Friday, November 19, 2010


As you probably know, tragedy struck here just before 10.00 on Wednesday morning when our friend Chris Watson died at the end of the Side Hill all-weather. Chris, an amateur rider from Leicestershire, had introduced himself to me in July and since then he'd been coming here one morning a week to ride out. That alone speaks volumes both for his commitment to and enjoyment of his riding and for how well he had fitted in here, as a drive of, I'd guess, an hour and a half (at one's own expense) to be here usually for 6.30 am is quite an undertaking. He had ridden a lot earlier in life, but had only just come back to what was clearly his passion since retirement from business a year or two ago. He'd renewed his amateur license and, although he hadn't had the chance to use it this year, he was certainly both good enough and fit enough to race-ride.

Chris always brought his own gear, a good, well-maintained saddle and, unusually, a bridle. Tragically, there must have been some sort of problem with this on Wednesday as Chris lost an iron early in the canter. As a thoroughly experienced rider, he wouldn't have had his foot just slip out of the stirrup, but whether the pin came out of the hole at the top of the leather, or whether the leather slipped out of its retaining bar, we shall have to wait for the official verdict of the inquest to be told. Anyway, the upshot was that, as a rider on the canter or gallop who loses an iron is like a man on skis who loses one ski, Chris lost control of Kadouchski. A lesser rider would have come off straightaway, and in retrospect I wish that he had done, but he didn't. This was just an awful freak occurence, and one with the worst possible ending as he met his death at the end of the canter. A nice man who loved to ride should not have met his end in this manner, but life matters of life and death, as we know, do not always go according to the script.

I am aware that this account of Chris' death is rather a bald one, but the tragedy and the grief are self-evident: you don't need me to rub it in to understand what a terrible, terrible event this was. I would like, instead of emphasising the awfulness, to end this tribute to Chris as he would have liked it: positively. What positives can one take out of a terrible thing? Well, for a start, Chris died among friends, doing what he loved, riding a horse whom he liked, and with friends whom he liked and who liked him. And we can, at least, rest assured that all that could be done to save him was done. Wednesday was, I think, the tenth morning this year that I was absent from the stable (I had been lucky enough to be a guest at the Cartier Awards ceremony on Tuesday evening and had stayed in London afterwards) which was terribly unfortunate: I am away from home so rarely that it was just bad luck that I wasn't here on the one morning when something went so badly wrong. Not that seeing something like is an experience I'd ever want, but if it were to happen, I would have preferred it to happen in my presence than in my absence, solely because it meant that the staff, headed by Hugh, had to bear a terrible burden which I wouldn't have wished on them. As it was, the four riders (Hugh, Adam, Hannah and Andrew McCarthy, who was an absolute tower of strength during a terrible day, as were Gemma and Aisling), coped with a shocking situation bravely and well. The emergency services were on the scene as quickly as possible, while the Heathmen, principally Richard Conway, did all that could be done, as did Jockey Club Estates' manager Nick Patton, plus the police, principally Nik Chapman. While it is tragic that Chris had to go, it would have been far worse if we'd lost him knowing that a better response might have saved him. There are certainly no such misgivings in this instance.

There's not, I know, much positive in that. So I'll leave you with the reflection that we've been lucky enough to know Chris for one summer and one autumn. Had it not been for this terrible freak accident, we'd have had the pleasure of his company and friendship for many years to come, but that's not to be. One summer is better than none at all, and he won't be forgotten. There are so many bad people in the world that when you are lucky enough to meet one of the nice guys, you don't forget them. And, as has been testified by the many, many messages of sympathy which I have received on behalf of our little community and on behalf of Chris' loved ones elsewhere, he'll live on in many people's hearts.


Alan Taylor said...

One cannot choose how to leave this world but if you are fortunate to do so doing what you love then you are truly blessed.

Nathan said...

My thoughts are with you and the team John, and of course Chris's family.