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Horse riders accept threat of injury in showjumping at Longines Global Champions Tour and other equestrian events

Scott Brash of Great Britain and his horse Hello Sanctos jump over an obstacle in the first round of the Longines Global Champions Tour in Miami Beach on April 4, 2015.
Scott Brash of Great Britain and his horse Hello Sanctos jump over an obstacle in the first round of the Longines Global Champions Tour in Miami Beach on April 4, 2015. Miami Herald Staff

Margie Goldstein Engle’s 40 years of equestrian riding started with more apprehension than encouragement from her parents. They took persistent convincing from Engle just to let her ride.

Engle, future 10-time American Grandprix Association Rider of the Year, recalled her parents’ outlook didn’t get much better when watching the game show Jeopardy one night with them, an answer was something along the lines of “The sport that produces the most injuries.”

The question: What is horse riding?

The stereotype of equestrian as an activity for the effete elite crashes against a truth harder than the ground off which every rider often will bounce. That’s every rider, from beginner to those participating in the Longines Global Champions Tour, which wrapped up on Miami Beach on Saturday.

Great Britain’s Scott Brash, aboard Hello Sanctos, won the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon and the $198,000 top prize. Bassem Hassan Muhammad of Qatar took second place and $120,000, riding Palloubet D Halong.

Indulging the passion to ride — and each rider spoken to for this story called it a “passion” — means being tough enough to bounce back from heavy injuries. Not pulls or tears. Breaks and concussions.

And they’ll always get back on the horse.

“I think most of the riders will tell you it’s like a virus,” French-born Wellington resident Nicolas Paillot said. “When you have a virus, it’s hard to get rid of it.”

“There’s risk in everything you do,” said Engle, who finished seventh in the Grand Prix. “There’s risk walking down the street. Anything you do that you enjoy, there’s a risk. And I think the positives outweigh the negatives in this sport.

“It’s a lovely sport. There’s so much joy you get out of it.”

Like divers, gymnasts and figure skaters, the grace and precision displayed in competition got purchased in practice in the coin of persistence and pain.

“My grandfather used to say in falling, you’re learning. I can say I’ve learned a lot,” Paillot said with a light tone in his deep voice. “You don’t want to keep count. There’s always a reason you fall. There’s always something to fix and improve.”

Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, when young and fast, told New York Times writer Robert Lipsyte he didn’t like football because you have to get hit, and “you don’t have to get hit in boxing.” And while almost every football player gets injured, some get to the NFL sustaining one or none big owwy.

Now contrast that with Tara Corr of Goshen, New York, who said that as far as injury, she considers herself lucky with “maybe bruised some ribs once, maybe a concussion here or there.”

Said Engle, Wellington raised on what was then Miami’s southern outskirts and now car-packed suburbs: “I’ve broken almost everything. Ribs, collarbones, probably the worse was when the horse fell on me and broke my hip.”

The horse was falling ill. When it threw itself on the ground, Engle got caught under it. Kilkenny, Ireland’s Richie Moloney said his worst was a broken leg when a horse slipped and fell on the limb.

“It’s a sport with risks like any other,” Engle said. “The difference is when you’re by yourself, you just have yourself to worry about when you fall. But the horse, it’s a 1,500- to 2,000-pound animal and it’s going at a high speed.”

Or, as Paillot said, “It’s the only individual sport you do as two — you and your horse.”

Moloney said that when breaking in less experienced horses, you’re going to tumble more often because they don’t always know what’s happening.

Sometimes, even decades of experience doesn’t prevent the human from making the boo-boo that puts him or her on the ground.

For example, as 30-year riding veteran Paillot guided Sabine des Ibis through the timed jumping competition Saturday morning, he tumbled to the ground before one of the jumps. He missed a turn, and both he and Sabine knew the jump couldn’t be made. Sabine stopped. Physics didn’t.

He tumbled to the ground, got up and 10 minutes later told the Herald, “[Friday] was a good day. [Saturday], not so good. If you start to protect yourself, you go nowhere.”

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