Veronique Mallet and Southern Bay were only four fences into their cross-country round at the Fair Hill International starter horse trials on May 1 when they suddenly found themselves headed for a collision: As they galloped toward the next jump in Elkton, Maryland, Mallet spotted a deer about 15 feet to their left, running full-speed toward them across the field, looking as if it might broadside them.
“My horse saw the same thing, and, if he had not turned sharply right, I think the deer would have hit him in the belly. He turned so sharply that I had to hold on for dear life,” she said. “I was thinking, if I fell off, I would be eliminated.”
After narrowly avoiding a collision, “Henry” took off while Mallet tried in vain to slow him down by circling to the left.
“I did not realize at first, but he wouldn’t turn because the deer was [running] next to us, very close” on the left-hand side.
Photographer Charlie Mann, shooting for AK Dragoo Photography, said he noticed the horse spooking and started snapping pictures, but couldn’t see why until the deer entered the camera frame.
Henry—going distinctly faster than beginner novice pace to remove himself from the situation—galloped back toward Fence 3, briefly matching the deer stride for stride, before Mallet was able to circle and settle him.
Undeterred, they swung around to get back on course, heading off to jump Fence 5, where Mann had been stationed to catch the action.
Henry shrugged off the incident as quickly as he had reacted to it, Mallet said, and behaved as if nothing had just happened.
Not only did the pair finish their cross-country round, but they also won their beginner novice rider division on their dressage score of 31.5.
“I have seen a lot of crazy stuff of the years, but I was impressed how Veronique kept her composure, quickly gathered herself, and kept going,” said Mann, who has been photographing horse sports for more than 40 years. “And to find out she won her class made it even more impressive.”
Mallet, 68, of Churchville, Maryland, said she bought Henry, a 13-year-old Thoroughbred, three years ago when she wanted something with a sensible brain but a little more “go” than her previous warmblood mare. On Saturday, Henry proved he had an abundance of both those things.
“We did go on a trail ride yesterday, and he saw deer and got a little bit tense,” she said, “thinking, ‘Is it one of the ones like [Saturday]?’ ”