That's the norm here! I always wonder if they would slow for a kid on a bike, or someone pushing a stroller. It would be an interesting experiment.

There is one road that is not even 2 lanes, no shoulder, and you have to walk ON the road. It is a tiny dead-end rural road. Full of idiots. I get off and walk the road area. I am always wearing orange. I am easily seen by drivers. But they don't slow even for a person walking.

Crazy stupid idiots is right!

Laura Crum said...

Cesca--My heart was pounding just reading your post. I'm so glad that you are OK--and Qrac, too. I have to cross a busy road to get to my local trails--fortunately its a straight crossing--I don't have to ride along the road. But even so, I have had enough bad moments with morons who speed up and/or try to scare the horses by revving engines, honking...etc, that some days I just elect to ride in our riding ring. Dealing with the potential jerks in vehicles just seems too stressful. I have a terrible habit of envisioning what COULD happen. And the downside is so huge.

Please, please, please, all drivers--when you see a horse on the road, slow down and give the rider lots of room. I know I'm preaching to the choir here on this blog...maybe we should re-post this on some car forum or other?

Allenspark Lodge said...

Here at our lodge, we sometimes help take out rides into the national forest across the highway from us. It's a 2 lane, lightly traveled road, but straight and wide so folks tend to go fast.

In Colorado, horses have the right of way, so if someone is TOO much of a jerk, we can copy and report his license plate number, and he WILL get a ticket later in the day.

I love our police...

Bill

Francesca Prescott said...

Redhorse:what is it about driving tracors?! The owner of my stables drives his tractor (and it's massive!) very politely and respectfully around the horses, but when his son gets behind its wheel he zooms around like he's racing those Monster Trucks. I'm terrified of him! Last year I had someone come and teach Qrac how to load into my trailer, and while we were working this guy (the son) came shooting through the courtyard in his monster truck tractor at full speed, metres away from Qrac and us. Qrac shot into the trailer like nobody's business, but it was so dangerous, and I couldn't believe how stupid the guy way. I mean, this guy is around horses day in, day out, but doesn't work directly with them, and clearly doesnt like them. Although he'll slow down slightly if you meet him on the road while out riding, he won't go out of his way to be nice and help you out. I met him on the road during my first outside ride with Qrac a week after I moved there last winter, and although i was higher up the road and could get out of the way, Qrac still spooked and shot into the field, but the guy didn't seem concerned at all. I know people driving tractors can't just vanish into thin air when they get towards horses, but there are definitely some people with more good manners (and more intelligence!) than others! In his favour, I must say that he once picked me up and gave me a ride in his tractor when we had a very early snowfall back in October, and nobody had snow tyres, and I had to leave my car in the village and walk down to the barn in a blizzard. It was like walking on an ice rink, and he came along in his tractor and picked me up. So he got good marks for that!

Thanks for commenting. I'm sorry about your dog, that's horrible.

Francesca Prescott said...

Irish horse: many of our little roads over here are just one lane with no shoulder, making it hard for two cars to pass, so we're used to having to slow and pull over. I think most drivers slow down for mothers pushing prams (strollers), but I've seen terrifying behaviour around kids on bikes. I've also seen idiotic behaviour on bikes, and kids skateboarding down the road... Yep, crazy stupid idiots!!!!

When we're out riding we always have to walk on roads, but I do my best to stay away from busy roads, and dread encountering buses, or trucks, and, well, tractors! Because of being unable to avoid roads, trail rides tend to be more stressful to me than working dressage in the arena, and I think that, depending on where we go or what we meet, that goes for many riders and horses too. I enjoy going out for rides, but unfortunately, my stables' location isn't ideal, because even if it is in a small village in the middle of fields, we're always going to have to deal with busy roads.

Francesca Prescott said...

Laura: I remember you posting about having to cross a busy road, and how scary it can be, with people honking and revving engines.

Good idea about re-posting on a car forum, but I've no idea where! And I'd probably get hate mail from the National Tractor Association, or something!!!

Francesca Prescott said...

Allenspark Lodge: I didn't know horses had right of way in Colorado! You have all sorts of cool laws (!). You also have some of the most beautiful riding country I've ever ridden in. I was over at the Smith Fork Ranch in Colorado (I can't remember the nearest town, we flew into Montrose) two summers ago and had a wonderful time. No problems with tractors and revving engines and honking there! Lucky you :) Thanks for commenting.

Val said...

I think that some people have no forethought. They have no ability to foresee how their actions could have very dangerous consequences. I get so angry at other drivers who do dangerous things on the rode when I am in my car. I actually avoid riding my horse along the road all together. A fall on the road is just too scary a thought.

That tractor's driver's behavior was criminal.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Yes! One of my riding friends' husband had this happen to him while out riding his mule near their house just before Christmas.
They live about a half mile from the trails and have to ride along the gravel road for a while, and on one section, they have to ride on the edge of the road because the fence comes too close to the road.
Well, a guy in a jeep PURPOSEFULLY ran into my friends' husband's mule!!!
The mule required stitches, and the husband had some scrapes and bruises, but the husband was able to get the licence tag number as the idiot drove away!

Come to find out the idiot driving the jeep is an ex-cop!!! Is that crazy or what??!

When asked by police why he hit the mule, he answered because they were on the road and equine don't belong on the road!

Seriously?!?!

My friends' husband wants to know if this guy would run over children riding their bikes on the road or run over seniors walking their dogs on the road....just because he believes they don't belong there!

My friend and her husband have a lawyer and are taking this man to court!
Meanwhile, their poor mule is traumatized and is too terrified to be ridden alongside the roads now.


I'm glad you and your friendand the horses are ok and weren't injured.
~Lisa

TBDancer said...

I write a weekly column for our local newspaper about horses (show results, upcoming events, news items, my "snappy patter" if there is room) and have waxed poetic about how to drive around horses numerous times. It's "preaching to the choir" because non-horse people don't often read my colum; it is most often they who are the problem on the road.

In California horses have the right of way. (Actually the law says "'livestock' have the right of way." Horses are "livestock" except when it comes to buying feed because we don't eat our horses, so horseowners must pay sales tax. If I bought hay or grain for cows or goats, I'd have a tax number, but that's another story).

I live where there is lots of "open space" with dirt roads, so as long as I see or hear the vehicle coming, I have room to roam. My OTTB is used to most of the traffic--he has trouble with things that rattle (and frankly, if the dirt roaders would drive under 50 mph, their cars would "hold together" better). ATVs and off-road vehicle riders are also often at fault here, but I will say a great many of them are polite; they stop their vehicles and sometimes turn them off if they see the horse having problems.

The bad attitude I've run into is the idiot who says if I can't control my horse, I shouldn't be on the road--making it MY fault that the horse gets skittery when the Andretti wannabes zoom past.

Idiots come in all forms, as Lisa's comment above about the ex-cop shows. I'm just glad you and Celine were all right, your horses were not further traumatized, and all ended well (talk about getting the circulation going!)

My guess is this idiot on the tractor will be driving along the road again and someone can either identify him or get the license tag and pursue this. Poetic justice would be if the police in your area are horse people. Heh heh.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I'm guessing that the tractor twit isn't doing anything but sitting around with his idiot buddies having a good laugh over how he terrorized a few riders and their horses. I wish there were some way to make people less idiotic when they are driving but my feeling is if you're that ignorant then there's no hope for you.

I'm glad to hear that you, Celine and the horses weren't hurt.

Anonymous said...
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White Horse Pilgrim said...

Some riders around here were harassed by a farmer in a vehicle to the degree that one fell and was injured. They knew who was driving too but, being cowards, decided not to go to the police (despite there being witnesses and there being a clear case for prosecution and a civil case for damages) "in case the farmer took an even deeper dislike towards them". I told them just what I thought of their lack of moral fibre. When that farmer seriousy injures or kills a rider they will have that person's blood on their hands through omission just as the farmer will through deliberate act. But they were concerned only about themselves.

Meanwhile the cyclists and ramblers would not hesitate for an instant to bring a prosecution. Come to think of it, their militancy is why they have so many more trails than riders. Meanwhile the organisations "representing" riders go on about "not wanting to annoy landowners".

Riders need to stand up for their rights, plain and simple, and to use the law.

1sthorse said...

Our boarding barn is surrounded by farm fields and we don't really have trails to ride just the gravel roads that are also used by the farmers, ATV's and the families who live nearby. Most are respectful of riders on horses and slow down or wait until rider and horse are off the road and standing still on the side of the road.

The only problem I have ever had when riding on the road was when a child jumped out of the weeds in a ditch on the side of the road right under my horses nose! Luckily my horse is really laid back and she just snorted and threw her head up. The child wasn't so lucky as I marched him to his house and had him tell his parents what had happened. Mom and Dad asked him what he thought would happen if my horse had reared or bolted and after a discussion of possibilities he apologized to me but the parents also made him work at the boarding barn doing chores for a week and took away his video games/computer for the week.

It is true that people no longer think ahead to what the results of their actions.

sablegsd said...

Yes I have. The POS kid down the road would blow through the stop sign going one way and gain air going over the hump in the middle of the curve we live on. I had to goose my TWH mare and she jumped about 15 feet into the neighbors driveway to escape this moron.


I promptly went to his house and screamed obscenities until his mother came out. Bonnie shit all over their driveway, churned up the gravel and left mass quantities of green slobber all over their windshield and door mirror.

Another moron would stop right next to me (inches) and blast his horn and throw beer cans.

We went to his place to have a talk, and he ran out of his house and jumped my husband. (he was standing on the public road) That one got the snot beaten out of him and taken to the hospital.