Ecology and Life
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  Experience: my horse sank in quicksand
I bought my horse, Clyde, about four years ago. I'd ridden as a child and was keen to take up riding again. I wanted a companion and now he's a big part of my life, particularly since I almost lost him a year ago. Where I live, in Donegal, Ireland, we're surrounded by beautiful beaches, and I'd exercise him on our local bay three or four times a week. A few days before last Christmas, my boyfriend, Ryan, came with us on his horse, Bud.

Heading across the widest part of the bay, we reached a stream of fresh water running through the sand. Usually I'd have trotted through it without a second thought, but after days of heavy rain, the water had become murky I couldn't see the bottom and didn't like the look of it. We continued to a point where the water was clear. Ryan went first, and as Bud stepped into the water, he seemed to trip and keel a little. But he righted himself, and horse and rider were across and back on dry land in a matter of seconds. Clyde and I followed, a few paces to the left.

As Clyde's front hooves splashed into the water, I felt a jolt and my stomach lurched. My own feet were suddenly in the water it was as if Clyde had fallen to his knees. In fact, he was submerged saddle-deep in wet sand. My feet were usually three feet clear of the ground now they were sinking into the same quicksand as my horse. I shouted, "Ryan!" and saw him turn back, looking first puzzled, then astonished. The situation was so odd and unexpected that I genuinely thought I must be dreaming, but the freezing water around my ankles spurred me into action. I kicked at Clyde's sides, screaming, "Get up! Get up!"

It was hopeless. I sensed that the more Clyde floundered, the deeper he was likely to sink. I was convinced his head would go under at any moment. Knowing my extra weight couldn't be helping, and terrified of falling in myself, I pushed myself up out of the stirrups, clambered across Clyde's back and swung a leg gingerly over his head on to the dry sand. I dragged the reins over his head and pulled as hard as I dared.

Ryan appeared by my side and, using his whip, he hit Clyde's back end and shouted the horse thrashed and heaved, his breath ragged, flanks soaked with sweat. The thought that there must be something solid down there gave me hope, but stressed horses are prone to heart attacks if drowning didn't see him off, a seizure might.

The whites of Clyde's eyes were showing. He threw back his head, and I could see how hard he was straining. There was a sucking noise, like a vacuum being released, and one of his front legs surfaced, slick with black mud. He pressed his hoof down on the dry sand, wrenched up his other front leg and hauled himself half out of the muck. Then he collapsed on his side.

Clyde's hindquarters were still invisible, but after a minute, he started to struggle again, using his front hooves to lever himself free. There was another great sucking noise as his back legs emerged, and he dragged himself out on his belly. He lay there, panting, and I could see his heart beating. He seemed completely exhausted, and I worried he was going into shock. After a few minutes, though, Ryan tapped him on the hindquarters with the whip and said, "Come on, Clyde get up."

He was very shaky and wobbly at first, but quickly seemed to calm down. Ryan told me to ride Bud and he took Clyde, and we walked home very slowly I was shaking so hard, I could barely stay on the horse. Crossing the water channels was terrifying. I was convinced it was going to happen again, though it didn't seem to worry Clyde at all.

At home, I washed away the mud and checked his legs for cuts, but he seemed fine, ate his nuts happily and settled down to rest in his stable. Still full of adrenaline, I started to ponder all the "what ifs" what if we'd been galloping and I'd been catapulted over Clyde's head into the quicksand? What if he'd fallen on top of me, or Ryan hadn't been with us? I know the quicksand was caused by freak conditions but, a year on, I can't imagine ever riding Clyde on a beach again. He's too valuable to me to ever take that risk again.
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Experience: my horse sank in quicksand
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